Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rhetorical Techniques for Video Content, part 2

Continuing from part 1, where I mostly covered format, I wanted to hit a couple of neat rhetorical techniques that I have seen in my thousands of hours of YouTube-ing. I will try to lump these in categories, but some channels refuse to be categorized. I will also embed the best examples that I have seen in rhetorical presentation (I'll try to keep it under 5 videos), otherwise look for the pile of links in my comments.
Anyway, the point of this post is to help you to find rhetorical devices and examples of rhetorical form that you can employ in your own argumentative video. This is a long post, so find the section that matters to you now, or check out a few specific examples at the end. This is to be like a resource for you, to be visited several times when you need it.

That said, for our class project, I would strongly recommend that you look at how VSauce3 does his videos in general (discussed below). As far as rhetoric goes, these videos are the best of the best (in my opinion). I would also strongly recommend you watch their video PORTALS, and VSauce2's video on History of Recording Ourselves, because they both very closely relate to our main argument and would give us several ideas for a final video.


Form of the argument (generalities):
  • Start your argument early. A lot of videos have titles like This is Not a Pine Tree (with a thumb-nail of what I call a pine tree on it) or Why Mario is Mental (part 1), which I noted in part 1 as a tool to already start off your argument, because titles like these invite you to argue with their claim, and to see why they think the way they do. You can even do something like Is Cereal Soup?, where you already start the view off thinking about your topic. You can continue this by flat-out telling your viewers what you expect them to get out of your content. Film/Game Theorists do a good job of this (check this video out - just watch for 15 seconds for the example).
  • Give good background for your topic, and make it easy to digest. Again, check out Film/Game Theorists for this (watch about a minute)
  • If you're saying something heavy or involved, put the words on the screen or images up to help the viewer more easily digest what you're saying, like SciShow does (15 seconds).
  • Introduce complex topics using simple words first, then introduce the more complex term. If you hit the viewer with the complex term first, it shuts them down, but if you explain up to it, and then give it to them, they feel like they've learned something. For example, this video explaining what a pine tree is. Imagine if the line you hear clicking that link was the first line of the video's explanation? Instead, he tells you all you need to know to understand that last line, making you feel pretty smart at the end.
  • Be sure what you're saying flows, and that you justify your claims.
  • You can directly address the viewer. This draws them more into your argument, makes the tone more conversational, and leads them to think more about your topic. A prime example of this is the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which I'll discuss more fully below.
  • Look for the specific examples below.
Thoughtful use of Visuals
Visuals (images, words on screen, etc) help make your argument more clear, easy to follow, and memorable. Making careful use of visuals to enhance what you're saying rather than just restating it can deepen your argument. This means you'll want to use visuals to go a step beyond just showing off your script.
  • I already used CGP Grey's "This Video Will Make You Angry" in part 1, but I want to point out that he uses relatively few visuals, but as he goes he makes slight changes to them that make them very effective in enhancing his argument. The thought germs are clear and easy to understand, as are the spiky angry thoughts. He also cuts away to a stick figure of himself explaining at a desk when he wants to pull you out of the analogy for a moment to explain more about it.
  • Similarly, Grey also uses a lady with a flag dress to caricature countries when talking maps. He uses that same visual in all his videos, so if you've watched a few of his, you immediately recognize this.
  • Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell) also makes heavy use of imagery, but they essentially animate their script. Their animations greatly enhance the argument, and I picked one specific example to showcase this below.
  • Film/Game Theorists use a new visual about every 5-10 seconds because their videos are usually over 10 minutes, and to keep the viewer engaged, they use a lot of visuals. It's ok that not every visual is a brilliant one, as just having them helps to keep the viewer engaged, and even the Theorists use the same or similar visuals to emphasize moods, rhetorical devices, or feelings that they want you to feel while watching.
Personal Connection
A huge component of youtube is the personal connection. This personal connection makes viewers more open to your thoughts, more willing to consider your opinions, and more willing to follow challenges you issue. YouTube consists of content creators who produce multiple videos a year, and build rapport with their viewers over time--a luxury that we don't have. However, some good personal connection examples that may give you some ideas:
  • SciShow does a great job of this by basically having a single host talk, and making sure the visuals don't interfere with the connection to the host.
  • NigaHiga starts pretty much every video off with talking to his viewers in a very conversational manner, sped up by jump cutting around his rants. This draws in the viewer while he's explaining what he'll be doing later, so that you're pretty connected by the time he starts his skits. He also directly challenges viewers to action in pretty much every video. The obvious example is The "I Love You Dad" Experiment, where the challenge is direct (follow the link to see it in the first 5 seconds). Less obvious is the Pranks Gone Too Far video, where he calls for pranksters to dial it back a bit.
