According to Robert Scholes, author of On Reading a Video Text, commercials aired on television hold a dynamic power over human beings on a subconscious level. He believes that through the use of specific tools, commercials can hold the minds of an audience captive, and can control their abilities to think rationally. Visual fascination, one of the tools Scholes believes captures the minds of viewers, can take a simple video, and through the use of editing and special effects, turn it into a powerful scene which one simply cannot take his or her eyes from. Narrativity is yet another way Scholes feels commercials can take control of the thoughts of a person sitting in front of the television.
Through the use of specific words, sounds, accompanying statements and or music, a television commercial can hold a viewer's mind within its grasp, just long enough to confuse someone into buying a product for the wrong reason. The most significant power over the population held by television commercials is that of cultural reinforcement, as Scholes calls it. By offering a human relation throughout itself, a commercial can link with the masses as though it's speaking to the individual viewer on an equal level. A commercial In his essay, Scholes analyzes a Budweiser commercial in an effort to prove his statements about the aforementioned tools. The commercial described in Scholes composition is a "well-known Budweiser commercial which tells... the life story of a black man pursuing a career as a baseball umpire" (Scholes, p.
620). Scholes feels that this commercial elegantly proves his theory that video texts can hold a viewer captive and control his thought pattern through the use of visual effects, narrativity, and of course, cultural reinforcement. The commercial itself tells the story of a young black man, working as an umpire in the minor baseball leagues, risen from the provinces, having overcome great racial tension throughout his life, who "makes it" as he is accepted by a white manager after making a close call during a game. Scholes analysis of this video text references his tools of "power and pleasure" (Scholes, p. 619) many times. Throughout the commercial visual effects are placed in order to capture the audience as we are offered an "enhancement of our vision" (Scholes, p.
619) by them, according to Scholes. A key feature of the commercial, the slow motion video of the play in question allowing us to see what the right call truly is, is not only important to the story, it's important as it allows us to see something we cannot without the use of special effects. We are simply awestruck by seeing something we cannot on our own. The Budweiser commercial in question uses narrativity throughout itself to not only tell the story of the umpire, but to tell the story of America, to tell the story of our national pastime, to tell the story of the young black man who has worked ever so hard to make it, when he finally does. While watching the young umpire working a game, we hear the narrator's voice, "In the minors you got to make all the calls, and then one day you get the call" (Scholes, p. 620), Budweiser uses this catchy phrase in order to grab our attention, to focus us on the commercial in order to look for the blossoming story.
This slight play on words has a great effect on a viewer due to the fact that our minds think about the statement, and by the time we realize what is actually happening, the commercial has shown us that the black umpire has just gotten his "call." Later in the commercial, after the game has obviously ended, we see the umpire sitting in the same bar as the manager who confronted him about his "bad" call during the game. The old white manager with "the history of [baseball] written on [his face]" (Scholes, p. 621) holds up his bottle of Budweiser to the young black umpire, and toasts him with it. All the while a chorus plays in the background, singing "You keep America working. This Bud's for you" (Scholes, p. 620).
Scholes believes that this narrativity is not simply an ad for Budweiser beer, it is more of an ad selling the American way, and the aural accompaniments are in place to relate the American way with the American beer, Budweiser. Cultural reinforcement, the main tool involved in captivating an audience with a video text, is what Scholes believes to be the largest factor included in this Budweiser commercial. Without the cultural background of living where we do, comprehending the plot pummeled upon us in this commercial would be impossible. Without knowledge of baseball and its rules, we wouldn't know that the umpire had made a close, yet correct call, we wouldn't know that a screaming old white man running out onto the field was commonplace; we wouldn't even know why the man who swung the stick at the ball was running towards a white bag on the edge of a dirt path lined by grass. All commercials rely on some amount of previous knowledge, this commercial is no different. Late in the commercial in question, while the manager is toasting the umpire, and the Budweiser music is playing in the background, the viewer realizes subconsciously that the umpire has "made it," that he will live happily ever after, however untrue this may be.
Our culture has influenced us so much that we almost require happy endings, within a 28 second commercial we can see the entire life of a black man unfold before our eyes, and by the time the commercial is over, we know he will have a happy life. The commercial doesn't actually sell beer, it simply sells the culture we live in and or wish to live in, then connects the entire story, including the happily ever after, to Budweiser in hopes of selling their products. After examining a commercial of my choice, Scholes beliefs became much more real to me as I saw all three components he described, visual fascination, narrativity, and cultural reinforcement put to use. The commercial begins through a hazy camera lens, out in the desert, next to what looks like an old military base, we see 2 men sitting in wait. Both men are dressed in black and wearing motorcycle helmets which cover their faces completely.
