Visual Rewrite–Douglasadams525

The following is a visual review of a one-minute long anti-texting-and-driving PSA by the Ad Council, titled “Put it Down.”  The video in question can be found here.

At the very beginning of the video, at 0:01, we see the scene of a young boy, perhaps six years old, in what appears to be a park, judging by the shovel, monkey bars, merry-go-round, and slide that are shown in the background.  The entire scene is drawn in the style of an amateur artist, with each black line segment on the white background being rather crude, but clear enough to make an obvious picture.  The boy is playing with a toy car.  Given the context of the PSA, this is an obvious case of foreshadowing.  The audience must immediately question if the young boy will be killed in a texting-while-driving-related accident, or if another character to whom we have not yet been introduced will meet an untimely demise.

Three seconds later, at 0:04, another boy of the same approximate age has materialized from the bottom up, joined the original, and is now seated to the right of the first boy.  He has a toy car of his own.  Both boys are smiling, and clearly enjoying themselves and the company of one another.  Again, the context of the PSA must be taken into consideration: which boy will die in an accident?  Or, to be particularly morbid, will both boys be killed?  For that matter, can anyone be certain that either boy will lose his life—what if more characters are brought into the story?

Only a second later, at 0:05, a disembodied arm appears from the left side of the screen, and motions for the first boy to come.  One assumes that it is the hand of a parent, perhaps a mother—the hand looks slightly feminine.  Each boy wears a sad expression upon his face.  At 0:06, the first boy is being dragged away as the boys happily wave goodbye, smiling to one another.  The audience may assume that the boys have formed a friendship, although there is nothing to suggest that they could not have been friends already, save the spontaneous materialization of the second boy.

By 0:12, the boys have each moved to separate sides of the screen.  The entire background is white, with a black vertical line splitting the center of the screen.  This serves to show that the boys are in separate locations, although they are in reality only a few pixels apart. They both appear to be slightly older than in the beginning of the video, perhaps around the age of twelve.  Each boy is smiling, looking slightly downwards, and each holds a phone in his hand.  Above the first boy, there is a speech bubble coming from the phone in his hand.  Inside the bubble, one sees the words “NEW TEXT MESSAGE” centered at the top.  Beneath this phrase, it says, “Hey, wanna come over and play some video games?”  Because neither boy is seen typing, it is unclear if the boy is sending or receiving the message.  However, the fact that each boy holds a phone is clear evidence that the two friends are having a conversation via text message.

Two seconds later, at 0:14, a similar speech bubble appears above the second boy, containing the words, “Sure, be over in a bit :)”.  Because of this, the audience can now determine that the first boy was in fact sending his text message, as it would not make contextual sense for the boy on the right to send a question and then the answer to his own question.  (It is noteworthy that upon closer observation during further viewings of this video, the boy on the left moves his thumb while typing his message, eliminating the original ambiguity.  However, this is a very subtle detail, and not extremely noticeable at first.)  For three seconds, the divisive line disappears, and the boys are shown to be in the same location.  They sit on an unremarkable couch, facing the camera, presumably with a screen of some sort in front of them, although this cannot be seen by the audience.  Each boy holds a gaming controller of sorts.  After a brief sequence of the boys demonstrating some very animated facial expressions (excited ones from the left boy, and desperate ones from the right), both boys drop their controllers at 0:18 as the boy on the left throws his hands above his head with a joyous grin—a clear gesture of victory.  Conversely, the right boy is frowns and holds his right arm over his eyes, in an ashamed display of defeat.  After this, at 0:19, the boys stand, and the line appears.  Once again, the two boys appear to have aged, each looking to be around the age of 15 or 16.  It is evident that the friendship developed in the beginning of the story has lasted over the years.

At 0:22, the speech bubbles have returned, and the boys are once again separated on blank backgrounds.  The boys smile at their phones, as the left boy sends a text that asks, “Hey man, what time is practice today??”  It is noteworthy that at this point, it is clear who is sending the message, as the right boy’s thumb is moving as the speech bubble appears over his head.  However, it can already be inferred that this boy is the sender, based on the previous exchange.  The boy on the right responds at 0:24 with, “6:00.  See you then.”  His thumb, too, is now moving as he composes his reply.  While the text message seems brief and impersonal, the audience can assume that the boy is not angry with his friend, as both are smiling.  Rather, it can be assumed that the second boy is simply choosing to answer his friend’s question briefly.  At 0:25, the boys are shown to be in the same area once again—it appears to be a grassy field, which makes sense when considering the first boy’s earlier question.  From 0:25 to 0:28, both characters are wearing football uniforms and helmets, as the right boy throws a football to the left boy, who catches it.  Interestingly, the separating line in the middle is still present here, suggesting a more permanent divide between the boys.  Why is this?  There is no clear explanation, and it seems, for the most part, arbitrary.  Unless the permanence of the line is a failed attempt at showing a separation between the two boys—which would not make sense, given that they are clearly in the same physical space here—there seems to be no need for the line to remain.  Regardless of purpose, this is still noteworthy, albeit unusual.

