Visuals in the Game Frame: A New Vision of Political Competition

In her article entitled Visualizing the game frame: constructing political competition through television images in referendum coverage, Marina Dekavalla assesses the reconceptualization of political competition through the use of factors other than verbal indicators. More specifically, the article aims to justify and describe the problematization and systemization of visuals as (theoretically) equally crucial constituencies to a political entity’s success or defeat within the strategic game frame of political events, notably referendums. To do so, the author relates her supporting evidence to Scotland’s referendum regarding the country’s separation of the UK. In this reading response, I shall challenge the pertinence of the strategic game frame’s visual elements in non-democratic political context. I believe the difference in ideological and societal perspectives of politics is pertinent since this article’s conclusion is only valid if the population being politically subdued by visual content adheres to our Western political identity and depiction of power.


The Nuances in Ideology

Dekavalla begins her article by referring to the strategic game frame as an extensive media coverage of political events between parties or leaders, thus strategically fabricating competition between political opponents. This definition is then followed by a series of past studies, each used as the basis of previous claims suggesting that the strategic game frame indeed dominates our democratic events in politics, and that verbal indicators typically consist in the underlying vote instigators. In contrast to these aforementioned verbal indicators, Dekavalla explains the value she believes visuals bring, or could further bring, to the strategic game frame’s effectiveness. Therefore, in response to alexpaszty‘s post claiming that “Trump’s tweets sway huge amounts of public opinion, regardless of their contents”, I am inclined to agree with the possibility of minimal content impact on the outcomes of Trump’s use of media due to his public relations team’s key understanding of visuals during televised events in a democracy. However, in my opinion, the author’s selection of proof for the effectiveness of visuals in political competition is somewhat subjective to the governance system used within a nation because the visuals’ effects could differ depending on ideology. For instance, the author uses Rodriguez and Dimitrova’s four-tiered framework of visuals to argue that visuals influence perception because they are in part a denotative system, meaning they can visually represent an entire way of thinking. Consequently, it is thanks to their denotative feature that visuals in the Scottish referendum contributed to Alex Salmond representing the political ideas of the Scottish National Party at an entirely separate charity football game. However, coming back to my previous claim, I do not believe Dekavalla’s “proof” of visually denotative capabilities truly confirms the impact of displays in the strategic game frame, since the real-life premise to all this “proof” is limited to Scotland’s example of a liberal democracy. In other words, the article has proven, among other claims it also validates, that visual displays can alter or decide an ideology’s representation (e.g. Alex Salmond at a charity football game = Scottish National Party and everything it stands for). However, the article has not provided empirical examples of visuals either successfully or unsuccessfully aiding political competition in alternate governance systems such as monarchies, oligarchies or even illiberal democracies. For example, as I have learned in my political science course, illiberal democracies such as Russia repeatedly manipulate the media, thus amplifying the population’s distrust in national coverage. In consequence, I believe the use of visuals would have different effects in divergent political systems since the consequences of certain ideologies on people, such as the Russian population’s distrust of local media, would force the results of competition to react inconsistently with this article’s findings axed on Scotland’s liberal democracy. Granted, I do recognize that the use of visuals in the strategic game frame is only fully effective if the population has a legitimate vote, which people in political systems other than liberal democracies typically do not have.


The Societal Differences

Regarding the role of camera movement and props in conveying the game frame, Dekavalla analyses the images political leaders give themselves, as well as their means of doing so. In all the article’s provided examples, the politicians in question always attempt to establish power over their supporters by employing strategically orientated camera angles and perspectives combined with supportive props such as balloons, banners and photographs. The author clearly stresses this politician-over-population reality by describing how political actors in Scotland’s referendum repetitively used the mis-en-scène, otherwise known as the political setting, for micro-assertions of dominance to remind the listening audience of their secondary role in the political process. This being mentioned, the article presupposes that conveying a politician’s strong, quasi exclusive position of authority is actually a desired effect of the game frame since Western democracies often elect political contenders coming closest to being “perfect humans”, or the epitomes of a functioning society. As Garcia et al. have mentioned in The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective, the similarity between rivals, an individual factor, can affect a person’s social comparison to others, thus instigating competitive behavior. If a political spectator does not notice this “similarity between rivals” thanks to the fact that the politician on stage projects superiority, then this said spectator does not consider the politician to be a “rival”, and therefore does not engage in competitive behavior. However, I believe this presupposition cannot be applied to all the world’s nations because societal preferences, influenced by cultural factors, diverge as to what a political leader’s image should be. In other words, why would politicians take advantage of cinematography to portray an image of elitist power if the population deciding their political fate does not even want an all-powerful, “superior” leader? For example, as I was voyaging across Eastern Europe this past summer, I visited a close friend in his hometown of Novi Sad, Serbia. During my visit, this friend explained how Serbians typically distrust people who excessively emanate a distinctive trait about themselves such as their material possessions (how rich they are) or their apparent power (how “exclusive” they are thanks to their authority). Simply said, Serbians tend to trust and appreciate a “man of the people” more than an elitist politician. Therefore, in relation to Serbia’s context, the article does not provide proof of the visuals’ effectiveness in all cultures since the given examples only show the effects of a projection of superior power in a society that actually wants its political leaders to be seen as “better” or “more powerful” than the majority, which is not the case for all our culturally-diverse world’s nations.


In relation to Scotland’s recent referendum, Marina Dekavalla has argued that visuals are just as crucial to the game frame in politics as verbal indicators are, and that these visuals should therefore be included in the ongoing empirical studies of the game frame. In response to her claim, I have proposed nuances in both ideological and societal values that could challenge the article’s proof in political circumstances different from the one witnessed in Scotland. The article’s research and conclusions are limited to the perceived influence of visuals in politics on television only. However, in our societal paragon of exponential media development, how do political visuals in social media compare to those employed on television?


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