Thursday, October 02, 2008

How to conduct a debate

Civilised discourse, discussion and debate lie at the heart of a democracy. When issues arise that bring to the fore differing viewpoints, the differing parties get together, offer their respective ideas and opinions and hammer out a solution. Failing this, one just calls the other an asshole and hammers him out. But the very institution of such a group debate is essential, indeed vital, for the health and proper functioning of the democratic process. And this is nowhere more important than in India. Amartya Sen may be right(one of the rare instances since he wisely refrained from thanking 'that rich, snobbish whoreson, Nobel' during his acceptance speech) when he said "Prolixity is not alien to us as Indians." Lots of people didn't know what that meant, but they agreed with him anyway.

But how shall the ideal debate be conducted? How effectively can issues be chosen, questions be put, panelists be selected, audiences members be allowed in and advertisements be inserted so that the full benefit of a public head-to-head of concerned members, affected individuals and passerby intellectuals can be had? How can that guy in the third row be stopped from asking those embarrassing questions he asks every single time? And what's with that gothic chick in the fourth row anyway? What, she's so cool because she's non-conformist and has that bored look on her face? She's probably stupid and doesn't understand a word anyway. Stupid nosering. I hate those things. Only cows and other animals should wear, democracy. If you're a television channel looking to expand on your viewership, here's how the debate should be conducted.

First, choose an issue that has mass appeal and effect. Pick from among money, religion, cricket, sex and movies. These are the issues that will garner the most eyeballs. It would be unwise to choose depressing and/or unimportant/trivial stuff like farmer suicides or gay rights or growing disparity between the rich and the poor or the plummeting standards of our media and crap like that. The "growing intolerance of Urban India" is not nice. But it's certainly better than the "growing head of Rajdeep Sardesai." Honestly, how big is his head? He could double for one of Godzilla's balls the next time they make a movie about that thing. The left one. Get it? Get it, huh, huh, get it, get it? Anyway, combinations of issues might be used. 'Religious misappropriation of wealth' and 'boldness and censorship in the movies' are good. But if your issue is "How about that rich priest/maulvi/bishop who got videotaped doing it with a female commentator?" you win!

Second, frame your questions well beforehand. You need to guide the 'debate' and show it where to go. If you let those people talking about it have their way, that shit could go on for hours. God knows, there are a lot of windbags around and they really like to talk. And they have opinions, to boot. So you need to have these handy pointers or signs that will guide the discussion along, without seeming like abrupt interruptions. You can write these questions down on handy cards that can be printed out. It will give you something to scribble on just before(just to seem important and well-prepared), during(when all that 'talking' is going on, so you show you're thinking on your feet) and even after(so you can make people feel less busy and thereby stupid) the debate. Key phrases that can be used to good effect are:- 'the impact on society,' 'the secular fabric of the nation,' 'the effect on children,' 'liberal ethos,' 'zeitgeist,' 'poltergeist,' 'Mrityungeist,' 'the Bachchan family,' 'minority alienation,' 'Hindutva,' 'polarisation,' and 'stupid bastard stole my girlfriend.'

OK, maybe not all of those. 'Mrityungeist' was overdoing it a bit.

Third, you need to choose the right people to have on your panel. You can't have everybody. I mean, there's all sorts of riffraff out there. You should have the correct balance of spunk and wisdom, youth and age, fire and ice, Yin and Yang, pride and prejudice. Here's a handy chart for you, showing the 'dream-team' for debate panels:-

Fourth, the audience. You need to allow time for audience members to ask questions every now and then of the panelists. But be careful:- those buggers can ask uncomfortable questions that might conflict with the stated agenda of your channel's owner's friend in the government, whose support is absolutely vital for you. You may also lose the respect of your colleagues and peers. Oh no! Look around your studios for a few hours before the show. If you spot people reading Paulo Coelho, Franz Kafka, Praveen Togadia, Solzhenitsyn, the Times of India, the Sunday Times of India, Bangalore Times, Delhi Times, Mumbai Times, The Statesman, Bongo Shomachar, Kerala Chronicle, the complete works of Shilpa Shetty and 'Autobiography of a well-known Indian' by Kapil Sibal, pull them in! Before the taping starts, educate them abut the sort of questions they should ask. Writing the questions down for them will make your show seem like Soviet Russia, so you want to avoid that. But nobody said anything about putting them up on a teleprompter. And cutting them off should be done smoothly and politely. The moment you see them making your favourite panelist uncomfortable, swoop in. I mean, swoop like you've never swooped before. You will have earned the unending gratitude of your benefactor. Give the audience sweets as they go out, but try not to poison them.

Lastly, advertisements, or commercial breaks. The timing of these is crucial, to have your television audience glued in. You can't just go into a break when everything's going well and everyone's agreeing. When two people are going at each other, fire and brimstone, and are throwing facts about the other person that you and your audience never even knew, then you need to cut in and go out for a short one. Leaves everyone on tenterhooks and has them begging for more. Additionally, when your favourite guy/gal seems to be 'losing' to that idiot you've always hated, like we said before, swoop. Swoop like an eagle with its wings on fire who's just spotted a rat on the floor. Cut the idiot off, say things like "Mr...Mr....Mr....Mr...that's enough. We are trying to have a civilised discussion here. A CIVILISED one! Please. PLEASE!! We'll come back to you. Time for a short break. Do stay with us. Gentlemen, please!!"

