Friday, October 18, 2013
Story Analisys: Guinness Commercial
A big part of the focus on the teaching of craft within storytelling is the question of what constitutes a story. I think the most basic definition that I've ever heard is that a story must have a beginning a middle and an end. Granted the only rule within much of any art form is that there aren't any rules, so films like Children of Men and Broken Flowers might be breaking the rule of the necessity of an ending, but they do so skillfully so it's perfectly fine. But I digress, my main question here is whether or not a sixty-two second commercial can ever truly constitute a story?
By their very nature, commercials are meant to be quick, simple, and message based. They lack distinct arcs and character development. They're meant to convince the viewers that they need—can't live without—this or that product. But the easiest way to work on a person's sympathies and emotions is often through storytelling. And with the proliferation of DVRs, commercials have needed to be all the more interesting to attract viewer's attention. So if companies grew to understand that, it serves to suggest that they would have edited their model accordingly.
Enter the latest batch of Guinness commercials; specifically the basketball one which happens to be my favorite commercial since the E*Trade baby hit the scene. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm one of those DVR owners who habitually fast forwards as quickly as possible through each commercial break. The only time I ever watch live TV is when I'm watching sports or Sports Center. Lucky for me, this commercial airs during just about every break ESPN takes.
So if this is a story, then what element makes it so? Could the point be argued that there is a (very loose) plot here? A group of highly competitive friends get together at the gym to play a game of basketball. Afterwards they all go out for drinks. On its own, I'm not sure that this constitutes a plot. God is in the details, and so something would need to happen during the game or drinks in order to make this a story. Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be a set beginning, middle, or end to all of this. Basketball and then drinks are fairly standard activities. If I told you that I went to work today and then came home, would that be a story in and of itself?
The important element of the commercial then is the twist of the basketball game in which it is revealed that the group of wheelchair bound friends actually aren't paraplegics. Only one of the men lives his life in the wheelchair; his friends get into the chairs in order to allow him to remain included in their regular basketball games. Again the question must be asked whether or not the twist in and of itself constitutes a story? (M Night Shyamalan would say yes) I'm not sure of the answer, but I will say that the twist itself has a profound affect on characterization. It's odd to consider a commercial as having fully flushed out characters, and yet the moment that the men all start to stand up and pat their buddy on the back, it's impossible for your entire understanding of them and of the commercial itself not to be reconstituted. If nothing else, I think this level of manipulation of viewer assumptions is deserving of a higher level of attention and appreciation than your typical commercial.
I don't think there's a hard and fast determining factor in designating what is and what isn't a story. I think if what you're reading or watching speaks to you in some kind of distinct fashion, then it can be considered a story. If you can look at it and see some sort of progression of events/revelations unfolding, then it is a story. This is one of the few commercials I've ever seen that I felt an immediate need to show to other people and discuss, and that's remarkable. More over, it made me want to go out and buy Guinness, and as a person who honestly isn't a fan of Stouts, that's saying something.