In our last post, we talked with Susan Bordson about the pivot to video and the importance of using video in communications as a magnet, not a megaphone.
Today, we want to explore what exactly makes a video like the one for Children’s HeartLink capable of such intense attraction.
When we worked as teachers, we taught our students to read media using the tools of rhetoric. The concepts of pathos, ethos, and logos date back to Aristotle, but because they create the distance so necessary for critical viewing, they’re just as important for the digital age.
Pathos describes an appeal to emotions, logos, an appeal to logic and reason, and ethos, an appeal to the credibility of character. If we view Susan’s HeartLink video through the lens of these appeals, we can begin to see how and why it draws us in.
The video opens with appeals to both pathos and logos. The first images fill the screen with the grayscale urban grittiness of Chengdu, China, and a spare, violin-based melody cuts through the scene. A statistic appears onscreen to mirror the starkness of the city: “90% of children with heart disease live where care is inadequate.”
The next line signals a shift: “Children’s HeartLink is working to change that.” The music also takes a hopeful turn, and we next see the hustle and bustle of a brightly lit city and then the crisp antiseptic colors of a hospital. Here, the appeal to our emotions is made the more intense. In the hospital, we see a gurney wheeled by doctors; the image slows to focus on the still image of a child’s—clearly the patient’s—bare foot. Next, an image of a woman wearing a surgical mask appears, her eyes welling with tears, and we are told in a translated voiceover that “parents everywhere are the same.”
In this moment, Susan matches rhetorical appeal with video technique. The slow-mo hospital gurney and the still frame on the bare foot stretch out the appeal to our emotions. We are given the space to consider a time (in the past or to come) in which a hospital gurney holds not just a patient but a person, someone we ourselves love.
At this point in the video, pathos has done its job—the audience can now intimately relate to material it actually knows very little about. The video thus shifts to more balanced appeals: pathos in the children’s faces and actions, logos in the story of the program’s founding, and ethos in the clear expertise of the doctors.
Susan uses video to execute powerful rhetorical appeals that draw in and convince readers of the importance of HeartLink’s work. But she also makes video an extension of the nonprofit’s mission: just as HeartLink connects experts in heart disease with medical teams in underserved parts the world, its video, too, is a magneta tool of connection.