After the show's done, you should thank everybody on the panel and the audience. Politeness always pays.

Be sure to name your show after something violent. "An enlightened discussion," "A civilised rendezvous," "A cultured, knowledgeable tete-a-tete," "Issues first," "Smooth talk" are all gay and will not do. "Bloody fight," "Violent skirmish," "Vultures' meet," "I'm going to bash your face in if you don't agree with me" are good.

So there it is. A simple formula to conducting an effective debate. It ensures your guests and your audience come back for more. And your ratings go up. Everybody wins.


Harish said...

The chart and 'Mrutyungeist' sikkaapaTTe sarrig ide. But I doubt how many people can understand what you are saying unless they too, like me, have watched, relentlessly, one TV debate after another on one or all the television news channels. Si I don't this is stuff to read for the average, not-as-informed-as-me, reader of your blog.
This post too, like many of your posts hurt farmer sentiments. You seem to take farmer suicides quite callously. Your indifference to farmers and their suicides should be condemned in words that are used by Teesta Seetalwad - editor of Communalism Combat, to condemn 'fascist' Modi.

Harish said...

Dear readers of this right-winger's blog,

I present to you two 'Combat' magazines. By their names, I suppose, they are competitors. But this might be a very obscure fact.

First of them, is 'Communalism Combat'. Here it is, the current version of 'Communalism Combat'

And if you too are as politically cognizant as me and had started thinking of a rival magazine called 'Secularism Combat', relax. There already is one. Here's the current edition of 'Secularism Combat'.

Thanks And Regards
Harish Kumar

Parisarapremi said...

ಯಾವುದೇ ಡಿಬೇಟಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಉರಾ ಇರ್ಬೇಕು ಅನ್ನೋ ಪಾಯಿಂಟ್ ಮಿಸ್ ಮಾಡ್ಬಿಟಿದ್ದೀಯ ನೋಡು!! ;-)

P S said...

ROFL @ Like Soviet Union part.

But seriously, very good post. Quite reflective of the spectacular and amazing social and political sense of the masses. Some kind of video on this under would be damn nice.

A staged debate?

Anonymous said...

"A picture is worth a thousand words" antha en helthaare. Adu nija. You have lately adopted this aspect in your writings. Maadi. Chennag ide.

Olle Subtleties-u.

Sandeep said...

Not the most subtle post of yours. Anyway.

Very entertaining post nevertheless. You should probably IP blacklist Harish for spamming.

Spunky Monkey said...

I like Rajdeep Sardesai.
You don't I see.

being purple... said...


almost makes me want to go back to college-politics and the endless discussions over coffee..

CHEEKU said...

I wonder whats inside your head! Almost all your posts are "classics".
Next time you could write "Now you are gonna ROTF laughing"!!! Am sure it ll be apt!

Malaveeka said...

Very nice post, ButtCheeks.

Although, you should write more about rainbows nd flowers.

Arjun Sharma said...

[Harish] He he, public address bere maadbidu. Rabid secularist newspapers bere dredge up maadittbidu. Neenentha mindri?

But yes, I apologise here, publicly, for hurting farmer sentiments. You have wisely pointed me to the right path. I thank you, good sir and alleged left-winger.

[Parisarapremi] He he, nam video-nalli maadona bidi. Avrde lead role-u.

[P S] I don't think the debates are staged. But they're very formulaic. You can guess what each guy is going to say at what point. And the "moderator's" job is just to set the scenario up for the panelists to say those things.

[karthikd] He he, just as I was saying these debates are formulaic, you call that very post formulaic. Effective way to hoist me with my own petard, my friend.

Olle petards-u.

[Sandeep] You are blinded to subtleties by sex and violence.

[Spunky Monkey] Maybe you have a thing for grey hair. He's not bad. He's not good, certainly; but he's not bad, I agree.

Wait, I see what's happened. This terrifying woman called his wife has come along and made him look a nice, quiet, docile man. I think that's why you have a man-crush on him.

[being purple] You discussed this over coffee? Instead of boobies? Aww, scarred childhood.

[CHEEKU] Potash alum. I think that's what's in my head. K2SO4 Al2(SO4)3 24H2O. Henge?

Heh, thanks for the wild, effusive, unrestrained praise, my friend.

[Malaveeka] Thanks, Bustline.

Yah, I too luv rainbows n flaarze. But my tiny heart is broken. So I only write depressive posts about debates.

tangled said...

Why is your heart broken?

Arjun Sharma said...

Because my liver cheated on it. With my anus.

tangled said...

Most. disturbing. mental. image. ever.


Malaveeka said...

He he, anus.

Such a funny word, that.

Arjun Sharma said...

[tangled] Heh, sorry about that. But it's the truth.

[malaveeka] :) I was thinking of you the whole time, my dear.

Malaveeka said...

Of course you were baby.

Too bad, the liver is awesome.

Arjun Sharma said...

I think you mean rectum. Rectum and anus do nefarious things together.

Malaveeka said...

yes we do. :)

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