It’s Framing!

Marina Dekavalla’s paper on framing takes the issue of framing out of the literary context and applies it to the visual context of news television. Though we usually think of framing as a technique used by authors, or at least imagine that framing must have something to do with the words that we use, Dekavalla points out that the word “framing” originally comes from visual vocabulary. Framing need not involve words at all but may simply involve visual cues.

Dekavalla’s research focusses on the media coverage of a Scottish political referendum. She discovers that the media covering this referendum used props and camera angles to paint a picture where voters were very divided from political figures, and where those political figures were treated as celebrities. Political figures were emphasized instead of their platforms. For example, pictures of party leaders were shown even when unnecessary. The referendum was primarily about the question of Scottish independence, but media portrayals were quick to link the “yes” or “no” answers to parties and thus to leaders. Furthermore, political figures were often shown individually and on stages, whereas the voters would be pictured en masse, as more or less faceless or at least part of a conglomerate.

Dekavalla points out that this type of framing, although very familiar, is actually not representative of what democracy is supposed to be. These theatrical frames draw the viewer’s attention away from the project of democracy as a community endeavour and encourage viewers to treat political figures as actors or celebrities. Thus voters are not encouraged to relate to one another on an equal basis but instead to focus attention on a distant party leader. The type of framing which Dekavalla found was used by the media throughout this referendum also heavily prioritized personality over platform. This created the illusion that the referendum was a competition between two political figures as opposed to a group decision for the good of the country.

This article was very interesting to me because I think of myself as a conscious consumer of media, and I have even read about how the medium of television can distort its message, but I had never noticed the implications of these political framing choices. I think that Dekavalla is absolutely right that television makes a competitive spectacle out of something that should be thought of more soberly as a community project.

As @crunn52 pointed out in their latest post, politics is an increasingly competitive and hostile arena of public life. We have discussed this as a class at length, and even discussed the role of media in this increased hostility, but Dekavalla’s paper sheds light on the fact that we cannot be too careful about the influence which media has on us. Even non-verbal visual clues can bias us to view political projects as competitions between personalities. I definitely believe that, instead of seeing political choices in terms of competitions and in-groups or out-groups, it is much more helpful for a voter to take a sober look at the good of the whole and make decisions based on a feeling of connection with the entire political community, not just a small part of it. However, as we have rehashed many times in class, and as Dekavalla’s paper demonstrates, it is almost impossible for voters to be unbiased within the current environment. The media which we consume, even when we believe ourselves to be intelligent and unbiased consumers, constantly pressures us to see politics in a shallow, polarizing light, and as a celebrity event. And the most frightening part is that this pressure is exerted upon us without even the use of words.

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