Archive for the ‘Headlines’ Category
Sept 1, 2011 – Today’s Mail headline will provoke diverse reactions: indifference, confusion, curiosity, anger, guffaws, etc. The word “anarchists” alone denotes a highly “contested” concept, leading to different responses.
Cognitive science uses the term “cognitive” to refer to all the mental operations involved in such responses.* It holds that the vast majority of these are “unconscious”. This isn’t the Freudian or Jungian “unconscious” – it’s something new in scientific terms (starting around the 1970s). It owes more to empirical research than to sexual/poetic insights (of Freud, Jung etc).
The “cognitive unconscious” has huge implications for philosophy and psychology. And also for “media studies”. One such implication is that it’s not all about “intelligence”. A common (but ignorant) criticism regarding “framing” analysis is that it assumes people are “stupid”, susceptible to “spin”, that they can’t think for themselves, etc. This criticism typically comes from tabloid newspaper editors when confronted with the charge that their headlines induce fear and hatred.
Cognitive science tells us that these reactions of fear and hatred have little to do with the relative stupidity/intelligence of readers. In fact, a high IQ is no defense against having such reactions, since the cognitive processes which underlie them are mostly unconscious. What’s required as a defense is knowledge of these processes, which comes from empirical research. That’s what the field of “frame semantics” is about.
Of course, there are a lot of stupid people around, but that’s a different topic…
* This is a different usage of “cognitive” than in traditional philosophical discourse, where it refers only to conceptual or propositional thought. In cognitive science, “cognitive” may even include physical, bodily processes which underlie our conscious experience.
Not that high pay in the public sector isn’t a valid news story. One wonders, though, when three newspapers (Express, Mail, Telegraph) all lead with stories on public-sector pay (over the course of 6 days) – particularly given the other newsworthy situations occurring on the planet.
The Telegraph quotes a Tory politician: “Ordinary people will be outraged that bonuses are being paid at all in the public sector…”. Compare the quote from another Tory in the Mail’s front-page coverage of a similar story, five days ago: “…this sort of generosity would not be found in the private sector”.
An interesting topic for academic study would be the timing of news stories. Why are we supposed to be thinking, right now, about high pay in the public sector? Why did the MPs’ expenses scandal get reported just when public outrage over the bail-out of banks was peaking? Without empirical studies, we’re left with useless speculation, “conspiracy theory” and Citizen Kane. Fnord.
Aug 28, 2011 – Regarding this familiar frame (‘Workers vs Scroungers’) the Express informs us that:
- The number of “scroungers” has doubled “since the recession”.
- The number of young “scroungers” has trebled “since 2008″.
- A quarter of hardcore “scroungers” are “aged over 50″. (100,000 of whom lost their jobs at the start of the economic crisis).
That tells us something about the term “scroungers”.
What the Express describes as a “war” against “scroungers” in fact consists of proposals by the (no doubt) well-meaning IPPR, a “Labour-leaning think-tank” – to get the long-term unemployed into jobs. The IPPR says: “…we need as many people in work to maximise tax revenues. The Government should be aiming to increase the employment rate…”
We can separate the IPPR’s bizarre notions from the malign framing of the Express – but only to a degree. They both seem to frame work/jobs in ideological terms, although it’s less obvious with the IPPR. Does tax revenue need to come from created/subsidised human labour, rather than from, say, the currently untaxed zillions made with virtually zero labour in international finance (eg currency markets)?
(Note: the real “war” on the unemployed was revealed earlier this year in a Guardian report).
• ‘BANKERS –>RECESSION –>JOBLESS’
• ‘GOLDEN AGE OF LEISURE’
• ‘WAR ON YOUNG & OLD & VULNERABLE’
Aug 21, 2011 – This Observer headline is another example of reinforcing a frame while negating it. What we see here is “moral decline” – that is how we conceptualise the issue, regardless of the following word, “not”.
Most media coverage of the “rioting” excludes the perception that it has always occurred in Britain. The country has a long history of insurrection. Even in quaint coastal villages, whole communities criminally conspired against the authorities (eg the customs men) - in Ye Olde days, when murder and violence were more common .1
In 1898, newspapers in England warned of the menace of “hooligans” and of a “dramatic increase in disorderly behaviour”. The Times reported “organised terrorism in the streets”.2
In every decade of the 20th century there were similar media panics.
• ‘NO RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY – A GREAT BRITISH TRADITION’
• ‘GOLDEN AGE OF LAWLESSNESS CONTINUES’
• ‘LATEST INSURRECTION MINOR IN HISTORICAL TERMS’
1. See: Ted Robert Gurr, Historical Trends in Violent Crimes, 1981; Manuel Eisner, Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime, 2003.
2. Quoted from Laurie Taylor’s article, Looking with a historical eye, published in the 1995 Channel Four booklet, Battered Britain.
Aug 20, 2011 – A good example in the Telegraph of how negating a frame can reinforce a frame. The “mansion tax” has been pushed by the Lib Dems as a way to tax the rich (on properties worth more than £1m). The Telegraph puts forward Eric Pickles’ argument that this will affect “ordinary middle-class families” and “hard-working home owners” because of “high property prices in some areas”.
But the Telegraph’s headline, ‘NO TO THE MANSION TAX’, works against this argument. It might just as well be saying, “No to taxing the landed aristocracy”.
The number of people who glance at newspaper headlines (in the newsagent, supermarket, petrol station) far exceeds the number actually reading the newspaper copy. In this case, the Telegraph’s own headline works against the newspaper’s position.
In the wake of the UK riots, the Daily Express prints this headline: ‘MIGRANTS ROB YOUNG BRITONS OF JOBS’ (18/8/11). To what extent will this “incite” hatred/violence – compared, say, to the hatred/violence which two youths failed to “incite” with Facebook pages (for which they were each sentenced to 4 years in prison)?
It’s impossible to rob or steal a job, although the financial desperation required to accept a low-pay, long-hours job (with idiot boss, appalling conditions, etc) is probably similar to the desperation required to rob or steal.
• ‘MIGRANTS GIVEN THE CRAP JOBS’
• ‘UK SHITS ON IMPORTED WAGE SLAVES’