The Quintessential Frame Control Strategy: The Russell Brand Method
On June 17th 2013, the famous comedian and TV personality Russell Brand was invited to appear on MSNBC’s morning show ‘Morning Joe,’ hosted by Mika Brzezinski. The purpose of the invitation was to promote Brand’s upcoming comedy show ‘The Messiah Complex,’ which was due to debut in the US some months later. The setting was fairly ordinary, and everything suggested that the interview would flow in the commonly anticipated way. That wasn’t the case though:
Whilst the camera was playing with different shooting angles highlighting the scenery and the members that were taking part, Mika Brzezinski tried to welcome the audience to the show and introduce Russell Brand to those who hadn’t heard of him.
“Alright, joining us now is Russell Brand. He is a really big deal. I know, because I’ve been told this. I am not very pop cultured, I am sorry. Comedian, movie star, host of the show BrandX. This summer he is embarking on his first worldwide comedy tour, ‘The Messiah Complex.’”
Just over ten seconds into the interview Brand begins to show how disinterested he was in being there. It was not an angry disinterest, more of a playful one. Brand calmly span in his chair while the three interviewers sat rigidly, as though they were marionettes, controlled by a puppeteer. By creating a stark contrast between himself and the interviewers Brand set the stage for the later parts of the interview.
Brzezinski’s introduction was interrupted by Brian Shactman, co-host and MSNBC journalist.
Shactman: “Looking at Russell dressed up so fancy, I am starting to think that maybe I could loosen up a little, show a little more chest hair.”
Brzezinski: “Well I think only Russell could do that. Russell, you look fantastic.”
Brand: “That is a very kind compliment. You also look beautiful. Brian, you are free to wear whatever you want. This is one of the freedoms that is afforded to you.”
Third co-host, Katty Kay then decided to speak up.
Kay: “Russell, I want to see your boots. These boots look fabulous.”
Brand, without wasting a second, lifted his foot up and placed it on the table, showcasing his fancy boots.
Brand: “They are some boots. I will put my feet down now because I don’t want to disrespect your program. You are a fellow English woman, so I felt obliged to show them.”
This was just the beginning. Following that comment, Brand progressed on a humorous rampage, dominating the scene without leaving even the ‘lightest’ comment unanswered. Almost halfway through the show Brian Shactman, kind of threatened by Brand’s presence, tried to challenge him, by asking him a question that aimed to reframe the conversation, shifting from a humorous to a more serious frame.
Shactman: “I’ll try and ask you a serious question now. Everyone asks: what do you like better, TV, Movies or standup comedy? Which one is more difficult for you?”
Upon hearing his question Brand smiled piously and attempted to answer.
Brand: “There are challenges in all of those different disciplines. The thing I enjoy most is standup comedy, because you are direct with your audience. You can’t be misinterpreted and people can’t get confused. You know it happens when you work in media. People like to change the information so that it suits a particular agenda. If you are in a room with people, what you are saying is clear. If you say something that people are confused about, you can explain it to them. If you say something as a joke, people can pretend that you are not saying it seriously. So I like having direct communication with people, because I believe people are very intelligent, but the information gets manipulated and tries to misguide them.”
Shactman: “You know, the funny thing about your accent, when I see you in person I understand you totally fine, but on satellite radio, in the car, I can’t understand a single joke you say.”
Brand: “You can’t understand it? Well, it is best if you focus on your driving, Brian. You are a man. You don’t want to get distracted by humor, you might even crash into a pedestrian.”
Shactman: “So it is a good thing?”
Brand: “I think it is probably for the best.”
Brzezinski: ”This is my first Brand experience. I think it is not like listening to him. It is like enjoying the experience and taking it all in.”
Brand: “You know, you are talking about me as if I am here and as if I am an extraterrestrial. You know I am from a country that is near to you.”
Kay: “You are like a shopping window dummy. We are short of admiring you as a whole thing.”
Brand: “Well, thank you for your casual objectification.”
Russel Brand was clearly provoked during this interview.
However, he handled the situation masterfully by creating and, at times, even imposing his own reality on the journalists.
He was absolutely calm whilst artistically handling all the arguments thrown at him, and he managed to reframe the discussion to make it fit his own narrative.
That is the quintessence of frame control.
Frame Control: Framing the Frame
Framing is a technique that almost all high-performance speakers use to control the flow and outcome of a conversation in crucial-setting situations.
The importance of owning the frame simply cannot be understated.
It’s how the media get you to believe their angle on a particular story. It’s how politicians outperform their opponents. It’s how influential people communicate their influence to others.
One’s capacity for personal decisions, lifestyle choices, emotional investments, religious beliefs, and political inclinations are all influenced by our proclivity towards certain frames.
What I want to discuss today, is how to become completely aware of the concept of frame in order to improve the way you communicate, but also understand the way others are trying to influence you, get their message across, and win debates.
Frame Control: Understanding the Frame
You can think of your frame as a window frame that you are constantly looking through. As you move the frame around, the stimuli that you encounter are interpreted by your brain in ways consistent with your beliefs, values, and identity. This is your perspective or “point of view.”
In every human relationship, each individual projects his or her own personal frame.
When different frames face off, beliefs, values, ideas, and instincts collide.
Your frame, because it somehow represents your identity, is something very dear to you.
It constitutes the substrate of your belief system and, when it is questioned, it feels as if someone convulses the foundation of your being.
That’s not an easy thing to accept, so your ego gets triggered, and you react.
You experience a fight or flight response, you become defensive, competitive, and you want your view to be respected.
Our whole existence can be interpreted as a perpetual struggle to assert frame control.
