Social and Cultural Framing in America People build a series of mental filters through biological, social, and cultural influences, and they use these filters to make sense of the world. This is called framing. Framing is so effective because it is a mental shortcut, human beings are by nature lazy thinkers, and we don’t like to think too much or too hard. Frames provide people a quick and easy way to process information. Diana Kendall, a sociology professor at Baylor University has studied how mass media has portrayed upper, middle, working, and poverty classes by how they stereotype them in different ways.
Rather than providing a meaningful analysis of inequality and showing realistic portrayals of life in various social classes, the media either play class differences for laughs or sweep the issue under the rug so that important distinctions are rendered invisible” (Kendall 330). The media has created the notion that in society the affluent are rewarded and the working class and poor are punished.
TV shows like The Simple Life, Life of Luxury, and The Fabulous Life show how socio-economic classes are either played-up or minimalized and used for laughs. In a mass-mediated culture such as ours, the media do not simply mirror society; rather, they help to shape it and to create cultural perceptions” (Kendall 331). The media blurs the line between what is real and what is not when it comes to perceptions of economic or social class. Televisions shows, magazines, and newspapers tell us that the only way to move up in the world is to identify yourself with the rich and powerful and to live “vicariously” through them.
My mother watches Entertainment Tonight and reads those tabloid magazines, and I constantly ask her “Why Mom?
Why do you bother reading up on these people that waste their undeserved riches and get married and divorced at least 10 times? ” and she just says “Well I want to know what’s going on in their life, and hear all the gossip”. But WHY?! How does their life affect YOU at all? The media bombards the middle and lower classes with these useless tabloid stories. Diana Kendall explains that “Viewers feel a sense of intimacy with elites, with whom they have little or no contact with in their daily lives” (Kendall 332).
Non-elites over identify with the wealthy, because the media tells us that these upper class people are better than us. In contemporary society, equality does not exist. Although, media audiences can purchase material items that can somehow make you equal to higher class people. Take Paris Hilton, a woman famous for just being born into a wealthy family. She has made millions and millions of dollars by marketing products to her lower class fans so they can get a taste of her life, so they can be “Just like Paris”.
Not stopping at just jewelry, Ms. Hilton has decided to exploit people in even more ways: Calendars, toys, autobiographies, and another book about her dog’s life. But I can’t just pick on Paris Hilton; thousands of celebrities do the exact same thing. These egocentric people will slap their name on anything to encourage unnecessary consumerism among all their fans. The media loves to glorify the material possessions of these celebrities, as if ravenous consumerism can make you happy.
People who extensively watch television have an exaggerated sense of how wealthy most Americans are and how they spend their money. Also, since television stimulates consumerist desires, extensive viewing may lead to more spending and less saving. Which makes sense, considering every commercial implies that “YOU NEED THIS” or “THIS MAKES YOUR LIFE EASIER”. Most media framing about the wealthiest class is positive, ranging from framing that depicts members of the upper class to be like everyone else, to framing that portrays them as generous, caring individuals.
But the most popular type of framing for the wealthy class is called “emulation framing”. This type of framing suggests that people in all classes should “reward” themselves with a few of the perks of the wealthy, such as buying Paris Hilton’s jewelry. Many adults who try to live the “good life” through trying to buy happiness end up in the poor house. When will normal people realize that they do not have the household funds to just go off and spend food or house repair money on frivolities?
Many reports are showing that middle and working class people are incurring massive debt because of the reckless spending on big houses, expensive vehicles, and other items that are beyond their budget. There is a stark contrast between the media framing of the upper class to the framing of the lower classes. At best the poor are portrayed as deserving of our sympathy only around the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas). Around these times, the poor are depicted as people who are just down on their luck, working class families who work really hard but just can’t catch a break.
The worst types of depictions of the poor are stereotypical bums, drug addicts and losers who are poor because they deserve it or because of their bad decisions. “Episodic Framing” shows some of the problems of the poor, but does not link it to larger societal problems such as limited educational opportunities, high rates of unemployment, and low paying jobs. The media will keep this status quo of depicting rich people as perfect and poor people as something to laugh at or a faceless statistic. If the media industry persists in retaining the same old frames for class, it will behoove each of us readers and viewers to break out of those frames and more thoroughly explore these issues on our own” (Kendall 346). After Hurricane Katrina, some disaster photographs were released with some controversial captions. The two pictures in the article Loot or Find: Fact or Frame? By Cheryl I. Harris and Devon W. Carbado depict two such pictures. They are both of people wading through chest deep water with supplies, although the captions were different.
One of them was of a black man carrying Pepsi and a suspicious black bag full of items. The caption said the black man was “looting”. The other picture showed a white couple wading through water with supplies, and the caption said they were “finding”. As you can guess, people complained that the captions accompanying the images were racially suggestive. The fact that most of the people who were not allowed to leave the city and were left to fend for themselves were overwhelmingly black made some think that maybe the executive powers did not care about blacks.
We all know about Kanye West’s amusing blurt “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”. Katrina challenged the notion of “Color Blindness”, that is, that race is not a factor in how we see the world. I believe that race is a huge factor in how some people see the world. I don’t think anyone is 100% colorblind, especially when the media depicts certain races different ways. When many of the black musicians today are portrayed as tough, gritty gangsters, what are you, the viewer supposed to think?
When blacks in the media are shown wearing tons of gold jewelry, baggy clothes and carrying guns, what are you going to think when you see a black man with baggy pants and jewelry walking around? I don’t think that everyone who looks that way will act a certain way, but looks are a first impression. Most of the people suffering during Katrina were black and poor, and that raised a lot of questions. Was it “…a case of presidential indifference? Or dislike of, poor black people? Or was it…the predictable consequence of a natural disaster that befell a city that just happened to be predominantly black?
Was it…the result of a culture of dependency combined with local bureaucratic incompetence? Was race a factor in determining who survived and who did not? Or did class provide a better explanation?… ” (Harris and Carbado 427). The point is that during Katrina, blacks were framed into being looters, criminals, or just uncontrollable rioters. I feel that one can only explain this type of disaster if one was there in the thick of it. The existence of racial frames makes it difficult for people to confront the complex problems of racism and racial prejudices.
Immigration. I am very emotionally conflicted about immigration in America today. My father’s side of my family has been in this country for around 90 years, emigrating across the Atlantic from southern Italy. My mother’s side has been here for about 50 years, coming from a French town in New Brunswick. I can imagine how difficult it was to come to a new country that wasn’t fond of foreigners, get a job, a raise a family. It’s still the same now, Mexican immigrants come into the country looking for work in a somewhat hostile environment.
I hate that illegal immigrants sneak into this country, and take labor away from Americans. But I’m conflicted because America is a nation of immigrants, and if this land belongs to anyone its definatly not White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, it’s the Native Americans. In the current presidential race, some candidates don’t want immigrants in the country. But it’s usually those same candidates who give tax cuts to the wealthy and couldn’t care less about working class folks or their jobs anyway. The whole terrorism scare with immigrants is a bit tricky.
I believe that there could be terrorist cells in this country, but with basically all of these guys being extremist Muslim, how can our police force, with its inefficient and bureaucratic system, go after these bad guys without being criticized for being racist and religiously prejudiced? Things are different in this country today, and we can’t cling to our old xenophobic, materialistic values anymore. How can a nation run on values and principles that were established in 1776? Things change, people change, morals change, and America needs to change or else we will run ourselves into the ground.