[eDebate] don't fret!!

James E. Radford jr jeradford
Sat Aug 16 12:26:41 CDT 2008

I've been following the developments with the Shanahan/Shanara video with a
great deal of interest. It's always intriguing to me when the insular world
of debate somehow makes its way into mainstream discourse. This is something
that has actually been happening with an increasing frequency as of late.
While we fret over the bad press that this "viral video" has elicited, let's
not forget all the favorable, and almost certainly more resilient and
substantive, mainstream depictions of debate that have emerged over the past
couple of years. I'm thinking mainly of the excellent and hilarious film
"Rocket Science" and the recent HBO documentary about high school debate.
Remember when "Listen to Me" was the only thing out there? As those who grew
up on debate begin to enter into the upper eschelons of the creative and
professional worlds, I think we can expect to see more such depictions, as
these people draw from their seminal experiences in debate for their
creative projects. I'm pretty sure this video emerged for the same reasons:
i.e., some former debater who still keeps up with the ndtceda archives works
for cnn now, and he or she passed this video to the editor of the cnn
website, and it was deemed interesting enough to generate some pageviews, so
it was thrown onto the site. And it spread from there.

The current flare-up over this video is something that will pass very soon,
and, so long as people can do a good job of defending the activity and
explaining the anomolous nature of this unfortunate event in the short term,
hopefully nobody will lose a job or a program over this. The circulation of
this video is a product of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet's need
for constantly new content. It depicts something fairly "shocking" and
mildly amusing, so it meets the basic entertainment needs of a "viral
video," much like a video of someone getting hit in the groin with a
baseball or a tv reporter accidently cursing. People see it, pass it on to
friend with a "have you seen the one where..." and then they mostly forget
it as soon as the next "shocking" video emerges.

I hope that, when folks encounter a moment where, because of this video,
they are forced to defend the whole of debate, they will approach the
situation with a little sense of humor. I hope that we will remember what a
non-crisis this should be, and continue to defend debate as one of the most
powerfully educational activities available to young people today. Let's be
confident in the value of our activity, and look to this not as a moment of
crisis, but as an opportunity to generate conversations among ourselves
about some of the issues that currently face debate, and a chance to talk to
"outsiders" about the complex and wonderful activity that has been such an
important part of our lives.

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