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On Elephant Christine Barrera

AnthrLing 374

CNN is an informative news network covering information from all over the world that

informs on a variety of levels. CNN has a television program that features music news, to attract

those interested in modern rock’n’roll news. One episode featured an interesting interview with

the members of the White Stripes, Jack and Meg White. Since CNN is a source for the world to

stay updated on current events, even music interviews must stay as close to the present as

possible, focusing only on what has an immediate impact on the audience, not so much on the

music in its entirety. CNN sets the footing of the White Stripes interview in a factual, auctorial

frame, but the White Stripes challenge the rigidness of this frame by occasionally shifting from

auctorial frame into play frames.

The footing of the White Stripes interview with CNN is rigidly framed as news by the

opening and closing segments of the program. Angelique van der Byl, the twiggish host, is

standing in a tank top and miniskirt in an empty news room with flashy blue walls and a TV

screen behind her. Because CNN is a news channel, and Angelique is standing in a modern news

room, this footing allows the audience to prepare to hear news and facts. Angelique addresses the

ratified participants, everyone who might be watching on TV, and acts as an animator, stating

things the author, the script writer, has told her to say. What Angelique says is not necessarily

factual news, such as her statement in part 1 of the transcript in which she projects statements

through her authorial speaker position as if there can be no doubt that the White Stripes are

“exciting,” “triumphant,” “great” or “brilliant.”

The White Stripes interview begins with a close-up of Jack White sitting in front of

shrubs and trees and a fence framing the contained area like a park, and the white car parked
behind it indexes that area to be a parking lot. The interviewer is nonexistent to all ratified

hearers in this conversation. Besides the fact that Angelique tells the hearers across the TV that

the White Stripes are being interviewed, the interviewer is not visible in any part of the

interview. So it seems to the hearers that Jack is having a personal talk with the hearers as if he

were on the Real World television show. In fact, the interviewer is more in existence to the

unratified hearers. The unratified hearers would be those who were parking their car or walking

through the park and saw the interview being taped in real time as overhearers or eavesdroppers.

The intention was to have Jack speak directly to the audience through the TV only. The interview

was intended to reach an audience through the medium of the television, by means of which the

interviewer, the speaker, is eliminated, making Jack the primary speaker. In her newsroom,

Angelique therefore maintains the footing of professional news anchor directly delivering White

Stripes news-entertainment, and cuts out the frame for a secondary auctorial frame.

Jack first begins telling the hearers how the White Stripes and their music were received

in England in section 2 of the transcript. Jack acts as an authority on what garage rock is. He

explains what garage rock is, but he will not speak with designated authority on the subject, even

though he is part of a rock band. Thus, Jack speaks within an expert frame because of the subject

matter – defining garage rock - and his position in footing, but he tries to shift from expert frame

into a casual talk frame. He does this by refraining from good articulation and hedges with words

such as “who cares I guess… ya’ know,” while other experts, like a professor, would refrain from

using these words in a definition. As Goffman states in Footing, hedging and other “performative

modal verbs” create “distance between the figure and its avowal” (Goffman, 1981). Jack’s

footing in this moment frames him as an expert, but also as a rockstar. This allows him to be able

to stay within the expert frame, but shift his language so that he seems like he is not. Jack
maintains his stance as a non-expert even while talking about Meg White in the band expressing

that, “she brings the simplicity to it, I think.” Jack, unlike Angelique, does not allow his opinion

to be accepted as fact even though he speaks within the expert frame.

At the end of section 2 of the transcript, Jack also embeds indirect reported speech within

his definition of garage rock. As Hill and Zepeda discuss in “Mrs. Patricio’s Trouble,” Jack

indirectly embeds speech from the Detroit music community into his definition of garage rock.

Jack uses anaphora because he uses the pronoun ‘that’ when referring back to what all the other

bands in Detroit have said, as if this statement maintains his distance from being an authority on

the subject through recalling the words of the community. Mrs. Patricio in the same way recalls

what community members have said to her, allowing her to shift the blame of her drop-out son.

Jack stays in expert frame as he goes on in section 3 to further accurately describe the genre

garage rock authorially, but this is after he has added the support of the Detroit community. This

distances Jack from being in the position of authority in his claims of what is garage rock. Jack is

acting like a rockstar would act in a position of authority; he does not care, and even though he

could define it himself, he says what everyone says.

