Less Is No(t) More

Let's start with the most important information first, albeit the most obvious: Domestic violence is a crisis in this country. It is corrosive to the fabric of our culture, and needs to be stopped. Dedicating substantial resources to eradicating this scourge is a necessary priority.

But, is the series of "Speechless" public service announcements for NOMORE.org, produced by the Joyful Heart Foundation, the best we can do?  

I'm sure you've seen these spots. They feature a collection of celebrities and athletes against a stark white background unable to deliver their lines to camera because they are so overcome with emotion. Their futile attempt to compose themselves while cameras roll is followed by the tag line: "Domestic violence and sexual assault are hard subjects to talk about." 

The producers claim that the campaign wasn't planned, that the tears shed during filming were unanticipated and genuine. That may very well be true for a couple of stars, but asking us to believe that it happened spontaneously for over a dozen of them is a stretch. Just about every director I know would yell "cut" if he or she saw the on-camera talent struggling like that, unless the premise of the campaign was contrived.

I acknowledge that this view is highly skeptical one, but it is by no means far fetched. It certainly wouldn't be the first time an actor has been asked to cry on cue. The whole campaign feels fake and forced, which is particularly disappointing, given how vital the message is. More than a few women I know, who feel strongly about the need to combat domestic violence, have told me they find the spots borderline offensive.

The other possibility is even worse. Let's assume everyone who came through the studio was indeed rendered speechless. How could a series of authentically emotional responses come across as so disingenuous? When the product on screen is real and genuine, it holds the power to persuade and influence. When it comes across overtly staged, it feels like clumsy manipulation.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Speak only if it improves upon the silence." When it comes to bolstering a feeling of authenticity, there would seem to be a lot of room for improvement in the "Speechless" campaign.