The Rhetoric of Videos

One of the more interesting things about rhetoric is that you can use the theoretical frameworks used to create an ideal rhetoric – if there is such a thing – to any kind of argument made in any kind of medium. It’s a common practice of writing and rhetoric courses students engage in rhetorical analyses of texts in order to understand the structures of argument, find good ways to establish authority, learn tricks to appeal to emotions, discover means of creating an argument with a sound internal logic, and figure out how to apply rhetorical strategies to their own arguments. Strategies of rhetorical analyses, however, can also be applied to non-traditional texts, such as games and videos. I’ll write more about videogame rhetoric on a future post; for this one I’ll talk a bit about the rhetoric of videos. When looking at videos, we must remember that a video is not some abstract thing where a single rhetoric can apply – a video is a tool of communication, and rhetorical analysis techniques are not applied to the video as an artifact, but to the content of the video. The content can range from a well thought out argument delivered stump-speech style to a music video that makes a point. For this post, allow me to share with you some of the best (and worst) videos with arguments from the internet, and a brief rhetorical analysis of their content.

Consider this video by “UCLA Girl”:

When making her argument, she starts by destroying her own credibility by stating “I’m not the most politically correct person” and by being apologetic. She then preemptively excludes her chosen close group, which means that if one is not with her, they are obviously part of the other. This effectively ostracizes the audience. She then proceeds to make sweeping blanket statements without providing any evidence. The way she presents herself – her ethos – is at best laughable. The fact that what she types furiously is “blab la bla” does not help her argument. This gets us to a key point: what was her argument? If you figured out it was “people should not talk in the library”, you got it right. How does it get from that to “Asians talk too much on the phone and are noisy” I don’t know. This is the flawed internal logic of her argument (which she calls “rant”). The poor editing and uncreative way in which she exposes her ideas are also highly mediocre. This video is one you want to look at to learn what not to do.

Now consider this video argument by Laci:

Laci opens her video by explaining the general issue – abortion – and the specific issue – the Stupac. She then proceeds to explain the specific issue briefly, then moves on to provide factual evidence regarding the issue. She also succeeds at providing valid sources for her evidence, which helps her establish her argument’s ethos. Although she never outright states that she is for a certain position, the facts that Laci chooses to disclose certainly disclose her position on the debate. As far as her rhetoric, it’s top notch. Her editing, however, leaves a bit to be desired. Although she uses an unorthodox camera angle and uses jump cuts effectively, the visuals become monotonous quickly. Her video could be enhanced by including some kind of graphical variation.

Now consider the following two videos from Dan Brown on Justin Beiver:

In the first video, Dan explains the issue: Justin Beiver as the specific issue, and “teen sex idols” as the larger issue. He spends a large part explaining the claims from those who claim that “Jay Beebs” is “bad for society” and those who claim that “the Booblyboober” is good for society. He does this without making an argument for either side, which helps his ethos. He concludes the video by pushing the boundaries of video argumentation in the digital age by inviting the reader to comment and influence him. He then proceeds in the next video to explain his position.

On the second video he begins by recapping the issue and integrating the opinions of others. He is neutral in his approach, which helps his credibility. He also pushes the boundaries of digital media by inviting people to “continue the conversation on the other videos”. The concludes by stating his position on the Beiber issue and offering reasons that back it up.

As far as video editing, his use of simple editing techniques is simply masterful. The jump cuts, skipping around, and integration of interesting visuals that highlight (rather than hinder) his points show that he puts time into editing his videos.

If students will be doing a “talking to the camera” video argument, Dan Brown’s video is the ideal they should aspire to. However, it’s worth pointing out that the “talking to the audience” style is only the tip of the iceberg of what one can do when making a video argument.

Consider the video below:

This video was clearly not intended to make an argument – it was made to entertain. However, by showing a certain kind of situations where humans appear to intrude into another’s space, Nat successfully manages to convince the viewers that people should not, and I will quote one of my students, “mess around with other people’s stuff”.

Below a more clearly argumentative skit style video:

This skit parodies the old (year or two old) apple versus windows commercials and gives it a religious spin. In this very short video, “Atheist” makes his case of how “Christian” ‘guilts’ him into giving money to church so that pastors can drive ferraries. The video certainly raises some questions about the ethics of religion. However, at the same time the creators manage to give the religious voice a fair chance by giving it the last comment: “but this is going to aids research”. This gives the message that “religion is not about harvesting money to drive fancy cars as much as it is about helping the world”.

Other ways of using video to make arguments could be to make original comic books. I will not explain the four videos below beyond some short comments. I should mention that if you want to discover the complete argument they make you should look at, and think about, all four videos.

These are a series of videos made by Forum for the Future that show four “possible futures” based on the current politics of the world taken to the extreme. By showing what the world “might look like”, they are making the case for or against certain perspectives. Some people have said that these are “evil propaganda”, I rather see them as legit criticism.

Another approach one could take to their video project is one where you make skits through animation. Consider the video below:

*DISCLAIMER: Some people might find the video below offensive. If you are easily offended, skip this video.*

In this video the author juxtaposes different perspectives to similar situations to make the case that certain groups of individuals use a double standard when judging people.

One of the better video arguments I’ve seen is one that shows a process:

In this video, the author shows how an already lovely female is turned into the kind of female we see in magazines by manufacturing her. The author shows how not even models can live up to their own standards, and shows why “our perception of beauty is distorted”. This argument is made with minimal words, and its creation takes only as long to make as it takes to put up makeup and edit a photograph.

We can see a clearer process in the video below, which does not show any text at all but still makes the same argument:

Finally, I’ll put up a video that represents one of the easiest ways of making a video argument: the mashup. One of the best examples of this I have seen is a music video where various short films of wars and soldiers dying is set to the music of Guns and Roses’ Civil War:

This video successfully succeeds at conveying the message that war is horrible – something that we as individuals understand to some level but never give much thought to.

I hope this post helped you better understand video arguments.
See you next time.

Cool legal lines:

The above videos are the property of their respective owners and are not hosted on this site – these are simply videos “embedded” into the post through Youtube’s functionality. They are linked to here under fair use for educational purposes.


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on March 29, 2011, in Education Commentary, Literature Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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