A Frame Analysis of a Viral Video
Tags: goffman, theory, ambiguity, breakdown, breaking frame, disruption, dramaturgy, frame alignment, frames, impression management, key, norms, reparation, symbolic interactionism, 00 to 05 mins
Summary: Many students will be familiar with Minerva, Ohio Councilman Phil Davison's speech, in which he sought the nomination for Stark County Treasurer. In this viral clip, the unbridled enthusiasm and apparent anger expressed by Councilman Davison catch us off guard and strike many as inappropriate. But the fact that we, as the audience, have expectations that were violated suggests there is an underlying structure or script that regulates the speaker's demeanor in situations such as these. I would argue that Erving Goffman's work offers a useful conceptual framework for describing the situational structure environing Councilman Davison's speech, and the speech can be used in a class as a means of illustrating many of Goffman's theoretical concepts. For starters, an instructor might note that by applying a dramaturgical analysis, one can examine Davison's speech as more than a mere announcement. It is instead a performance, analogous to the kind one might pay to see at the theater. For example, there is a stage. Davison's suit and podium are his props. His handwritten speech is like a script, but it should be noted that there already exists a general kind of script for such speeches. Furthermore, one can use Davison's speech to engage Goffman's concept of impression management. How is Davison attempting to control people's impressions of him? What impressions is he "giving off," irrespective of his intentions? Goffman (1986, p. 10) discussed the notion of a frame, referring to the definitions of a situation. Frames orient people to a collective understanding of "what's going on" in a given situation, and there exists frame alignment when there is a consensus among all participants about appropriate behaviors in a given situation. A key, by contrast, is a set of conventions seemingly imported from one activity and applied to another with the aim of transforming the latter (p. 44). At one point, Davison attempts--perhaps unsuccessfully--to layer his speech with meaning by keying his approach to the job of County Treasurer to an act of war. At another point, he keys it to an aggressive game of football. Finally, an instructor can use this clip to emphasize Goffman's attention to breakdowns (breaking frame) and reparations. One could argue that Davison broke frame once his speech too closely resembled the kind of pep talk a player gets before a big game. The audience's embarrassment at being unable to save Davison's performance for him can be understood as a ritual reparation, paid as a consequence of the broken social order.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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