Essay on Robert Scholes’s On Reading a Video Text
“The American Dream”, the myth America has built upon itself. What are the first images that pop in our minds when we hear this phrase? The big house? The perfect job? Living in a land of equal opportunities? That hard work will inevitably be rewarded with the deserved economical goods? The immigrant working for a better life? These are all heart-warming images that have been implanted into our conscious since we were little. “Implanted” seems like a harsh word though, it by definition is the action of inserting something into someone’s body.
Kind of like a predetermined seed of ideas being burrowed deep into our minds. How can something as beloved as “The American Dream” be seen as an intruder to our conscious? Shouldn’t it be welcomed? “The American Dream” essentially promotes hard work and well-being doesn’t it? Unfortunately, everything is bound to have a malicious side to it. “The American Dream” has been victimized by marketers in order to sell products and use it as a tool to take advantage of “the seed” implanted upon us.
The first information we are presented when reading Scholes’s On Reading a Video Text is that of video and its forms of presenting a message. Video effects can enhance our vision of images and information we would otherwise ignore with our natural sight. “Close-ups position us where we could never stand. Slow motion allows us an extraordinary penetration into the mechanics of movement, and combined with music, lends a balletic grace to ordinary forms of locomotion” (619). These are all examples of effects used on videos to purposely make us feel pleasure and relief against the boredom of real life.
Visual fascination is a just a small part of creating a successful video text. Another factor for a video text to be successful is narrativity. Narrativity is specifically the way a story is presented. In the case of video texts, the story has to be presented in images. The number one rule of video media is: “show, don’t tell”. In order for a story in a video to be engaging it has to present the events in pictures, so then the viewer can construct the order of the situations and how he/she wants to judge it. A prime example of the “show, don’t tell” rule is the commercial presented in this text.
We are shown a black umpire hoping to achieve his dream in the big leagues. The ultimate test is apparent; he must make the right call. The video never tells us what is going on literally, we are just presented the pieces and it is our job to put them together. This would be totally different if the video only had shown the umpire telling the viewer that he worked hard, and made the right call. It is anticlimactic and not using the video format effectively.
Perhaps the most important factor for a video text to work is cultural reinforcement. Scholes’s explains cultural reinforcement as “the process through which video texts confirm viewers in their ideological positions and reassure them as to their membership in a collective cultural body.” (620). A simple way to imagine cultural reinforcement is to analyze the past example of the hard working umpire preparing for his test. The reason why this series of images are successful is because the author is aware that every single viewer watching this video has faced an overwhelming test or at least known someone that has been through one. We are then confirming the character’s ideology and experience. We are able to relate to this character in a personal way and reassure his part in our cultural realm. We then trust the character and learn from his experience.
Critical thinking is an essential part of understanding these kinds of texts. Art is at its core the expression of ideas. What makes authors of art different is the kind of ideas they create, and how they arrange them. The arranging part is incredibly important for a message to be powerful. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” wouldn’t be the same without the dreamy guitar chord and flute melody in the intro. We are first introduced to the backbone of the whole piece, which then is built upon and expanded with more musical ideas that still relate its introduction. This is also applies to Scholes’s example on the Budweiser commercial. First the ad sells us the umpire working hard for his place in the major leagues, after that sells us equality, then sells us “The American Dream”, and then proceeds to be cheeky and wants us to believe that the best reward for achieving your dreams is by drinking some decent Budweiser beer.
Scholes’s overall point with his analysis of the Budweiser ad is to be critical. He goes on to say that an audience who can understand the story of the ad with what few information is provided, “is an audience that understands narrative structure and has a significant amount of cultural knowledge as well” (623).This goes back to his point and to look at the real issue here. It is not that American lack culture, they most certainly don’t. What really is lacking is the power of analyzing and criticizing a work of art in a higher level of thought.
Scholes criticizes the conservative agenda for spreading these false points on the American people. Then assures that the real reason why we are not advancing in our textual economy is because of our necessity of logical criticism. In the eyes of the conservatives, texts and ideas such as “The American Dream” or Plato’s works, have to be mythologized in order to because they are supposedly absolute from a critical standpoint, that it is right no matter the circumstances. This all with the end of creating a “cultural museum” that all must respect and believe. Thus limiting critical thinking and improvement.
The only way to expand our ideas is to be critical. “The American Dream” was created by the people who lived a life changing experience in America. Those people were critical of their surroundings, and reacted in a way that made them successful. If Ray Krock hadn’t taken the chance to buy and expand a two hamburger franchise, then we probably wouldn’t have McDonalds’ everywhere today. The people who are remembered are the ones who brought something new to the table, the ones that took the risk, not the ones who bit off of the same old formulas and ideas from the past. Scholes invites us to be critical; he pretty much gave us a lecture on how to analyze art and criticize its message. He does this all in the same way the ad does. First he introduces us to the power of video, then the ad itself, after that he analyzes the ad for us, and finally he exclaims his real message. Do not take things for granted.
Scholes, Robert. “On Reading a Video Text.” Literacies. 2nd ed. Ed. Terence Brunk et al. New York: Norton, 2000. 619-623.
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