Thursday, May 04, 2006

An Article from the Kendall County Area Democratic Women's newsletter

This was so informative that I had to share this article. Thanks to the KCADW for sharing this, so I might add this to the blog.

The Big Frame by Robert P. O'Reilly, Ph.D.

At the time the ideas and feelings came on me as-formless, like words in the mind without physical identity of any kind. Yet somehow I seemed to know, to feel, and to hear though I could not say what the experience was all about. But I knew what to do and I did it. Without thinking.
As the TV debates between the contenders for the past presidential election came to a close my wife an I were mildly elated by the highly rational and seemingly effective performance delivered by John Kerry. He seemed to touch all of the bases of public concern at the time-values, the economy, the environment, and so on. He came on as dignified, complex but yet understandable, presidential, moderate, and only occasionally contentious in contrast with the conceptually simple, halting, and almost vacuous GW Bush. At the time we thought the debates at both executive levels might prove to be a turning point for the Democratic Party in the coming election. But as that day approached I saw any advantage that might have been gained in the debates buried in an avalanche of dirty tricks and purulent propaganda. Some of the techniques used at the time were new while others had been well practiced in politics by Lincoln's day. The whole business of social control through propaganda became a well-honed fixture in modern times in Nazi Germany in the '30s and later in Communist regimes in Russia and East Germany. Unexpectedly, we were again seeing the awful specter of deadly propaganda arise ominously in our midst-in a democratic society!. Soon, we would see the Bush machine resort to a level of ugliness that simply fell out of our time. I watched incredulously as the Swift Boat scene came on repeatedly, spreading lies and revulsion that precluded any rational response. I watched as the Dems were buried irretrievably in a message that touched deeply, indelibly and almost subliminally on the common experience of many Americans.
As the TV campaign spread its corrosion I began to see in the Republican message a beguiling technique of influence that has its modern origins in linguistics and cognitive psychology in the '8Os known as framing. This is the subject of our discussion, a highly technical concept that some see as heavily accounting for how individuals construct meaning from their personal experience. In modern politics, television is the principal medium; the message is systematically devised by Madison Avenue types to capture the minds and emotions of the public. Visual and verbal metaphors are standard routine but political advertising extends the use of metaphor to repackage lies as truth, foster dissimulation, and manipulate emotion to engage loyalty.
A well known example of metaphor, one level of framing used endlessly in the past election, portrayed John Kerry as a:
Here the frame uses a type of metaphor known as metonymy. Like any metaphor, flipflopper conjures up a whole raft of conceptual referents in one's personal experience such as unreliable, unbelievable, inconsistent, undependable, not credible, and so on. By repeating the term over and over it sticks in the mind like a cat stuck on the back of a terrified dog. Even worse, one could not imagine Kerry indignantly saying, "Look here, I'm not a flipflopper! Yeah! We know, John." Diabolically, those who pushed the term soon brought up numerous examples of inconsistency from Kerry's political record and from other aspects of his personal life. Soon, we could see, "Here lies poor Kerry. Buried in an avalanche of metaphor: liberal, atheist or Deist, spender, patrician, tax supporter, criminal lover, and the like."
One property of metaphors is emphasis. The term flip flopper, for example, is meant to be dwelt on for its unstated implications. Emphatic metaphors resonate with the listener. For political purposes, strong or emphatic metaphors are among the best. We can even change the meaning of a once good metaphor into something personally deadly as when the term liberal got re-translated into more or less a creeping social virus that, unless contained, would insidiously spread corruption, big-spending, and oppression throughout the land.
According to one view metaphors have two distinct subjects, a primary one and a secondary one. The metaphor accomplishes its work by projecting onto the primary subject a set of implications that draw on the real world of personal experience. The primary subject such as, has a good head, draws on a whole range of experiences with people who can think, are intelligent, know what to do in complex settings, and so on.
In an especially well-constructed metaphor, the primary subject such as, a cancer on society, quickly conjures up emotional and other experiential referents that suggest an immediate need to act. Draconian measures such as military attack might be implied.
A metaphor can help us to see things we never saw before, i. e., to see the facts about our experience differently and thus get a better handle on reality. Metaphors, on the other hand, can be used to disguise or distort the nature of the interactions or implications between the primary and secondary subjects. Thus the phrase, war on terror, disguises the true nature of the interactions between the U.S. and Iraq in initiating and conducting our latest war. Note how this phrase is used repeatedly to justify our continuing presence in Iraq. The idea is to repeat and repeat until you believe, even though the implications have turned out to be false.
As seen above, metaphors often deal with emotions as implied in terms such as faithbased, tax-relief (that helps only the rich) and compassionate conservative (an oxymoron?). They reach deep down into our most cherished belief systems and feelings. Really good metaphors may immediately incite people to respond with strong feelings, This kind of manipulation is often not in our interests. Our schools take on the mission of the madras in Pakistan; churches get paid to treat social problems.
Finally, metaphors may make some aspects of life believable and even desirable while placing others in the background where they may not be seen. Think of the negative implications of housewife (God's intended way for women), labor (as purely an economic not a human factor), money (as the goal of life), and even love (unattainable for some).
There are several types of metaphors such as orientational, structural, and causal. The whole business of metaphor has now been analyzed so thoroughly that metaphors may be constructed systematically and tested and then tried out to see how well they work. This may be what the Republican Party did in the past 30 years to capture the interests and loyalty of the public. When metaphors are organized into a thoroughly coherent system with multiple levels of reference and expression, we have a frame. A frame might be thought of as many levels of metaphor built on metaphor. Every frame tries to capture objective reality in a way that will attract and hold listeners. A frame might also be thought of as a kind of blend. The Republicans have in fact blended frames encompassing a conservative brand of economics, corporate business and financial interests, cultural populism, and Christian theology. They have blended these frames with a Southern rights tradition that goes back to before civil war times. Notice, this frame isolates us into the blue states again--the vile habitat of the bluenoses.
In the meantime the Dems have been left behind because they seem to lack a message or they have been framed so fatally they may never recover. Will it be a death sentence? After all, who wants to vote for the party of the non-believers--not many when we know that 90% of voters profess to believe in God. We might take some heart in knowing that George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the fellows who wrote the seminal book on metaphors, Metaphors We Live By (1980), have been working for the Dems. Lakoff’s ideas seem to have changed the way the Democratic Party will approach the next election. But the Republican frame remains strong, even as Bush weakens. The Contract With America marches on! There are also signs that America itself may be weakening under an onslaught of fiscal and political irresponsibility. The frame this country was built on lies somewhere--moldering in the shadows. Can it be resurrected and blended with the new realities that face us? What kind of a blend might that be? Perhaps we ought to try framing it?
I took the Pulse of the People. There were many but the overall trend was down. The people had become blind, trapped in unspoken words and fearful visions.
Sticker suggestions: Try fact-based thinking ~ Cheney looking like devil at GW's grave ~ Think free! With GW jackass picture ~ Lost in faith with Bush in head-lights look ~ GW Is Listening with FBI wiretap visual

No comments: