Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Video Catchphrase: A Symptom of a Society that Cannot Think for Itself

A Video with a Catchphrase not Telling Someone What to Feel
I first noticed it last year. There were a bunch of videos on Facebook that were along the lines of, "Watch this dog greet its master, you won't believe what happens next!' You might watch the video and see nothing out of the ordinary. It is just a video of a dog greeting his master after the master has been away, and the dog does the usual doggie things. About the time folks started commenting how this catch phrase was melodramatic or at least an extreme exaggeration of what takes place in the videos the catchphrase disappeared. This catchphrase was replaced with videos being posted to Facebook with catchphrases like, "You will be in tears!" or "You will be rolling on the floor laughing!" These catchphrases perhaps because there is some variety have lasted longer.

From the start I hated any text that went with a video that said something like, "You won't believe what happens next" or "You will be in tears." How dare they tell me how I will react to the video! Maybe I think the idea of a kid throwing oatmeal on his dad's head is something to cry about, and not laugh at. Who are you folks to tell me what I find funny, what I find sorrowful, what I find stimulating? Who are you to tell me how to think? Yet videos with such catchphrases persist on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

Part of what irritates me is I was taught in college how to write headlines, and how to write copy for advertising. There are some things you do not do. One of them is you do not tell the person how to feel or what to think. You present what you feel the facts are, and let the reader or viewer decide for his or herself. Thus you may have a headline for a news story like, "War in Iraq. Thousands Killed," and not "War in Iraq, You will be Appalled at the Death Toll." With advertising you have a bit more leeway. You can get away with something like "Dawn Soap: We Think You Will Like the Results."  On rare occasions if you are feeling cocky you might even say, "Dawn Soap, You will Like the Results." For the most part though you do not tell someone how to feel, you present them with a catchy phrase about the product like :Kentucky Fried Chicken, finger licking good," and hope your suggestion leads them to eating chicken.

A friend and I were talking about the effectiveness of such catchphrases as "You will be in tears." His argument was they must be effective or else they would not use them. He pointed out that they collect all kinds of data on these click throughs such as what site the person came from, if on a social network, who are his or her friends, where they come from, what other things does he or she like, what kinds of videos get the most hits, and more. Further they experiment with catchphrases and the preview pictures of what works and what doesn't based on click throughs. I agreed he was right, but I said that since everyone of these videos uses same sort of catchphrase they do not even know if that method is or is not more effective than simply saying, "A dog greets its master after the master's long deployment." I further said that they may not know if perhaps it was the preview picture of the video that drew the viewer to click on it. Even with all this data I did not think they could figure out why someone clicked on a video link to view it. In essence my faith in humanity would not allow me to think folks would actually click on something that tells them how to feel.

After some more discussion I arrived at the conclusion that the American people may now have become accustomed to being told not just how to feel, but how to think. After all Fox News has been on the air since 1985 all the while telling its viewers how to think, and not just presenting them with the information. They are not the only network to do this though others may be more subtle. Commentators like Rush Limbaugh regularly tell folks what they should feel or think about some such or another. Even politicians tell folks how to think or feel. You do not hear many Americans speaking their own opinions, but repeating catchphrases or slogans from their favorite news channel or political commentator. If you enter a debate with them you are not likely to be presented with data or information to back their claims, but with simple quotes from some person who is not even an expert about the subject. Therefore, I concluded that being told, "This will put you in tears" or "This will have you on the floor laughing," may not offend them. Indeed, it may even reassure them that they do not have to think for themselves. They may take some comfort in the fact this video will make them laugh or cry. It saves them the trouble of making up their own minds.

It is a sad commentary on our society that people can no longer think for themselves, but have to be told such and such video will have them laughing their hearts out. Once upon a time folks were simply presented with information, and were allowed to decide for themselves how to feel or think. Sure, even then the media filtered what you were presented with. You might be told the marines have taken Iwo Jima, but not what the death toll was. But if you persisted you might be able to find the information. And never were you told, :"The Marines Took Iwo Jima Today, You Will Cry for the Fallen Japanese." In that day and age, advertisers might try to tell you how to feel, but that was advertising, and for the most part even advertisers avoided telling folks what to do. You would see things like, "Smart Shoppers Shop at Value Mart," and not "Shop at Value Mart, It will have you leaping for joy." The second example was not rare, but no one paid attention. It was advertising. My point is people have been taught they must be told how to feel and what to think. We have ceased being a society of freethinkers.

I think therefore it is time purveyors of such videos take a different route, one that will appeal to free thinkers, and encourage those that are not free thinkers to be. Perhaps  have a video with a description like, "Is this dog cute or what?! Decide for yourself!" Or perhaps, "Is this cat funny? What do you think?" Maybe it is time everyone stops telling other Americans how to think or feel. Maybe it is time we just present the information and let folks decide for themselves how they will react. After all what is wrong with describing a video simply as, "This cat apparently loves its companion, watch and see?"