Visual Argument — Jon Gonzoph

The article I chose is this one on texting while driving.

My thoughts:

The commercial opens with an establishing shot of a car traveling down a neighborhood road. The car appears to be a relatively cheap model, and the background is laden with greenery and bright colors. These factors help establish an atmosphere of normalcy and calm, which also creates a feeling of dread or anticipation in those well-versed in commercials, because this atmosphere is always horribly broken by the end of the spot.

The next shot shows the driver of the car is a woman, approximately college age. She is dressed “sensibly,” her hair is of moderate length. There is nothing overly unique or remarkably about her, presumably to facilitate the viewer putting themselves in her shoes.  Some cynical viewers – such as the one writing this essay – wonder if the effect would be changed if the driver was an middle-aged overweight male instead, but that digression will have to wait.

The driver glances down at her phone, which displays a message saying she has a new text. The new text message is unfortunately completely generic and thus fake-looking, breaking the immersion in the commercial.

The next quick flash has her waver between looking at the road and then down at the phone. This is a brilliant use of such a short time because it quickly encapsulates the dilemma faced when your phone receives a text in the car.

The bright pink phone is in the foreground for the next camera angle, with the driver being out of focus in the background. Putting this emphasis on the phone makes it seem sinister, quite a feat considering the object in question is a bright pink piece of plastic.

She then grabs the phone, smiling slightly as she reads it. The camera here is focused directly on her face, which means that the audience has as much view of the road as she does – none. It is also worthy to note that the slight smile indicates that the text does not contain some earth-shattering revelation that would reasonably distract her, but rather some sort of pointless fluff text that probably isn’t vital.

At this point the camera starts flashing between a quick shot and then blackness. The first is of her typing on her phone, and then a point of view shot of the car speeding down the road, then back to her phone, then a final shot of her looking up, running a stop sign and smashing into a car going across the street. The periods of blackness add to the tension and underscore the fact that looking up and down at a phone might as well cause the driver’s vision to black out, since it steals his or her awareness.

It is interesting that they chose another car to be the target of the crash. While undoubtedly more common then hitting pedestrians, it also dehumanizes the accident victims, since all we see is a gray car. One possible reason for this that did not occur on my first few times watching this commercial is that the viewer might be expected to put themselves in the other car, since it’s dull tone and lack of distinguishing features make it as relatable as the texting driver.

What follows after is a black screen with a broken yellow line running moving towards the viewer, emblazoned with the words “Stop the texts. Stop the wrecks.” It then shows the website URL and the commercial ends. While this is a clever rhyme, it also seems to underscore the seriousness of the events just witnessed. It might have a purpose as a memory device, but I believe the commercial would be better served just flashing the website up and skipping the first part entirely.

Overall, this PSA is fairly effective. The faults are relatively minor and are very subjective.

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1 Response to Visual Argument — Jon Gonzoph

  1. davidbdale says:

    This is very well done, Jon. I’m impressed by much of what you’ve said, particularly your comments about the quick signalling of the driver’s indecision, the sinister pink phone, the “blindness” indicated by the black screens, and your clever reading of the significance of the second car. My own impression of the value of that anonymous target was that it kept the mayhem focused on the driver. We don’t wonder so much what happened to the innocent other anonymous driver. This driver gets what’s coming to her for her own recklessness. The other ad in this series pits the driver’s car against a young mother and child in a crosswalk. THAT one rivets our attention on the victims. Either way, the driver pays a price. She might die or be severely injured, or she might kill someone else and survive to feel guilty forever.

    Filmmakers have a tough job choosing between generic and specific graphics, don’t they? Neither works perfectly.
    Grade recorded.

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