  • Vsauce, in the first minute of Is Cereal Soup, implicitly invites the viewer to rethink things that they have taken for granted. The host is constantly looking right at the camera, directly engaging the viewer while speaking very conversationally, drawing the viewer in more and making them more open to the host's ideas.
  • An extreme case of personal connection is seen from channel of the host of VSauce3 (a sister-channel to Vsauce). The host somewhat recently found out he had cancer, and it pulled him away from working on videos for a while. He reached out to his viewers for advice about some content that he's made. And he followed the advice of his viewers.
Specific examples analyzed, in alphabetical order
Here are some specific examples, with a few things pulled out of each one to help you generate some ideas.
  • CGP Grey: Mostly does informative/explanatory videos. Two examples:
    1) Who Owns Antarctica and
    2) This Video Will Make You Angry
    • Both: So visual-heavy that his words basically give meaning and context to his visuals, which actually tell the story
    • Both: Lots of under-stated humor
    • Both: Speaks very conversationally
    • 1) He loosely connects his ideas to previous videos, so that these ideas add, but aren't necessary to understanding the current video.
    • 1) Links to many of his connected videos by re-using visuals from other videos (reinforcing the ideas presented)
    • 2) Begins with claim up front, building an analogy which he then logically backs up
    • 2) Uses several relatable metaphors to help us follow his thinking, such as germ mutations compared with thought mutations
    • 2) Direction addresses the viewer several times
    • 2) Cleverly re-uses visuals and subtly adds to them to build his thoughts
  •'s video Faux Paw's Adventures on the Internet is trying to teach children how to be safe online. After you watch that one, if you like it, you'll like its sequel...
    • Begins with McGruff the Crime Dog introducing the topic in a 1980-1990s style animation. Many campaigns use McGruff, so for many kids, this will be a familiar spokesperson.
    • This is essentially a personal narrative with some explanations interlaced by cursor and others to help clarify the points they want to make
    • Since it's for kids, they use a lot of comparisons and caricatures to help them understand complex things like the internet and chat rooms
    • It keeps with the 80s/90s style of animation they chose at the beginning, making it feel cohesive.
    • As a side note, this was done by BYU's animation department.
  • Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell is home to some of the best produced animated explanations of complex topics on the internet. One of their best, Addition, explains why everything we think we know about addiction is wrong.
    • Starts with a rhetorical questions, which it answers using the "common knowledge", acknowledging that it's kinda a silly question. This is making the viewer feel comfortable, since it is likely that they are discussing their understanding of the topic.
    • It breaks from that sharply by saying that common knowledge just expressed is "completely wrong".
    • It explains the foundation studies (high authority) that seeded the current wrong thinking
    • States problems with those studies (reduces their authority), and gives counter-examples that powerfully debunk the former authority
    • Personalized it with a human example (all studies discussed so far is based on rats)
    • Then makes a powerful call to action by connecting everything discussed so far together in a way that should really resonate with the view, filling them with a sense of injustice that must be rectified, increasing the likelihood of action.
  • Minute Earth and Minute Physics are sister channels that are pretty similar in presentation, but cover different topics. The purpose of the videos is to inform. Three examples that are all slightly different:
    1) How Much Does Meat Actually Cost,
    2) This is Not a Pine Tree, and
    3) Computer Color Is Broken
    • All: conversational, but sounds authoritative as he just says "how it is".
    • 2) This whole argument is a light-hearted attempt to help us understand what is actually classified as a pine tree
    • 2) The explanation begins simply, without many technical words until after the words are defined.
    • 2) He ends with a very technical-jargon laden sentence that you now understand from watching his 2 minute video, making you feel pretty smart.
    • 3) Claim, examples you might have seen to make it more real, explains why it happens. This is interesting because the claim is in the title.
    • 1) Makes claim, then shows examples you might have seen. This gives him more authority, makes the argument more valid in your mind, and makes you want to listen more.
    • 1) Builds the examples out even further with things you probably haven't seen before.
    • 1) Issues a challenge at the end to think about what you eat, and after this short video, you should understand how much you didn't realize, and how much you need to think about it.
    • 1) One thing I really like about this video is that it makes direct references to works outside his own channel, where the viewer can continue to investigate--basically, resources to begin to meet his challenge already.
  • NigaHiga is a comedian, but his videos usually have some argument embedded in it. Take, for example, the video Pranks Gone Too Far below.
    • Starts with personal connection. Very conversational, and pretty unrelated to what he will discuss later. This is part of his sprezzatura.
    • Makes his claims, explaining background and, through personal experience of what he's seen, why he feels the claim is justified
    • Does some funny cut-aways to what he's talking about, adding in something totally ridiculous (the fridge) to make it funnier.
    • He also uses cut-aways to over-dramatize his points, showing quite clearly that his argument (that pranks are going too far) is valid
    • The most brilliant thing he does (in my opinion) is to re-use the ridiculous skit to continue to build on his ideas, and develop an overarching narrative that supports his argument, is funny, but simultaneously relatable.
