Cultivation Theory and Framing

Gerbner and Gross (1976) proposed the Cultivation theory to assess the impact of watching television on the minds and way of thinking of television viewers. On the other hand, social sciences define framing as a combination of ideas, concepts, images and theoretical perspectives of individuals’ organization, perception, and communication about a fact. Cultivation theory proposed that media messages have more pronounced effect on frequent viewers of television. More frequent television viewership make the viewers firmly believe that media messages are real and valid. It was also proposed that frequent viewership of television make individuals more exposed to violence and they start to assume that the world is a dangerous and unsafe place, a condition also named as the Mean World Syndrome. It was also postulated that television gradually affects it’s audience but such affects are long lasting. Heavy viewers of television start to think that whatever is being told or displayed at the television is real and exact picture of the real world.

Cultivation Theorists split the aftermath of cultivation into two stages: first stage – is belief about the world, and second stage – involves attitude building, for example opposing or admiring law, order and pedophiles, etc. The theory also claims that the cultivation of attitudes mainly occurs due to the behaviours already seen in the society and that the media only selects from several types of attitudes already present around us and show it to the audience with a different packaging. It is also seen that the viewers may actually remain unaware about the extent and label themselves as a moderate viewer whereas they should be labelled as heavy viewers.

To test the Cultivation theory, Gerbner compared light to heavy viewers of the television viewers and assessed their perceptions of reality. The research revealed that heavy viewers of TV are more likely to perceive life as it is portrayed on the TV. It was found that the heavy viewership possesses a tendency to perceive the world as a bad place. Framing is the process of formulating and presenting an issue or a problem to benefit a particular segment of the society. As mentioned by Price et al (2005) framing is socially and psychologically important, it involves details who will take part in the process, how the issue will be viewed by the participants, what is the scope of the outcome, and what type of solutions will be offered.

An obvious example of framing is seen in the tobacco industry. From past many years, television has been trying to alter the image of smoking socially by framing cigarette smoking as an act performed by the ‘real men’ only. Tobacco companies have been successful in gaining popularity in male population for showing strong, muscular and rough men as smokers (Strahan et al, 2002). Media use reframing to convince smokers psychologically in favour of smoking. It is claimed that to smoke is an individual’s personal choice and everyone is free to do whatever they wish for themselves. Also, mostly smokers are addicted to tobacco that’s why they smoke and stopping them from smoking will give rise to discrimination in the society.

The social and advocacy groups, however, have been working hard to alter the manly image of a smoker through increasing awareness about the issue. They convey the message through highlighting the strong association of smoking with an individual’s health. In anti smoking campaigns the dark lungs and lips, bad breath and yellow fingernails, of smokers are highlighted for the viewers. Also, issues like waste of money and pain associated with mouth and lung cancer development are raised to discourage smokers. To some extent, such reframing was also successful in changing the focus of the issue.

Instead of associating habit of smoking with the manly appearance of males, tobacco companies may try to gain popularity by using other tactics. Major tobacco companies of the world may indulge themselves in social, cultural and community events to show that they care about the people. Tobacco companies may raise their concern and say that smoking is just a single amongst many other presumed health hazards. Why don’t people talk about reducing fats consumption, why the social and advocacy organizations focus only on the tobacco.

As mentioned in the Cultivation theory, media messages have more pronounced effect on the frequent audience of television. Heavy viewership of the television make individuals believe in whatever is presented on the television and they are more likely to be violent and consider world as a bad place. However, framing is an act of designing and presenting a particular issue in a desired way aiming to create a specific image in viewers. Like other fields of life, within limits and moderate use of television is recommended that will enable viewers to make their own unbiased judgement about things

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