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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Hit by media metaphor

Hit by media metaphorOct 3, 2011 – Today’s Telegraph provides a good example of a media metaphor for causation: “Minimum wage hits jobs for young”. “Hits” is a primary metaphor which expresses causation in terms of direct physical action (eg muscular force). Metaphors of this type tend to strengthen our over-simplistic (and often false) notions of causality between complex phenomena.

It’s commonplace in our thinking to see one thing as the direct cause of another, and in this way we impose narrative structure onto large-scale abstractions where it might not actually exist. In this particular case, complexities and indirect “systemic” factors in whatever “causal relationship” exists between minimum wage and youth-unemployment are excluded by the conceptual metaphor, “hits”.

Metaphorical framing doesn’t just map words from one conceptual domain to another. It also imposes (in a genuinely restrictive way at the “neuron-firing” level) certain inferences and reasoning. In the example “A hits B” (where both A and B are complex sociological phenomena, largely abstract constructions), inferences concerning direct, forceful action are activated according to the “hits” metaphor. Reasoning and inferences for indirect, “systemic” forms of “causation” are not part of this neural mapping. (Note that these processes are occurring rapidly and outside of conscious awareness).

George Lakoff has argued at length (in his book, Whose Freedom) that conservative moral views tend to correlate more with “direct causation” framing, whereas “progressive” frames enable us to think more easily in terms of “systemic causation”. Social, economic and political policies are, of course, based on assumptions about causation.

It can’t be repeated often enough that conceptual metaphor/framing is not just about language and “spin”. There are no clever deconstructions to be made here. But there is a more fundamental point about how media metaphors shape our reasoning at a level we’re generally not aware of.

Alternative headlines:

Written by NewsFrames

October 3, 2011 at 10:06 am