Why framing matters
Lewis Hyde’s introduction from Frames from the Framers: How America’s Revolutionaries Imagined Intellectual Property:
The linguist George Lakoff has been insisting for some years now that progressives need to improve the way they frame their issues. Conservatives have become very good at framing– ”the death tax,” “partial-birth abortion,” “the ownership society”–and, Lakoff argues, once a debate is joined in terms set by the frame, the debate is lost. You can speak of taxation as a way for groups to empower themselves toward worthy ends (schools, bridges, libraries), or you can speak of taxation as an oppressive tool of Big Government. When you let the debate begins in the Big Government frame, you never get your library funded.
If we turn from death and taxes to intellectual property and the public domain we’ll see that the entertainment industry has also been very good at framing its issues. Here is a typical assertion: “There’s no difference in our mind between stealing a pair of shoes in a shoe store and stealing music on-line. A theft is a theft is a theft.” If in fact there is a difference between downloading a digital MP3 file and stealing a pair of shoes this “theft frame” has neatly erased it and sealed the erasure with a tautology.
Many people think that there is a difference, of course, but what alternative frame might reveal it? In what imaginative or discursive universe should we be having our discussion about file sharing? Is a song really a pair of shoes? What is the apt rhetoric here? What metaphors should guide us?