Comparing Planet Earth II and Wild SafariLIVE: A Master’s Thesis

It is high time that I explained what I am doing for my master’s thesis. I wrote in this post that after a series of unforeseen events, I had settled on a project about wildlife television. I will try to be more specific without sounding too boring.

The Gist

I am doing a comparative frames analysis between two very different wildlife television programs: Planet Earth II and Wild SafariLIVE. In short, I am dissecting a sample of episodes from each series and identifying the media frames within them.

A screen shot from one of Wild SafariLIVE’s recent broadcasts. To learn more about this live, interactive program, click here.

What is a Frame?

Framing theory is an extensively-researched paradigm within the social sciences and humanities. This popularity comes with a price. It has produced competing understandings of what frames are, what they do, and how to study them.

Frames as Nouns

The meaning of the word “frame” changes depending on whether it is used as a noun or a verb.

As a noun, “a frame” typically refers to a network of associated meanings, words, feelings, values, and more. According to George Lakoff (2010, 2012), one of the most prominent framing authors, these networks are physically linked in the brain.

This makes frames quite similar to the concept of schemas from cognitive psychology. The main difference between the two is that schemas are specific to one individual, whereas frames are more widely shared amongst members of a culture. However, schemas and frames can overlap with and influence one another (Van Gorp, 2007).

“Beauty in Nature” (Blackmore, Underhill, McQuilkin, Leach, & Holmes, 2013) is a good example of an environmental frame. Many people do, indeed, find beauty in nature. Taal Lake and Volcano, Tagaytay, Philippines by Ray in Manila. CC BY 2.0

Frames as Verbs

The verb “to frame” has a slightly different meaning than “a frame.” Framing is the process of highlighting a few aspects of a subject at the expense of others; helping to encourage particular interpretations of that object or issue (Entman, 2007). Framing sometimes happens unconsciously (Entman, 1993).

Entman (1993, 2007)

Idiosyncrasies abound within the general concepts of frames and framing that I have described above. And, as things tend to go in academia, if your understanding of a concept is not identical to mine, then you are wrong and your work is garbage.

To minimize the trashiness of my thesis, I am borrowing Entman’s (1993, 2007) widely-cited definition of media frames. Entman (1993, 2007) operationalizes frames based on the four functions they perform: problem definition, causal analysis, moral judgement, and remedy promotion.

But since very little of Entman’s (1993, 2007) work focuses on wildlife television, I am expanding his functions slightly. I have turned problem definition into “problem or issue definition,” and remedy promotion into “remedy promotion or action directive.” So, my work is still garbage.

What I am Doing

Besides downing far too many double espressos, that is. Nice Double Espresso at Jet, QVB, Sydney by Katherine Lim. CC BY 2.0

To locate specific media frames within Wild SafariLIVE and Planet Earth II, I am watching three episodes from each series repeatedly. While doing so, I am singling out elements of each episode that:

  • Identify and define a specific problem or issue (problem/issue definition);
  • Say how a problem or issue came to be or why it is the way it is (causal analysis);
  • Tell viewers how they are supposed to feel about a problem or issue (moral judgement);
  • Explain what to do in response to a problem or issue (remedy promotion/action directive); and,
  • Contain tell-tale keywords, phrases, or visuals.

This last point is especially important, because Entman (1993) writes that media frames, “are manifested by the presence or absence of certain keywords, stock phrases, stereotyped images, sources of information, and sentences that provide thematically reinforcing clusters of facts or judgements” (p. 52).

Finally, I am trying to go beyond just dialogue and consider how multiple aspects of each episode contribute to the frames within it. This includes individual shots or sequences of shots, sound effects, music, dialogue, and the presenters’ actions or tones of voice.

If you are going to fail, you might as well do so spectacularly. Image retrieved from https://imgflip.com/memetemplate/55694543/Exploding-Crap-Porta-potty.

Where I Am

I have finished the research portion of my thesis, and have begun writing it. The goal is to be done by mid-November.

I will also be presenting a work-in-progress poster at The Wildlife Society’s Annual Conference in Cleveland. At this prestigious gathering of scientists who have performed rigorous, quantitative (mathematical) research on pressing issues, there will be one weird guy talking about television. It should be good.

15 Thoughts

  1. Loved “…as things tend to go in academia, if your understanding of a concept is not identical to mine, then you are wrong and your work is garbage.”

    Very exciting thesis. And in my opinion, it should be refreshing to have a guy talking about television amongst all the quantitative math stuff. And I’ve never thought of framing in that way before – very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Then you’d be the perfect training for all the attendees who want to get better at explaining science to ‘normal’ people – as if there were such a thing. Although tbh, I feel like you’d be smart enough to comprehend most of what people would be talking about.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Haha, well, what’s the point of generating knowledge if you can’t share it with the masses? Or am I just being an evil socialist again?

            It might indeed be funny to see scientists trying to explain their mathematical equations to us peasants, though.

            Liked by 1 person

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