We’ve watched this video several times. It’s beautifully produced and photographed, and it makes its point clearly and simply. It should make people think.
Part of what impressed us is its demonstration of how rhetoric – because that what this is about – can be used to influence people to ends other than political or commercial. This art of rhetoric, of using language to elicit behavior, has a bad reputation. Many consider it manipulative, devious, even inherently evil, occasionally dismissing a speech or essay as “mere rhetoric.”
It’s true that language can be moved to inspire people to buy things they don’t need, do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, but we can point out similar aspects of other technologies, arts and skills. If there is something that cannot be subverted to selfish or ulterior ends, we haven’t heard of it.
This is why we like this video so much. The writer depicted could have tossed a few coins into the man’s cup. Instead, she changed his sign to a message she knew would bring a more powerful response from other passersby.
The genius in the revised sign is this. Where the first one was simple and to the point, it is also relatively common on city streets and this makes it very easy for pedestrians to tune out.
In contrast, the revised sign opens with an objectively truthful statement, one that is, although novel, doesn’t raise a reader’s defenses. It then switches to the subjective portion about the man whose sign it is. And – bam! – the message goes right to the hearts of most readers, evoking the desired emotion. And, even without an explicit request, the pedestrians react as would be hoped.
There is another, perhaps less attractive, perspective from which to view this video and that is its being another example of how a negative message is more powerful than a positive one. Acres of tree stumps, seabirds covered in oil, starving children all have produced more donations for their respective interest groups than do forests, healthy wildlife and happy children at play. That’s human nature and little can be done about that.
But bravo to the filmmakers; this one’s a keeper.