Yesterday, I posted one in a (sadly) growing series of posts begging Pagans to stop announcing to the press that their Pagan Pride Day/Samhein celebration/etc. is devoted to "dispelling common misperceptions about [P]agans and [P]aganism." I keep posting about this very common problem because I really believe that it matters. (I'm not someone who wants more people to "convert" to Paganism. While I realize those days are gone forever, I honestly liked it a lot better when people had to really search and work in order to find other Pagans and "become" a Pagan. But I do want those who are members of our religion to receive the same amount of respect that members of other religions receive. And I'm unaware of any other religion that begins interviews with the press by listing misperceptions about their religion. Look, most people I know think that any given Catholic priest is likely to abuse little boys. And that's, at least, based on some facts about Catholic priests. But I've never read an article about a Catholic holiday that began with a priest asserting that there are, in fact, a whole lot of them who have never abused an altar boy. Why do you imagine that is so?)
Here's a quote from George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant to explain my concern:
When I teach the study of framing at Berkeley, in Cognitive Science 101, the first thing I do is I give my students an exercise. The exercise is: Don't think of an elephant! Whatever you do, do not think of an elephant. I've never found a student who is able to do this. Every word, [such as] elephant, evokes a frame, which can be an image or other kinds of knowledge. Elephants are large, have floppy years and a trunk, are associated with circuses, and so on. The word is defined relative to that frame. When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.(emphasis added).
Richard Nixon found this out the hard way. While under pressure to resign during the Watergate scandal, Nixon addressed the nation on TV. He stood before the nation and said, "I am not a crook." And everybody thought about him as a crook.
[Think for a moment about Christine O'Donnell telling the world, "I'm not a Witch. I'm you." It led to nothing but replies further defining her in the public's mind as a Witch and, definitely, not "us."]
This gives us a basic principle of framing, for when you are arguing against the other side: Do not use their language. Their language pickes out a frame -- and it won't be the frame you want.
Lakoff goes on to explain how Bush II adopted the framing of "tax relief."
[I]t is [not just on Fox, it is] on CNN, it is on NBC, it is on every station because it is "the president's tax relief plan." And soon the Democrats are using tax relief and shooting themselves in the foot.
It is remarkable. I was asked by the Democratic senators to visit their caucus just before the president's tax plan was to come up in the Senate. They had their version of the tax plan, and it was their version of tax relief. They were accepting the conservative frame [that taxes, rather than being a patriotic duty, that one should be proud to pay, were a burden from which one needed relief]. The conservatives had set a trap. The words draw you into their world view.
We're Witches. I think we understand the concept that, "When we negate" something, we "evoke" that same thing. How many times have you read that affirmations and spells should be phrased to evoke what you want to have become manifest in the world rather than the thing that you want to see decrease and disappear?
When you get your 15 minutes of media attention and you use that time saying that Pagans are not Satanists/evil/ugly/dangerous/etc., by negating that frame about us, you actually evoke it and give it strength. The next time people hear "Pagan" or "Witch," they think, "Oh, yeah, those folks who say that they're not Satanists, just as O'Donnell said she wasn't a Witch, just as Nixon went around trying to convince us that he wasn't a crook."
I've listed my suggestions for how to deal with the press. In comments to several of my posts, Teacats, Makarios, and Literata have suggested developing a media guide for Pagans. I think it's a great idea, but I don't, given my work commitments, have the time to devote to it. However a few smart Pagans could coordinate over the internet and do so. I'd first suggest, a la Teacat's suggestion, a survey of the literature, to figure out if someone (Lady Liberty League? Cherry Hill Seminary? A presentation at a Pagan conference? Green Egg?) hasn't already put together at least a beginning guide. I'd then move on beyond Pagan sources to look at general media guides and discussions of framing. It would be fantastic if every Pagan sponsoring a Pagan Pride event or being interviewed for Samhein had a guide to refer to before meeting the press.
I'm really tired of writing the same damn post over and over.
Picture found here.