We Are Being Framed
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. Eph 4:29
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Matthew 5:37
When we look at a photograph we often focus on one area. we might even crop it, frame it and discard the rest. This is a good way to think about religious, political and advertising communication. The big picture is often obscured or misrepresented by framing. False impressions and double speak are standard fare on talk radio and television news casts. The public mind is continually being manipulated and shaped. The scriptures remind us of the importance of honest communication and admonish us to be wise and alert to false witness and deceptions.
There are positive uses of reframing as a tool to heal or prevent psychological pathology but many who have ideas or products to sell use the technique to their advantage while obscuring the truth. Words create mental images and emotions which can change perceptions and behaviors without the subject even noticing. By saying, “don’t think about an elephant” you are made to do exactly that. From current headlines we have a great example of carefully chosen words. The use of the word “surge” to describe the President’s plans to send more soldiers to Iraq creates a positive emotion of a fast and powerful fluid force. Those opposed to the plan have reframed the issue and refer to it as the president’s “escalation” which implies that even more will die.
This technique is used when talk show hosts say something like “Most people think that anti-war activists are crazed fanatics.” Even if the commentator goes on to explain that this is not a view the host shares the message was conveyed to the listener that “most people” do think this. The listener considers that they are ordinary too so they join in that opinion rather than be an outcast. A person who is not using critical thinking skills checks for facts will gradually begin to believe and repeat things which are false.
Nearly all of the major talk radio hosts receive “talking points” each morning which lay out the framing of the issues. The result has been that a huge amount of the population has come to accept the framing and sees the issues in the same way. Before long it is not even questioned. Along with the framing comes memorable antidotes such as the “welfare queen” who is driving a fancy car and living in luxury as hard working people pay taxes. No reporter was ever able to find such a person and welfare statistics and demographics tell a very different story. Another example is the urban ledged of war protesters spitting on those in uniform. There has yet to be one documented case of this occurring. The stories are powerful and endure decades on end and manipulate public opinion.
The religious right coined the term “Pro-life” knowing that the implied opposite of that is “pro-death.” (good vs. evil) This was reframed by many as “pro-choice” which implies that those who disagree with them are “pro-force.” (free vs. slave) Another example is the framing “tax-relief” which can be reframed as “tax responsibility.” The term “death-tax” implies that there are “grave robbers “ rather than a larger frame of living people who are receiving income they have not earned. The term “free market” implies that businesses have been imprisoned. Those who want to challenge this idea have reframed the issue as a “fair market” (implying that some are being taken advantage of. No matter where one stands on these issues it is clear that framing is going on.
A reporter or talk show host often asks a guest, “how can you support “retreat ” when many say that the violence against Iraqis will increase if we leave?” The guest is caught in a frame which is not honest and they are trapped in dilemma. Often on programs like these there isn’t enough time to establish an new frame. Usually the best they can do is say “I don’t agree with your assumptions.”
As the calls for “security” of the “homeland” increase and fear of “Muslim extremists”, and “weapon’s grade” everything abound we will again be told not to think of a “mushroom cloud.” The media spin and the pentagon’s framing of those who stand for peace and against the use of weapons will be terms such as “subversives“ , “anti-American“ , “paid outside agitators.” , and “extremists.” Emotionally loaded words and images will be used to discourage people from speaking out. We do not need to be intimidated. These same tactics framed Jesus and lead to his crucifixion. Again in our time he is being framed.
Recently a “conservative theologian” stated this week on Fox, “ You know , Jesus wasn't a bearded lady. He fashioned a whip, threw out the money changers, stood for truth, led in difficult time periods. I think, given the war on terrorism and the aggressive secularism that's trying to ramrod traditional American values out of our nation, I think, we need men to be men nowadays and there is a systematic hatred of males that's going on in our culture." (Notice the subtext and word choices, clearly this is a man with something to sell.)
Many feel overwhelmed by the amount of framing, spin and lies thrust upon us by all of those in power. The tendency for many is to become apathetic but we do not need to give way to despair. Behind all of the framing, spin and manipulations there are facts which tell the truth. As followers of Christ we can speak truth. We are compelled to speak truth about who Jesus is and what he teaches. We can be strong and let our communication be, Yea Yea; Nay, nay: for anything more than this is a lie.
Prayer: May our communion with you bring clarity to our communications with others. Give us wisdom and understanding as we learn to speak in righteousness. Amen
Action: As you listen to and read the media this week listen deeply and identify the framing and sub-text. Consider ways in which you can make honest and clear statements of truth.