The Framing

Whenever a story or narrative is presented there is also a framing as to how that story is presented. The frame, a negative space of assumptions and implicit understandings, guides in both how the story is told and how the story is understood. When you can see this supporting scaffolding you have a better understanding of what was left unsaid.

Usually the framing is not a conscious choice. All of us work from assumptions and things we simply accept implicitly so all of us use these shortcuts as foundations, but it is a good exercise to think about and search out these assumptions. Sometimes there are true, sometimes they are harmless fictions, but sometimes they reveal an uglier set of cultural biases.

Consider America’s current opioid crisis. There are tons of stories out there about the economic hardship, cultural devastation, and despair that have acted as the engine driving this addiction crisis. In addition to those factors others narratives portray the major pharmaceutical corporations as the bad guys, pushing drugs onto a weakened and depressed population.

There are several aspects to this framing of these narratives. There is the condescension, about theses economically and emotionally depressed people and how they have turned to drugs to alleviate their distress. There is also an element of agency-less. These poor people are victims of circumstance and forces beyond their control, pushed and pulled into a terrible addiction without the ability to determine their own course of action. It is not coincidence that the narratives tend to be crafted by elites in great urban centers about people and sub-cultures that the authors have little or no direct experience with.

But there is another layer to the framing and to see that one you need to think back on other great addiction waves and the narratives associated with those health crises.

When the crack cocaine epidemic swept the nation’s urban centers throughout the late 80s and into the 90s do you remember such sympathetic narratives? Did the author of article after article go into the terrible economic conditions of the decaying urban centers? Were column inches devoted to the hopelessness and despair that swept through the effected communities?

I will leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions why the framing narratives have changed so radically.