    • He makes his call to action, and then reinforces his point with the overarching, silly narrative skit that also wraps pretty much everything he's said in his video together in a few seconds. It's pretty brilliant, actually.
  • The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a very unique channel. The idea is explained here, but to summarize: some ideas don't have concise words for them. This channel invents them, and each video shows you the word, it's definition, and then builds on that idea so that by the end, you tend to agree that the word is needed, that they chose a good one, and that you've had occasion to apply that word to your own life. Here is a detailed analysis of their video Lachesism: Longing for the Clarity of Disaster.
    • Starts with claims, and then hits on something that many of us can relate to.
    • He gives this new idea a name, a new word, and then continues builds on that meaning
    • He starts with 1st person plural "we" in the general sense of humanity, and quickly changes to 2nd person "you" to cause you to quickly internalize it. This makes the narrator's thoughts our thoughts, opening us more to identifying with them.
    • The rest of the video uses "you" mixing in "we"s again, this time more pointed. Especially after the climax.
    • The words build with the music to an emotional strong point, and delivery of narration greatly compliments this.
    • At 2:20, this emotional high point is reached, and the music cuts off, narration takes a sharp turn, concluding with the opposite point.
    • He ends by showing other videos of theirs that are related to Lachesism, but not directly tied to it, so that by watching all the videos, they reinforce each other
    • Note also that they use creative commons visuals and audio, and so they cite every piece of media they use at the end to keep creative commons legitimate. Also, the information they put in the text section below the video is interesting--take a look.
    • Now watch Alazia: Fear your no longer able to change, where the visuals even more strongly compliment the message and, I think, makes a more effective argument.
  • Film Theorists/Game Theorists are known for overthinking film or games to reach startling conclusions. For example, the video 1) Bowser's Broken Home in Super Mario takes the villain of the Mario franchise and turns him into a very different character. It's fun to cross-reference that one with Why Mario is Mental, part 1 and part 2, which turn the hero of the franchise quite convincingly into a very evil villain. But I want to discuss a different one first: How Trump is Winning with Reality TV.
    • Starts with a very short hook, followed by a common intro that he uses for all his videos, and then starts with a personal angle while introducing you to the topic at hand, even if you are only barely familiar with it.
    • When he's introducing the topic, he basically tells you that you will know how to win an election (the thing he's arguing) if you believe what he'll tell you--making you pay more attention and be more open to listening.
    • He's cheeky, real (commenting on his content's quality a few times), makes claims, and reaches out to multiple other sources, exemplifying the techniques Trump is using to win the election with direct supports for his claim.
    • He ties in to multiple other familiar sources, including high school, multiple shows, etc.
    • He breaks the long video into segments: intro section, background information, different steps in the formula that Trump is using, etc.
    • He summarizes the whole long thing at the end, and predicts the future assuming that his analysis was correct, which sounds authoritative and adds credibility the the entire video and all arguments made in it.
  • Finally, we get to the VSauce channels. These channels are masters of rhetoric, and I want to hit one example in detail from each of them.
  • VSauce 1 started off the VSauce channels, and became known for mini-series like DONG (things you can Do Online Now Guys) and videos that posed an interesting question, like How Much Does the Internet Weigh?, and for how those videos evolved to hit multiple other interesting tangents along the way to answering the question. The one we'll look at here is: Is Cereal Soup? This video's purpose (in my mind) is to make us rethink our language, and appreciate it for it's illogical quirks.
    • Starts by making you rethink something that you have taken for granted (that you know how to classify cereal)
    • He then spirals into a discussion of reduplication, and how the way we talk about things has had to change over time due to new inventions and uses for older things.
    • This discussion leads to one about older punctionation, and emoticons, etc. He then goes into multiple other interesting linguistic ideas in English, causing us to think about our language even more.
    • After giving us many interesting examples, he then ties it back to his point that, until now, has not fully been stated: that our language is a brick-a-brack of phrases that make no logical sense (sunrise, for example), and when we look at what we've uncovered from the hard sciences, we sound like we're talking a childish babble.
    • After making us feel bad about our language, he then turns that around: he states that this is good in it's own way because it requires us to communicate, discuss, and share information with each other. It allows for discussions on the soupiness or saladness of cereal.
  • VSauce 2 was created later to help VSauce continue some of their segments, to help break up the content a little better (and for other reasons). The videos followed a similar vein, but had a different host. While I have a lot to say about the great use of history in The Line Between People and Pets, the video A Brief History of Recording Ourselves fits our topic of Identity very well, and is really good rhetorically, especially how he flows from one idea to the next, so I'll talk about it instead.
    • He emphasizes how everything we ever write online is permanently recorded and labeled, basically making us think about the implications of that. He includes comments on this video to connect it even more to us.