In section 4 of the transcript, Jack intentionally shifts into story frame to lead the

audience in to the next topic of discussion, although still relevant because it is a discussion of

where The White Stripes recorded their latest album. Section 4 focuses on the recording studio

Toerag and the owner Liam Watson. The function of the shift into story frame is to smooth the

transition since there is no existent interviewer to switch topics. The technique in this interview

is similar to that of Charles Briggs’ introduction to his article on Warao ritual wailing, as he leads

his audience into a canoe and up the river to the Warao community. In the White Stripes

interview, the audience looks down an alley and sees Liam Watson in a bowler hat, pink button-
up shirt with suspenders riding his bike toward the camera. He skids to a stop, hops off his bike

and takes the keys out of his pocket to open the door to Toerag studio. The most poignant use of

language in this introduction is the point in which Jack states “He’s kind of a mad scientist.” As

Goffman discusses, this type of embedding, in story-frame, can be associated with innuendo, and

that is how Jack uses the stock character of the “mad scientist.” This stock character brings to

mind numerous images such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Victor Frankenstein, as images to be

associated with a “dramatic build-up” of Liam Watson in story frame. To he hearers, Liam now

not only seems to be the owner of the studio, but a great, eccentric man who experiments with

music and musicians while deriving his electricity from lightening bolts. However, this is

certainly a culturally identifiable frame, and would hold no significance to many people who

might hear it. The entire frame of the interview shifts to the inside of Toerag, with Liam standing

in front of large electronic music machines with a white lab coat on. Liam now speaks directly to

the audience in expert frame, and he willingly takes the position to articulately share Jack and

Meg’s experience in the studio. Liam discusses microphones used, including one called the

“Ball and Biscuit” microphone that the White Stripes recorded a song about.

Music of the White Stripes is a very important element throughout the interview. When

the producers put the program together, they edited out the voice of the interviewer and replaced

it with music video clips. The music segments are important as they mark the shift from one

topic to the next since there is no interviewer to make a smooth transition. Since Jack and Meg

talk about their music too, the music clips are used as direct reported speech, to act as examples

and evidence of what is occuring in the interview. The music segments are rather frequent; in the

five minute interview, approximately one minute is made up from the music segments. So not

only is the music used as a way to make smooth shifts within the interview, but also to keep the
audience aware that the White Stripes are in fact musicians and they just released a new album.

This is the aspect that reminds the viewer that they are indeed watching CNN an informative, up-

to-date news network. The song clips used are only the popular White Stripes songs, and the

ending of a song corresponds to the ending of a segment in the interview and a shift in topic. The

moment when Liam mentions the Ball and Biscuit microphone is interesting because the song

“Ball and Biscuit” begins to play in the background. Although it does act as a smooth transition

of segments, it is primarily for use as reported speech; to back up what Liam is talking about.

This can be assumed since “Ball and Biscuit” has not been a single released by the White Stripes,

so it is not a widely known song like the other songs used during the interview. The segment of

the song “Ball and Biscuit” is different because it does not focus on the White Stripes in

performance, but on a close-up of the Ball and Biscuit microphone itself, captured in slow-

motion swinging back and forth. After a few seconds of exhibition, the cover of the latest album

Elephant is displayed zoomed in and out from multiple angles. The question this raises is what

the principle in this interaction, CNN, was intending to convey with the chosen representative

scenes, and through the chosen representation, how did they want it to affect them socially? The

interview and the chosen musical segments within is a news outlet, maintaining pertinance with

relevent music. On the other hand, the musical segments could be a ploy to keep those with a

general interest in the music engaged.

The expert frame in which the interview takes place is likely a result of the network

producing the interview. A news network as compared to a music magazine could have a

different focus. The White Stripes dicuss widely accepted news-related topics in a more serious

frame than would likely be discussed with a music magazine or an independent interviewer. Also

the songs chosen in this interview are more relevant to a wider audience who want to hear White
Stripes music samples, as oppose to the audience with a deeper interest in the garage rock style.

Although CNN keeps the interview in the expert frame, rockstars apparently can shift only a

certain degree into serious expert frame while maintaining authenticity of their rockstarness.


Bateson, G. 1971. A Theory of Play and Fantasy, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind: 177-193

Briggs, Charles, 1992. ‘Since I am a woman I will chatise my relatives’: gender, reported speech

and the (re)production of social relations in Warao ritual wailing. American Ethnologist

19/2: 337-361.

Goffman, E. 1979. Footing. In Forms of Talk

Hill, Jane. Mrs. Patricios’ Trouble: The Distribution of Responsibility in an Account of Personal

Experience, in Responsibility and Evidence: 197-225.

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