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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Logic and American Commercials

   Back in high school literature class, you were probably taught to write compositions this way: 

a)      First,  a theme – an proposition that you must prove   Say, “This poem is about how  love never works out”.   
b)      Then – the “argument” – the proof.   A few  examples from the text of the poem, that make your point.
c)       Then you the conclusion  “ See,  the poet shows us why we shouldn’t expect anything but sorrow from love”.    

This form of “inductive-deductive” logic – while basic-- is often not taught much in the Japanese school system –perhaps reflecting an implicit bias against  discursive or critical thinking.   The Japanese like harmony and hierarchy – and argument tends to subvert such values since it is – among other things –often an adversarial  tool.
 Our  CM assumes a more critical audience – and in terms of logic takes us back to high school—well, American high school. 

The proposition is presented in the first few seconds .

if you want to survive,  learn from other’s experiences.  Then we get reasons -- three dramatic  illustrations – each against the backdrop of an implied “backstory”, which is a more than familiar dramatic cliché.  There is the Tudor king who, despite the raucous party, remembers to use his Food Taster . The Food Taster dies, the king lives. Ah yes, we all know about poison and Renaissance nastiness.   .  Then, there is the SciFi situation where researchers are trying to perform teleportation, resulting in catastrophic transformation of their subject. In SciFi, scientists are almost always mad and the results eve madder. .   Finally,  there are the cowboys, looking out for Indians. The hero asks his sidekick to stand up and look to see if it’s clear.  The sidekick gets 3 arrows in the chest.  Whoops.     

 The final scene has a logical conclusion.  Go to www. and you can learn from others experience (ie mistakes) and you not only survive – but achieve a successful buy. It’s smart.  That’s the punchline.
So, we have an emotively compelling logical template in place.

People don’t usually things because it’s rational in any rigorously philosophical sense.  If so,, George W Bush would never have been elected – certainly not for the second time .  Nor would the Tea Party be dominating Republican politics. Nor would the Japanese have built nuclear reactors on their shaky little islands   Such idiocies could only be justified in terms of certain contexts.   Context defines the rules.

What I just referred to as  a logical “template” is also a context – an  aesthetic frame for a set of emotional and emotive modalities. 

As we’ve seen, this CM is hilarious.  What is a smile but an inverted grimace?  Humor has tremendous power because it often attaches to unpleasant realities – in this case death.  In a matter of seconds, three people die – and we laugh?   Oh, it’s not real you say. Hmmmm…..Food tasters did die – as do research subjects and, course, cowboys.  Yes, the coward’s way – letting someone else go first – often does give us a better chance of survival.  Like pain, fear is protective.   We are just loath to admit it.  And satire gives us distance. 
Cognitive dissonance?   No really --  emotive dissonance here that engages the lower brain – the animal brain – the seat of our deepest feelings.  

So, when we get to the conclusion. – visit www. we are primed.  Yes, we will go there.
“Low attention” media like TV CMs work indirectly.  The nature of such a medium demands subtlety.  But that does not make it any less effective.