    • Immediately ties this into our identity, and explains several notions of identity
    • He then discusses what he said he would - how we have been recording ourselves throughout history.
    • He discusses things like passing on names, personal seals, and other means of carrying on identity used for millennia. These methods were more somewhat less personal, and more for conveying identity to the world at large.
    • He then covers personal records, like diaries.
    • That leads to recorded information, including a look at audio recordings, leading to a discussion on writing.
    • This leads to a discussion on why we keep records, noting that death encourages us to do so, and that the information we want to share now is pretty much the same thing that people have always wanted to preserve, connecting social media with ancient practices.
    • Are you noticing how the ideas build on each other, and flow well between each other, all the while what he discusses from one category gives him a good segway to the next. 
    • He follows with a discussion of how modern technology has greatly changed the game, with nearly 90 exabytes of information transmitted between people every month, including some that you'll never meet face-to-face.
    • A discussion about how we copy, transmit, and share media, both historically and currently, and what's being added.
    • Then, what information do we share? What is identified? What is the implication of this? What is immortality?
    • The outro done on every video is done on this one using a cylinder seal, and then about a minute of video showcasing a lot of different information recorded about people to music, giving the viewer time to think about the implications.
    • Note that he starts with a simple idea: giving a history of recording, and builds to a much larger topic that would interest somebody that would want to know about the history of recording.
  • VSauce 3. I was really torn with which video to show from this channel. The host puts enormous amounts of time building what I consider some of the finest rhetorical videos on YouTube. I decided to narrow it down to only two videos, and I'll only analyze the first one, which is longer and a little easier to follow the rhetorical devises, and you can find the same ones done just a little differently in the second one. Just give these a look and follow the flow of ideas and overall construction of the arguments: they are brilliant. First, Is Mario Really Evil?
    • This video begins by asking a question, and then gives a reason to care about the question--that gives some support for the questing needing to be asked.
    • This quickly leads to a discussion on what is evil, and asks if the game designers would really put us intentionally in a comprimizing situation. Well, here's an example of researchers doing just that. He ties the results of that experiment directly to the original question again.
    • After justifying why maybe it's ok to kill the bad guys, he then explains what could be happening in our minds to make us think that way, including discussions on confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. Note him putting those key terms on the screen as well, to help the viewer wrap their head around it.
    • He calls to multiple external sources, including multiple books, which he opens to the passages he's citing and highlights/underlines them, sometimes even showing that he has notes in the margins, so you have strong reason to believe he read the book. He allows another person, BrainCraft, to explain special terms. He uses the manual for Super Mario. He frequently shows video and results from multiple psyc and sociology studies. His authority comes from having really done his homework.
    • He then turns the idea of slaughtering goombas and turtles being justifiable to being totally not that. He has us assume that it's the wrong action, then justifies that assumption. He ties in the previous sources he's cited, and connects to every bit of information so far presented, making the video highly cohesive, and persuasive.
    • Discusses Us vs Them, or ingroups and outgroups, which again calls to a specific study with results that we should find shocking, and quickly ties this new information back to the rest of the information he's already connected, leaving no loose ends.
    • Again, he uses another (quite famous) study on psychology. For all of these studies, he quickly explains the experiment, the results, and ties it in to the main narrative. This is no different.
    • Again, he uses the less serious question from the video game to point out a mind-altering truth: that people we see as evil almost never see themselves as evil.
    • He turns it around after giving all this background and hopefully helping us to see things a little different by asking us to conduct a thought experiment: what would we do if we were Mario? Guess what: we are Mario. We control his actions.
    • Suddenly, all the disturbing results discussed so far directly applies to us, and we are guilty of doing what we probably said to ourselves while he was discussing them earlier that we would never do.
    • He then takes it yet another step farther: you can play Mario without hurting anybody but Bowser at the end. So, why do we kill the creatures along the way? And, if we accept that Mario is evil, then aren't we also evil?
    • There is yet another thought experiment proposed, with a direct invitation to look at another video where that experiment will be covered. Then the video ends.
    • The argument is cohesive, no information presented is not connected to the main argument--he uses everything. This is, rhetorically, brilliant, and goes far deeper than you thought at first.
  • Second, PORTALS. This video is very similar to the one above, using many of the same techniques. I won't to a deep analysis of this one, but check it out and see if you can spot the same things. Again, it begins with a simple idea, and quickly goes far deeper than you expected it to. This video is also very, very pertinent to our current topics.

1 comment:

  1. OK I love this!! thank you! this will be a great reference source as I continue to construct my argument and make it appealing ... I specifically liked learning, whether it was intended or not, that I could have my own version of sprezzatura dependent upon my topic ... like using hashtags and TXT TOKK to convey a point that everyone will understand on a different level.