A09: Visual Argument

As an example of a visual argument analysis, I will show a brief public service announcement (PSA) produced by the Ad Council for a campaign to prevent or reduce domestic violence.

While the producers depend on the voiceover text to carry much of the argument of the piece, we’ll be concentrating in class on the part the visuals play in reinforcing the message of the announcement.

For TUE MAR 27, you’ll select any other visual you like from the Ad Council website and use it to produce your own visual analysis, a non-formal piece of rhetorical writing you can format any way you wish. What appears below is not meant to guide you in constructing your own analysis; it’s merely notes on my impressions as I watch the PSA a few times.

  • The “ad” begins with a view of the ceiling of the couple’s apartment. They must spend quite a bit of time looking up at that ceiling, trying to imagine (or afraid to imagine) how the scene appears just a few feet away from their heads.
  • The shot establishes that the sounds come from upstairs, not next door. This quickly indicates that the couple does not share a two-bedroom apartment with the abuser and his victim.
  • The politics of the couple’s relationship is critical to this argument. When we first see them, the man is reading while the woman is sitting upright, stiff with discomfort, riveted on the sounds from upstairs the man is trying to ignore.
  • They are in bed, the ultimate setting for domestic comfort and security, but she feels anything but safe. What is she thinking about the man in the bed next to her?
  • She gets under the covers—to feel safe? to indicate that she does not intend to go anywhere? to get closer to her protector?
  • When she looks at him, is it with sadness? Yes, but also guilt? Yes, but also pleading? She might expect him to do something. She might be wondering how much she can trust him if he can listen to a man beat a woman and NOT do something. She might just be feeling helpless herself.
  • They are not poor. They live in a good-looking apartment with good linens and nice furniture. The implication is that violence can happen anywhere.
  • When the man does nothing, she turns away, not toward him. Has their failure to act (his failure to act) damaged their intimacy? Does she not want to be near him? Does she not feel as safe as she wants to feel when she’s near him?
  • When he puts down his book, we see his wedding band. They are married. Whether she expects his protection or not, they are making this choice together, to ignore what is going on above them. The telephone is inches away from his hand as he turns out the light. No doubt the noises from upstairs will sound even louder in the dark.
  • It is their business, says the slogan on the screen. And there is no excuse. For domestic violence. And no excuse not to place the call to find out how to report it.

The purpose of the ad and the argument is to reinforce an ethical appeal to anyone aware of domestic violence to take responsibility and at least not ignore it.


  • Write your first Analysis of a Visual Argument paper.
  • An informal piece of rhetorical writing you may structure any way you wish: as a series of notes, categorized impressions, a diary of your changing attitudes toward the argument over several days, a script of the conversation you had with someone else about the ad, or any other approach you wish to take.
  • You may even respond visually, if you wish.
  • Include a Works Cited if appropriate.
  • Title your post Visual Argument—Author Name.
  • Publish your definition essay in the A09: Visual Argument category.


  • DUE TUE MAR 27 before class.
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Rhetorical Writing grade category (15%)

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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