Early in the first quarter of the Superbowl last night, Maserati dimmed the emotions of viewers with their Ghibli commercial.
I teach a Sophomore level English and Literature class. Regularly, I challenge my students to analyze pop culture videos, commercials, songs and find the three things I wrote about after last year’s superbowl: Three Things Unacknowledged About Dodge’s Superbowl Commercial. This year, I want to deviate away from Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos, and Logos and turn towards the orator Cicero and his rhetorical devices. Cicero was one of the greatest orators and rhetoricians of the Roman Age.
I am going to talk about four of Cicero’s rhetorical devices.
These devices shape cultures.
These devices build empires.
These devices mold young minds for good or ill.
These devices crush souls, shred personal convictions, build cities.
They rouse nations and call men to defend their homes and woo lovers.
Devices that give life and death.
First, Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or sentences. Anaphora places emphasis on the beginning of the phrase. When used subtly, anaphora impresses a single idea on the listener. This commercial actually builds camaraderie through the repetition of the pronoun, we. Suddenly, you and I become we. We belong.
“We had to learn…we were small but fast…we were like a wind…we knew that being clever…we keep our heads down…we wait until they get sleepy…we wait…we walk out of the shadows…we walk out of the dark”
Second, Hyperbole is extreme over-exaggeration. This rhetorical device has been used by all of our parents, “I have told you a million times…” The commercial begins with hyperbole. Painting huge and grandiose images through words and video clips. We see a monster wave. We see a monster tornado. We hear images of monsters walking the face of the earth, giants.
“The world is full of giants. We have always been here, lumbering in the school yards, limping in the alleys…”
Third, Asyndeton is a rhetorical device involving the absence of conjunctions. The device inherits the name from the combination of Greek words. Asyndeton loosely means without connectors. Can you guess what the trope actually is? Asyndeton is the omission of conjunctions between clauses. This device hurries the tempo of your words. The first time a conjunction is used in the final clause. Every other clause in this video is involved in Asyndeton.
Fourth and finally, Climax is the arrangement of words or phrases in order of increasing importance. Climax builds anticipation, climax gears the audience for the moment of emotional release the Greeks named catharsis. Used well, climax builds your audience like a roller coaster: slowly crawling, moving, creeping towards the peak, and BAM–you drop 100 feet vertically on the other side of the steel mountain.
“We had to learn how to deal…to overcome…we were like a wind, we knew that being clever was more important…we wait until they get sleepy, wait until they get so big they can barely move, then we walk out of the shadows, quietly walk out of the dark, AND STRIKE.”
The world has not judged this to be the best commercial from Sunday night. But, I beg to differ. This commercial shows just what Cicero and every teacher of language and rhetoric from history desires for their students to learn: words level the playing field. Words from the smallest may bring down the biggest. Words persuade men. Words convince citizens. Words protect life. But, not all writing is created the same. Use well thought out rhetorical devices, and you can subtly convince your harshest adversary. Look around you. Where do you see these devices at work?