Erving Goffman’s definition of the situation: Bridget Jones’s Baby and The King’s Speech

In a Comment at a recent post, I’ve referred to commonalities between Bridget Jones’s Baby and The King’s Speech.

In the current post, I will explore themes related to storytelling, Erving Goffman, storylines, narrative arcs, frames and framing, and related topics.

These topics are of interest to me because I have been exploring the nature of storytelling – and the related topic of making sense of things – for many years.

Bridget Jones’s Baby: Who’s who and whodunit

Making sense of things is concerned with who’s who and whodunit – and with the question of what’s the outcome, and what will be the future outcomes? It’s also concerned with what is the meaning of it all.

Bridget Jones’s Baby and The King’s Speech, as with any market-driven media production is each concerned with the shaping of a definition of the situation.

Any market-driven media production – the 2016 U.S. Election and the Brexit Referendum come to mind as examples – are concerned with the definition of the situation.

By definition of the situation, I have in mind Erving Goffman’s formulation of what such a definition entails.

I first encountered Goffman’s work in the 1960s. In recent years, I had been thinking of writing some blog posts about his work but figured he’s from so long ago, who would be interested. However, when I was reading about world military history, in recent years, I noted that he was still being cited by academics writing current overview of topics of interest to me.

As it has turned out, one of the posts I’ve written about Erving Goffman’s career has turned out to be among the most widely visited pages at my website; the post is entitled:

Erving Goffman began his graduate work in Chicago in 1945

The fact that many people have read, and continue to read, the above-noted post is a source of amazement for me. I would never have imagined that there would be much interest in such a topic.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Take Bridget Jones’s Baby by way of illustration.

We are in this movie dealing with the audience’s definition of the situation.

The overriding narrative concerns the question of who is the father of the baby.

Two men are potentially the father; DNA testing will determine who the actual father is. In the end, the definitive answer to this question is not provided. An underlining message may be that, in the end, it does (or does not) matter.

Ambiguity and open-endedness, by any of definition of the situation, is a staple in many aspects of fiction, non-fiction, and everyday life.

It comes down to evidence and the absence of it.

It comes down to frame and framing, a topic to which Erving Goffman devoted a good part of his work.

Related storylines in the movie are concerned with the definition of the situation as it pertains to Bridget’s relationship with each of the two men she has been involved with.

Facts and circumstances

The script for the movie is concerned with setting up of scenarios wherein a series of mini-stories – wherein a range of the possible ways in which a given set of facts and circumstances can best be framed – are presented.

Each mini-story concludes with a consensus, among viewers of the movie, regarding what the best possible definition of the situation may be.

Occasionally, the consensus is not arrived at, at once, and additional mini-stories are presented, rounding out the information that is available to the viewer.

Is broadcast news viable?

Among the storylines is the quest for a viable business model for broadcast television news, in a market-driven media environment in which social media plays a central role.

Both The King’s Speech and Bridget Jones’s Baby are strongly concerned, as well, with the role that stereotyping plays with regard to the narrative arc of each film – and the overriding, over-arching definition of the situation.

A related topic concerns typecasting.

Each actor is cast to play a particular role. The casting – we can, in fact, speak of typecasting as a key element of film-based storytelling – plays a key role in bringing the story to life.

Cuddy et al. (2008) and Cuddy (2015)

A poignant and revealing reference, with regard to stereotyping and typecasting, is provided by the well-researched, well-presented academic and TED Talk work of Amy Cuddy, which I have highlighted in recent posts:

Perceptions of warmth and competence drive our stereotypes: Cuddy et al. (2008)

Powerful Poses, Powerless Poses – from Presence (2015) by Amy Cuddy

Power of imagery

Related topics – with a focus among other things on stereotyping, power, and the power of imagery as a key element of market-driven media broadcasting – are explored in a Sept. 2, 2016 New York Magazine article entitled:  “The Revenge of Roger’s Angels: How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.”

Related themes are explored in an Oct. 17, 2016 Toronto Star article entitled: “Donald Trump may be a threat to global democracy, experts warn: Dictatorship experts see signs of Benito Mussolini or Hugo Chavez in the Republican candidate’s outlandish claims and allegations.”

The themes are also front and centre as well in an Oct. 18, 2016 BuzzFeedNews article entitled: “FiveThirtyHate: Meet The Trump Movement’s Post-Truth, Post-Math Anti-Nate Silver.”

A foreword to the article reads: “As the final weeks of the presidential campaign devolve into accusations of conspiracy and fraud, the most talked-about Trump supporter might be a poll-hating Twitter pundit who has no official role with the campaign. Bill Mitchell is here to win the ground game in our hearts.”


A Nov. 12, 2016 Guardian article is entitled: “How to talk to strangers: a guide to bridging what divides us: The more we do to interact with people who aren’t like us, the better off we’ll be in the face of hatred that has become so visible thanks to Donald Trump.”

A Nov. 3, 2016 Language and Cognition article is entitled: “Power in time: The influence of power posing on metaphoric perspectives on time.” The article is mentioned in a Nov. 16, 2016 tweet by Amy Cuddy.

In a Nov. 15, 2015 tweet, Amy Cuddy writes: “An outstanding review of the efficacy of diversity trainings, from 178 papers, including practical recommendations.”:
Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2012, Vol. 11, No. 2, 207–227.
Reviewing Diversity Training: Where We Have Been and Where We Should Go


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