The Visual Rhetoric Assignment

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Visual Analysis of One Second of Video

0:01. The ad starts very abruptly in the middle of a scene. What’s more, in the first second, the camera is zooming quickly back so that we have to adjust immediately to a barrage of information. The suggestion the filmmakers are making is that the footage was captured by an amateur camera operator, either for home video or maybe a low-budget documentary. Either way, we are given the impression that the footage is “real,” not staged by a director with hired actors.

The image quality too is low. It’s color photography, but the color is so washed-out we get the further impression of a low-budget production. It’s almost black-and-white.

We are behind the counter of a diner. We can tell this from the “marble” countertop before us and the ketchup bottles and napkin holders on the shelf below it. Attached to the countertop is a familiar menu-holder empty of menus. Even closer to the camera (which suggests the footage was taken from the kitchen, through the service window) is a red-top bottle of Angustora bitters. Another can be seen on the counter where customers could access it, alongside the ketchup bottle and the sugar server. The only common use for bitters is as a cocktail flavor. The implication is that this is a diner where drinks are served; therefore, we have at least the implication that some diners might be drinking.

Facing us at the counter are two young boys (one black, one white) dressed in similar sport jerseys. They are probably teammates. Next to the white boy is a crew-cut man in his 30s with longish sideburns. If he were heavier, he would resemble Kevin James from “King of Queens.” The implication is that he is a robust, perhaps a bit rough-edged, working-class guy here with his team, perhaps their coach, maybe father to one of the kids. He wears a lanyard around his neck; perhaps a whistle hangs from it, and a warmup jacket: coachwear.

On the counter between him and the white boy is a fielder’s glove. They are a baseball team. The kid is not a catcher.

Behind the three at the counter, a man and a woman occupy opposite sides of a booth. They are engaged in conversation. The man resembles Joe Pesci from “Goodfellas,” advancing the impression that we’re in a working-class diner. The bowling pin behind him, part of the decor of the place, further confirms this. The lone framed artwork decorating the space is a black-and-white photo of an urban street scene. Coffee cups are stacked upside-down in the service area behind the woman, whose hand motion before her face indicates she is the one doing the talking.

They have been served. The man is pointing at something large on the white boy’s plate. In fact, he points at it repeatedly and says something about it to the boy. Most likely he is picking up the tab. Maybe he doesn’t want that big dish wasted.

From a filmmaker’s point of view, the composition of the figures is very important. The characters are arranged in a line. Black boy at counter, Man in Booth facing woman in booth, White Boy at counter, Woman in Booth facing man in booth, Coach gesturing with his hand toward White Boy’s plate. His active hand gesture draws our attention. When he stops moving, the woman starts moving her hand in the very same space, keeping our attention on that spot, but shifting our focus to the conversation she’s having with the Man in the Booth. In one second, we have information about two different conversations. Both are clearly important.

End of the first second.


Your Challenge

Before our THU OCT 11 class (the deadline is 11:59pm WED OCT 10), you’ll select any 30-second video you like from the library of Ad Council PSAs and use it to produce your own visual analysis: a non-formal piece of rhetorical writing you will format as notes on a second-by-second basis with time stamps. My analysis above is fairly thorough but not exhaustive.

30 Seconds.
Please select only from the 30-second set of videos. They are masterpieces of very fast storytelling that make powerful short proposal arguments.


  • Find a visual argument worth your while among the 30-second Public Service Announcements (PSAs) produced by the Ad Council.
    • A full library of videos is located HERE.
  • For a more complete sample visual analysis, study the Lecture page titled Visual Rhetoric—Thai Life Insurance in which your instructor breaks down 10 seconds of video.
  • Structure your analysis as a timeline detailing what occurs second by second. (There needn’t be 30 entries; sometimes an image stays on screen for several seconds without much change; let the changes be your guide.)
  • Use a timeline approach, indicating what happens every second (or every few seconds) but WITHOUT SHOWING SCREENCAPS.
  • Describe the images in sufficient detail that readers can visualize the scene.
    • For example, you may not tell us “The passenger is broke” because we have no way to visualize what being broke looks like. Instead, you might tell us that “the passenger turns out his pockets to indicate they are empty, the universal symbol for ‘I have no money.'”
  • Never indicate what sounds are heard, what music is played, or what words are heard in voiceover.
  • This analysis will become part of your Portfolio and will therefore be a component of your 75% portfolio grade.
  • The Draft you publish first, while important, is merely your first draft. It WILL NOT be good enough for your Portfolio, no matter how brilliant and accomplished it is. You will be revising it considerably before the end of the semester. In two weeks, you’ll be publishing a revision titled Visual Rewrite.
  • Title your post Visual Rhetoric—Username.
  • Publish your definition essay in the Visual Rhetoric category.
  • Put it also in your Username category
  • Be sure to UNCHECK the 123 Uncheck this Box category.


  • DEADLINE: Midnight WED (11:59 pm WED OCT 10)
  • Customary late penalties. (Late less than 24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Major Portfolio Argument (Complete Portfolio is 75% of Course Grade)
  • This week’s assignment is a first draft, always improvable for upgrade.