Triggering the frame

Sian Berry

Screen shot 2016-02-12 at 09.28.51DOES nobody else think it’s at all odd that a serious politician bidding for a serious office like the London mayoralty is invited onto one of the BBC’s flagship offerings in terms of political coverage, and the host welcomes them as a ‘woodland elf’? Yet this was Andrew Neil’s super-naff introduction for Sian Berry, the Highgate councillor running to be the Mayor for the Green Party, last night. This Week, of course, is supposed to have a lighter touch than Neil’s bulldog lunchtime interviews, but, still ‘woodland elf’ is as good as a nudging wink to us all that everything that this woman is about to say is all a bit airy-fairy, mystical.

As Neil is more or less the only option if you’re a politician and want to get airtime on the Beeb – every lunchtime, every Sunday, every Thursday evening, he’s always there being both hard-hitting and absolutely hilarious – you wonder if he has reached an untouchable stage where he can say whatever’s funny to him and if it’s all a little off-pale then, hey ho, it’s only going to be met with little more than a polite smile.

It’s quite an intimidating power, to reach such a Lordmaster position where even newspaper columnists with grand reputations feel compelled to perform in increasingly daft and frankly belittling costumes. Bring me this Rafael Behr character from the Guardian and make him dress up in… hmmm… a flower power wig, and make him dance around a tepee for me, you can almost hear the demand from the This Week office, and a later cackle: What? He’s actually said ‘yes’ he’ll do it? Ha. This will be almost as good as the time we tricked Mehdi Hasan into review the week dressed as Austin Powers.

Sian did politely smile at being called a woodland elf. Her friends say she doesn’t want a fuss made of it, or anything of that ilk which may come her way over the next few weeks, because in the run-up to May’s polls it would just be a distraction and ruin other opportunities to talk about those crazy things called policies. Taking on Neil on TV and being the first to say ‘hang on right there, can you not’ would provoke a Twitter trend and a media response through Friday with a rush to cover THE WOODLAND ELF WHO ANSWERED BACK. She might be a heroine for the day, but strangely, by publicly requesting not to be called a woodland elf, the more people would have talked about her being… a woodland elf.

img_0878Triggering the frame is what the Berry camp calls this effect; the repeating of something that was stupid in the first place so often that it becomes a greater part of the public consciousness, either deliberately or unintentionally. Preferring the stupidity of the elf line to be forgotten, she may not even like this post, even though it’s meant to question why she was introduced on a top television talk show like that. Perhaps that’s understandable, for when she was cheaply described as ‘environmental viagra’ by a creepy hack the last time she ran for City Hall, it kinda stuck. Years later, the Metro, sounding like a flirtatious picker on Blind Date searching for a popeye answer, asked her this week: “You’ve been described as ‘environmental Viagra’ – where’s the best place in London to go for a date?”

On that occasion, she said ‘please don’t write that’. The paper printed her saying ‘please don’t write that’.

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