• Frames
    Rama Schneider | September 16,2005

    A couple I know who own an arts supply store have a series of radio ads out and about. In one of these ads the husband talks about picture frames and how they originated to act in conjunction with artwork as a faux window ... glass was extremely expensive and who wanted holes in the wall so why not surround a painting with a fancy edge that can bring out the best of artwork and pretend it's a view of the outdoors? Appearance was the important consideration.

    That, in a nutshell, is the concept of framing. Only here I'm talking about framing political discussion: take pretty sounding words that may or may not reflect reality and surround them with a deliberate visual context.

    A prime example of word framing comes from the infamous Bybee memo written for the Bush administration in part to define what is and isn't torture.

    While you and I would certainly consider torture to include kneeing a prisoner in the thighs until their muscles turned to jelly and they died, when the Bush administration says "torture" that isn't part of their definition! The Bybee memo discusses a 1978 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that stated being kicked "continuously on the insides of the legs" by interrogators resulting in "massive" injuries is not torture. (see pages 28 and 29) Yes ... a close relative of kicking the legs has been used by the U.S. military with death resulting ... it's called the "common peroneal strike" and involves what I started this paragraph with. (see this NY Times article for reference, but a quick web search will give you plenty of interesting reading)

    A great example of visual framing came last night with President Bush's address to the nation from New Orleans.

    Take a look at the White House web site and see what Bush had for a backdrop. No hungry or destitute poor black Americans and the muddied and poisoned homes they had to flee ... nope ... instead we have a gleaming white castle on the hill with an apron of well manicured lawn leading to the President in the forefront. Where's the misery we're supposed to be alleviating? How bad can it really be if that is the New Orleans the president speaks from and of? How can we trust the words of the President's address last night if this is the visual context the White House is trying to place Bush's words in?

    We've had issues of great import framed in patently dishonest ways before, and the Bush administration is certainly not the first to do so (although I do think they rate among the most prolific). But we've got to beware of this framing lest we end up looking for the New Orleans equivalent of WMD. We don't need pretty pictures in great looking frames pretending to be windows to what is and what needs to be done. We need a real opening that shows reality and allows discussion of issues in a commonly understood language.

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