One of the men looks down the road then waves to his partner, who is sitting on a motorcycle, letting him know that the car is approaching. A rattlesnake sees the man wave his hand and rushes away, frightened. All of a sudden the view changes and we see a wavy reflection of a beautiful silver Nissan 300 ZX Turbo cruising down this deserted highway, while we hear the narrator, a middle aged man, say "So I'm having this dream." The screen flashes again and we see the car from another angle, moving swiftly down the road as the narrator continues, "I'm in a turbo Z." Another shot and we are looking at the "thug" on the motorcycle, who offers a stretch of his arms to the air as the narrator says, "And these guys are after me." The man then takes off after the Z, the engine of the bike roaring all the while. Next we see a few flashes of the Z as well as scenes of the bike chasing it, the whining of the bike is only heard when the Z is out of view, and the roar from the Z is only heard when the bike is, however after a few short glimpses we hear the Z shift up and see it pull far ahead of the bike. Soon we see the driver of the motorcycle give up and slow down, while the narrator chimes in, "But they can't catch me." We then see the Z again for only a second, then we see a black race car approaching from far behind as the narrator announces, "So they get a car," then the view is distorted as we see how fast the black car is gaining on the Z. After a few seconds of chasing the Z, the chasing car loses control and spins out, apparently not able to keep up with the all-powerful Z.
As the camera shows the race car sitting backwards on the road, stopped, we see a large black military jet fly overhead, creating the rumble only a jet can. All of a sudden we are inside the jet, looking down at the Z from the cockpit as the narrator replaces the sound of the engines with, "So they get a plane." We see the Z from a few angles now, barely ahead of the jet, obviously struggling to keep its distance when the narrator comes right back and says, "And just as they " re about to catch me... ." All of a sudden we see the side of the Z car, becoming blurry for the first time of the commercial, then a flash of the jet, a flash of the driver of the Z, a flash of his hand on the shifter, two fast downshifts, then another shot showing the tachometer needle winding to almost redline, when the narrator states "Twin turbos kick... ." The camera then shoots to far ahead and to the side of the Z, the plane is no where in sight. Finally the camera is placed on the road, looking up a slight mound in the road, and just as the Z flies over the camera we hear the narrator with his final word, "In." A lot of visual fascination elements are involved in this commercial; camera angles, special effects, as well as environmental changes provide obvious as well as not so obvious paths of immersion into the commercial. Throughout the entire commercial every camera view offered is short, sometimes wavy or distorted, as well as hazy.
However the views of the 300 ZX are always 100% clear and clean, smooth camera transitions as well as smooth movement of the car create an innate feeling that the car can do everything they are portraying with incredible ease, no matter how ridiculous that may seem. Also the fact that everything "bad" in the commercial is black in color, the chasing men are all dressed in black, the motorcycle is black, the race car is black, the jet is black, lends the feeling of evil to the viewer. The simple fact that the Z is silver subliminally lets us know that it is not evil at all; in fact the reflections on the side of the silver car almost create the feeling that there is an impenetrable force protecting the Z. However different from the previous Budweiser commercial in its use of visual fascination to capture the viewer, the effects are quite the same; we are offered views which we would never be without the use of special effects. In this commercial, the narrative is somewhat easy to follow as it tells a fictional story, however the use of emphasis as well as the choice of words create an inescapable feeling of being there. Throughout the commercial we hear the narrator's voice telling us what's happening, the voice is always calm and unwavering, just like the Z driving down the road.
The narrator also places emphasis on specific words during the commercial, adding the value of emotion and reality to a story every viewer knows is impossible. I feel that the narration of this story is mostly used to emphasize what is happening in the commercial, rather than tell what is going on. However throughout the narration we can see the logic being instilled in the viewer, the men chasing the Z are willing to try everything to catch it, but they simply cannot. The narrativity of this commercial is quite different than that of the Budweiser commercial. Throughout the Budweiser commercial, the narrator emphasizes the story of the visual text, yet in the Z commercial, the narrator's story is emphasized by the visual text. Advertising to the middle aged man looking to spice up his life, this commercial was designed for a specific group.
The cultural reinforcement involved is that of desire, all humans want something bigger and better than we have, that is part of our nature. The commercial, in order to sell cars, shows a car that can do the impossible with incredible ease. The writers used a typical male fantasy, that of being a "hero," or at least of being someone with unmatched abilities, in order to provide that almost James Blondish feeling to appeal to men. The commercial relies on quite a bit of cultural relevance, such as knowing how to drive, wanting a sporty, fast car, and having seen multiple movies. The story line of the commercial is almost that of a movie whose plot is that of a man being chased by "goons" and getting away in style. The threat of evil created by the men in black placed in this commercial instills a feeling of danger throughout the text, a feeling of excitement and anticipation.
The fact that 30 seconds later this powerful, beautiful car overcomes all evils by outrunning everyone in chase, lends a certain feeling of power to the viewer, makes us wish that we too, could do that. Unlike the Budweiser commercial, this video text does not sell the idea of America working, or the system working, instead it sells a dream, a fantasy. America may not work, in fact you may be out in the middle of the desert being chased down, but as long as you have this faithful 300 ZX, you will be in control of your life. In the end, I find that Robert Scholes is correct in his conclusion that commercials hold a certain power, with which they can alter our decisions whether or not to buy a product. Through visual fascination, we are offered images we could never have on our own; through narrativity, we are told what to think and how to think it; and finally through cultural relativity we connect with the rest of the world.
When these three forces are combined by advertising, our brains cannot help themselves, we allow ourselves to become brainwashed by corporate America. This is why Robert Scholes feels that Reading a Video Text should be taught in school.