Frames are properly described as “symbolic structures by which human beings impose order upon their personal and social experiences. Frames serve as perspectives from which all interpretations of experience are made” (Carlson 447). Within the context of rhetoric then, the frame becomes a method of using one’s own interaction with the world to shape another’s interaction with the world. Literary critic and rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke first proposed the idea of the comic frame in his 1937 work Attitudes Towards History, wherein he divided acceptance and rejection frames into poetic categories including the comic, tragic, satirical, grotesque and transitional among others. He described the comic frame as a method that is “neither wholly euphemistic, nor wholly debunking—hence it provides the charitable attitude towards people that is required for purposes of persuasion and co-operation, but at the same time maintains our shrewdness concerning the simplicities of ‘cashing in’” (Burke 166). Critical to the comic frame is an understanding that humanity is good, but flawed. Thus one must be open to the idea that the opposing side is not evil, but rather is working for a value that they have mistakenly deemed as good. Complimenting this idea is the recognition that one’s own group has the potential to be fallible, as well (Burke 4). As opposed to a tragic frame that establishes a relationship of victim and oppressor, wherein the oppressor must be sacrificed to bring about a change in society, in the comic frame the weaknesses lie in societal structures themselves (Carlson 447). The comic frame, then, “challenges the status quo by a corrective ideology which confronts and demeans the failings of the operating ideology” while simultaneously keep basic ordering in tact (Powell 87). The end goal of the comic frame is ultimately to raise a “maximum consciousness” within man, from which he can “‘transcend’ himself” to recognize and correct “his own foibles” (Burke 171).
A. Cheree Carlson analyzed this comic rhetoric in her article, “Gandhi and the Comic Frame,” as did Kimberly A. Powell in her article “The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching: Strategies of a Movement in the Comic Frame.” The two of them have identified four basic strategies of the comic frame: identification, spirituality, repudiation and juxtaposition. Identification is intimately tied to the notion of a united humanity and finding common ground with one’s opponents (Carlson 450-451). It can work in a number of ways and was how Carlson understood Gandhi’s civil disobedience, and Powell ASWPL’s resistance to being an interracial movement. Spirituality allows for this unification of humanity and the humanity of the enemy through belief in a high power that is common to all religions (Carlson 451). Repudiation explicitly involves refuting the myths about oneself and thereby increasing one’s own value and leading to a correction of problems within the system (Powell 92). Lastly, juxtaposition is a method of confrontation that puts the two conflicting ideologies side by side and compares them. Unlike a tragic frame that would do this to discredit its opponents, though, the comic frame does this to lead its opponents to self correction (Powell 94). Feminists for Life primarily utilizes the methods of identification, repudiation, and juxtaposition to spread their message. To a lesser extent, they take a non-spiritual approach that largely serves the same function in a secular society as the spiritual approach worked in Gandhi’s Hindu culture and the Christian South.