At 0:30, the boys have returned to their white backgrounds, and again seem to be older than in the previous sequence.  They each appear to be approximately 18 years of age.  The boys are both smiling at their phones, while the boy on the right asks via text message, “Wanna catch a movie with me and the guys tonight?”  At 0:32, the left boy replies with, “For sure, be there soon!”  Once again, both boys move their thumbs while texting.  Two seconds later, at 0:34, the boys have moved again.  The boy on the left is shown behind the wheel of a car, evidently on his way to his friend’s location.  The second boy leans against a wall, with his arms folded comfortably, awaiting the arrival of his lifelong friend.  While both are originally smiling, the boy on the right begins to frown at 0:35, slouches lower at 0:36 and by 0:38 has reached into his pocket and texted his friend, asking, “Are you coming??”  Meanwhile, the boy on the left is still in his car—and, worryingly, not wearing a seatbelt over his shoulder.  This cannot be a good sign, and the context of the PSA suggests that the driving friend is about to meet an untimely death.

At 0:39, the driving boy looks down with a mildly interested facial expression, apparently having received his friend’s text message.  He reaches into his pocket, but then looks up in horror, as if seeing something that is not shown to the audience.  What is the matter?  Why is the boy frightened?  This question is soon answered at 0:40, as the boy’s side of the screen is suddenly filled with thick, dark, scribbly lines, and then becomes entirely black.  This is clear evidence of a car accident, unless the same force that brought the second boy into existence has now just as mysteriously caused the first boy to cease to exist.  This, however, does not seem likely, when considering the subject of the PSA, and the fact that the boy was texting while driving.  Recalling the original question at the beginning of the video, it now becomes clear that the toy car was foreshadowing the first boy’s own death.

By 0:43, the remaining boy looks quite concerned, and he has taken his phone out of his pocket.  “Where are you?” asks the speech bubble above him.  At 0:45, he is standing up straight, no longer slouched against the wall.  He looks distraught, and a new speech bubble is coming from his phone.  “Are you okay?” it says.  He continues to stand, looking quite concerned.  By 0:47, the second boy’s side of the screen fades, leaving the entire screen black.  However, this blackness does not symbolize the death of the boy (unless he was suddenly mauled by a bear, suffered a massive heart attack, or died from some other invisible and unforeseen cause), but rather the death of the friendship that existed between the two boys.  This is clearly the most effective part of the video, as it shows a lifetime of friendship being destroyed in literally one second of real time, due to the careless acting of texting while driving.  It is particularly successful because of the style in which this video is done—these two crudely drawn friends do not have any features that strongly set them aside from anyone else, which therefore allows the audience to imagine either of them as anyone.  These two boys could be any two people, since they are nothing more than lines on a screen.  This allows the message that death resulting from texting and driving can strike anyone to become clear and intimidating.

At this point, it is also important to wonder if there is any blame to be placed after this tragic event.  Surely, the right boy is at fault for texting his friend while he was driving, thereby distracting him—right?  Or does the blame rest entirely on the left side boy for looking at his phone while he was driving?  It is my opinion that in this case, both boys are at fault, as either one could have singlehandedly prevented the entire situation.  Therefore, this PSA not only establishes the dangers of texting while driving, but also the potential dangers of texting someone while being aware of the fact that the intended recipient is driving.  While it may seem insensitive to immediately attempt to place blame on either character, this reaction in fact bolsters the message of the video, as it is highly unlikely that any individual wishes to be responsible for their own death, or for that of one of their friends.

The screen remains black for one second, and at 0:48, a simulated sequence is shown.  It depicts the yellow dotted lines of a road, moving towards the camera.  It is partially lit, as if by headlights.  This is a clear depiction of a first-person view from a car windshield.  It is important to note that the camera is right over the lines, giving the impression that the “driver” in this case is right in the middle of the road—which, interestingly, could happen when someone texts while driving.  This seems to be a final attempt to reinforce the dangers of texting while driving, in case the PSA and the story of the two boys did not make it clear enough.  In the center of the screen, the words “PUT IT DOWN.” can be seen in white letters.  At 0:51, the words are replaced by “SAVE YOUR LIFE.”  The road sequence continues for the rest of the video, as the url for replaces the command at 0:54, as well as the logos for the Ad Council, Project Yellow Light, N.O.Y.S.  The video ends at 0:59.

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4 Responses to Visual Rewrite–Douglasadams525

  1. douglasadams525 says:

    Feedback requested.

    Feedback provided.


  2. davidbdale says:

    Excellent and very thorough. I can’t suggest a meaningful improvement. I do have a question though. Your early comments refer to your background knowledge that we’re watching an Ad Council PSA. Would you have known that in the traditional context of seeing a Public Service Announcement on television between programs? Or did seeing the spot in the YouTube context, when scrolling through a stack of PSAs, change the way in which you perceived the message?

    Liked by 1 person

    • douglasadams525 says:

      In all fairness, I must concede that if I were simply watching TV and this came on, I probably would not immediately realize that it was a PSA. Contextually, however, I was aware of this, and used it to my advantage here.


  3. davidbdale says:

    Agreed. The lesson here is obvious, so I won’t belabor it. Glad you recognize the modulating effect of context on a media message. And bravo for using it. AND in future, you could gain extra insight mileage by sharing with readers how context shapes our understanding.


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