It can be exhausting, not just experiencing first hand, but also even watching it being performed by other people.
Nonetheless, understanding how to fathom and apply, when needed, the power of frame is one of the most important communication mechanisms one will ever learn.
Frame Control: Winning the frame wars
“No truth is more absolutely certain than that all that exists for knowledge and, therefore, this whole world, is only object in relation to subject, perception of a perceiver–in a word, idea. The world is idea.”
That’s what Schopenhauer wrote in “The World as Will and Representation” and willingly or unwillingly he attempted to introduce us to the concept of frame.
He wasn’t the first one to do it, though.
Frame wars have been practiced extensively in ancient Greece when people were trying to influence others in the famous Agora.
The tactics and the delivery may have evolved through time, but the main principles of frame control remain more or less the same.
These principles were also adopted by Russel Brand during his interview, hence the name “The Russel Brand Method” which is predicated on the following concepts:
- A robust belief system
- A strong body language
- Clarity and presence
- Ability to capitalize on weak arguments
Let’s take each of these in turn for further analysis.
1. A robust belief system
Maintaining frame is nearly impossible without a unifying worldview, or a philosophy of life, if you will.
Lack of a robust belief system is usually to blame when we lose our frame during a conversation.
If you have managed to create a strong life philosophy and you are practicing it on an ongoing basis, you will eventually form a strong opinion around it.
You will be able to support your arguments without hesitation because you are well-versed in your subject and your arguments represent you and your fundamental beliefs; they are an extension of your lifestyle, so to speak.
The adherence to a strong belief system is the reality behind every single frame battle.
It is evident when politicians debate, when priests evangelize their religious beliefs, and when business people try to pitch their product.
In the case of Russell Brand, for instance, this is clearly exhibited when he explains the reason he prefers stand-up comedy to TV or cinema.
He artfully explains why stand-up comedy is so special compared to other forms of entertainment and ensures that his reasoning is deeply rooted in his own belief system and overall worldview.
2. A strong body language
Body language sub-communicates one’s emotional state throughout a conversation and that can have a huge impact on oneself while exercising frame control.
Firstly, an open chest while leaning back, which allows the person to avoid slouching can be extremely helpful. Having an open, upright chest, with uncrossed arms is a very strong pose that communicates confidence. Crossing one’s arms is a defensive pose and is usually perceived as weak and insecure.
Secondly, a deeper voice can help people engage with the speaker and pay attention. Vocal tonality has the capacity to evoke specific feelings and reveal a hint of one’s identity through their words. It is this underlying factor that gives a different color to one’s messages and reinforces one’s image and rhetoric.
Thirdly, hand movements and gestures can be used extensively to enhance one’s credibility and persuasiveness. Our brain is capable of sensing the slightest hand and finger movement, and, during a conversation or a speech, if hands and gestures are used effectively, they can empower the delivery of a message.
3. Clarity and presence
Centuries ago, the brilliant philosopher William of Ockham stated the importance of reducing things to their simplest elements:
“Entities shall not be multiplied beyond need.” “It is futile to explain with many things what can be explained by only a few things.”
This simple yet profound concept has influenced many great thinkers and has frequently revealed its importance within the context of a frame battle.
Especially in debates, great speakers know that the key is to reduce things to their simplest elements. They focus on what they can control, not on what they cannot. They focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses, and, whenever they don’t have a great answer, they reframe the question to something apposite to their narrative.
Overanalyzing, overthinking, and overcomplicating, can instill doubt and hesitation in one’s mind. It can force a speaker to submit to their emotions, overwhelming them, and affecting their stream of reasoning.
Brand, apart from possessing a robust belief system, is also a very resilient person. His clarity is rock solid, and, even if it sometimes appears that he will lose the frame, his presence helps him recover smoothly. He clearly demonstrates this ability when he is referred to as a “shop window dummy” by Katty Kay, co-host of the morning show.
Brand’s response, “Thank you for your casual objectification,” is simply masterful.
4. Ability to capitalize on weak arguments
Debates, interviews, and verbal confrontations can get ugly and challenging.
A calm state, as discussed earlier, offers clarity of thought.
If a speaker is unaffected by the insults and provocations people throw at him or her, he or she can gain a competitive advantage.
Not only because people can perceive him or her as a calm and resilient figure, but also because he or she will have time to evaluate their words and use them as counter-arguments.
Frame control is, basically, an exercise in composure.
Again, this demonstrated exceptionally by Russell Brand when co-host Brian Shactman tries to pick on Brand’s accent by suggesting that he cannot understand a word he says when listening to him on the radio.
Unaffected by the comment, Brand seizes the opportunity and reverses the frame dynamic. By mocking Shactman’s inability to multitask, and suggesting that it is actually for the best that he doesn’t understand the jokes. An amazing comeback.
Frame control is just a reminder of how we are constantly sabotaged by our very nature.
The world is indeed an idea, and we just end up fighting each other over different ideas.
Our ego is the enemy here.
Ergo, a frame battle is essentially an ego battle.
And because our egos are still very strong, frame battles will never end.
Especially when we encounter egos that are so big and can become so powerful that we need to use opposing egos just to attenuate their power.
Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of the ego.
At least, when we use it to support our frame, let’s make sure that it is used for a good cause.
Let’s make sure that our ego won’t end up being wasted on the wrong side of history.
Understanding and eventually mastering frame is an ongoing process that requires exposure and social interaction. In the “30 Challenges-30 Days-Zero Excuses” project, most of the challenges suggested entail social interplay and allow you to test and improve your ability to handle frame.
Here is also the video essay version of the post:
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