Sunday, November 27, 2011

Limitations of the Reframe

Today's guest blogger—Carol Richardson—demonstrates a savvy understanding of how an apparently ordinary story changes meaning when it is told in a changed context.

Herman Cain is out of luck. He can’t compete for media attention with a man who, until recently, few of us had even heard of. In the past few weeks the alleged acts of former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, have tarnished the reputation of brands and individuals—Penn State, Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, and Mike McQueary to name a few. Their crime: choosing to put football ahead of children.

But who is the real Sandusky? A 1987 NBC interview of Jerry Sandusky, which resurfaced recently, highlights the power of framing a story.

Back in 1987 Sandusky was cast as the “hero” who set up a charity to help troubled children. Within the context of this narrative the interview showed an affable man, dedicated to helping children.

Fast-forward 24 years and we interpret the same interview with the same man very differently. In light of the allegations against Sandusky, his role in the narrative has changed; he has been recast as the “villain.” Suddenly we notice the menacing smile and his reluctance to look at the camera. Phrases like “frustrated playground director” and “I just have a good time with them” take on a new meaning.

So what was Sandusky (or his lawyer) thinking when he agreed to a telephone interview with Bob Costas? Did he seriously expect to reframe his own story? Despite denying full sexual contact, Sandusky’s hesitant response to the question, “Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to under age boys?” sealed his role in the narrative—at least in the court of public opinion.

Carol Richardson grew up across the pond and has lived and worked in several countries. She loves travel, adventure, and meeting new people—and still prefers rugby over any other kind of "football"—English or American.


Anonymous said...

Ah, it's true that reframing doesn't work sometimes. But look how Bill and Hillary reframed his wolfish skirt chasing as "trouble in our marriage, just like everybody." Or how celebrity sociopaths descend into madness, only to re-emerge on TV to talk about how they "needed to hit bottom so they could find God and a new life." These, too, are calculated gambles. Don't they pay off, more often than not?

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