So today on Metafilter I came across this kind of funny, but also sort of heartbreaking, clip of a debate coach showing a rival debate coach his butt.
This got me reading various forum posts and watching videos of debate rounds, piecing together the threads of a rather bizarre bit of growing pains that CEDA debate is apparently going through.
As I learned, a team from Towson University spent all of last year running an argument that policy debate itself is inherently white supremacist. The actual assigned topic was the Middle East conflict, but the Towson team created their argument around a procedural objection which they would make during their opening speech. They advocated a "revolutionary aesthetic" that worked in direct opposition to the white-dominated aesthetic of policy debate. Their own speeches began with hip-hop recordings and, though just as fast as standard policy debate, spent much less time citing sources and more time rhyming.
Apparently, this is not the first time a debate team has made points about the type of discourse in debate by radically diverging from it. In fact, Fort Hays (whose coach's ass you just saw) has been one of several schools espousing a more performance-oriented type of debate in the past few years. Fort Hays' case was also about attacking the debate framework--specifically, the fact that people win.
In the inevitable meeting between Fort Hays and Towson (who, apparently, were friends off the court), Fort Hays struck a judge who had given them very poor scores previously. Unfortunately, that judge was a black woman, giving Towson the extra ammo to personalize their case and completely throw Fort Hays off guard. Fort Hays couldn't give the obvious answer (when given the option, it's great to get rid of judges who don't like you) because that would contradict their anti-competitive argument, essentially backing them into a corner in which no question is answerable. Being a slam poet, the conundrum struck a familiar chord with me.
I'm curious about this new performative style. Debater-peeps, where did this start? How common is it? Will it become more common after this year? One thing that occurs to me--watching both of these teams work--is how behind they are in the spoken word lexicon. I felt a little like I was watching a poetry slam in 1995. I'd love to see a debate round that looks like a 2007 poetry slam.
Towson won in the final round, and I have to wonder if even to Towson it felt like more of an inevitability than a real victory. When your whole argument is that you can't even address the questions of the debate because debate is broken, no one can touch you, at least within the context of a debate round. The other team, from Kansas University, tried valiantly to present their own argument for "fixing" debate, but their lack of sincerity was far too obvious, the perfect foil for Towson's anger. In any game that requires one team to address racism in half an hour, that team will lose.
I know a lot of current and former debaters read this, so I really am curious about any insight you guys have. I've learned more about this stuff in two hours than I ever knew before.