Our recent dialogues have centered on mind frames and the skills of reframing arguments by shared values. (Susan Dobra will take us for a deep dive into the work of George Lakoff on this subject at our next meeting.)
So I had frames in mind when I read an article in the June 8 online edition of The Washington Post, "How cable news networks reacted to Comey's hearing." The article explains how MSNBC, CNN and FOX camera coverage looked the same, but were quite different in their use of chyrons -- those ticker tapes that roll info past the bottom third of the TV screen, sometimes as a commentary to the main action. It's fascinating to read how news can be framed to lead audiences to draw conclusions intended by the specific news channel, simply by what is introduced into evidence, or left out, via chyron.
I was reminded of my childhood love for Mad Magazine. I was fascinated by those irreverent cartoons, and especially by what took place in the margins of them -- funny sequences drawn by Sergio Aragonés, a Cuban cartoonist living in exile in New York. My young mind would make connections from these tiny cartoons to the main action, revealing another meaning to the main goings on -- no doubt as Aragonés intended I would. In college I learned a term to describe this phenomena: marginal commentary.
As we've discussed, how we perceive factual data can be influenced by how that data is presented to us. Bias can show up in the sequence of presentation, in the weight one fact is given over against another, in neglecting a fact, in the company that information keeps, etc.
There's a marvelous book that explains about as well as possible what's going on here, and it is not a work of psychology, sociology, or politics. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud is a masterpiece of the philosophy of what we see and how we interpret it. We are built to find the meaning in everything -- sometimes even where there is none. It's a talent that can be manipulated.
McCloud demonstrated how scant information could be universalized more easily than hyper-specific information. Think of the difference between the everyman Charlie Brown, and Prince Valiant, who can never be anyone but himself. The more detail you leave out, the more we tend to supply the missing information.
But go a step further. Lets say all we have is two dots, a circle, and a half circle. What meaning do we make with those? Why should they represent anything to us at all? But we can't help ourselves, can we. We're compelled to project our feelings onto even the simplest arrangement of geometric forms.
And what if we ran a chyron under that? Oh, the stories we can tell...