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Our constant efforts to reinvent ourselves reveal how much we fear our own images.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Due to popular encouragement (although I still don't see any cheques posted my way) I shall be bringing you a second article in my new lecture series. As you will soon be able to tell, this series is a little disorganized, but that's because I write what comes to mind, and it's a bit hard to predict exactly when the series will end.

Again, if you're not particularly interested in learning about "the profession", you can either go to another blog or read about why Kris from The Amazing Race 6 is hot. I talked about it in my entry yesterday, which should be below this one.

But if you're among the bunch who'd like to hear stories from a worn-out old warrior, the good stuff starts now.

Today our focus is on a certain position, or more correctly, a certain pair of positions. Just as there's always someone to lead an attack, there's always someone to bring up the rear and focus on defending and striking the final and preferably lethal blow. Funnily enough, the position is named after a weapon - we call it a 'whip'. The name wasn't thought up by some sick creep who's into sado-masochism; it's actually part of a legacy passed down from parliamentary times.

On paper, the demands of the position are rather straightforward: Beat back everything said against you, say something against the other side, and consolidate your position. That's the theory. In practice, what ends up happening is often a frantic free-for-all when pot-shots are traded and it becomes incredibly easy to lose sight of the big thing. Two military analogies come to mind. Depending on the scale of things, you could think of it either as a machine gun left spraying on automatic, or a solid artillery barrage that's all about shock and awe.

I think it can work better than that. The common thing about both analogies is that the shots are rather random and nothing's picked out. If you're shooting to kill, that's a really inefficient way to do it. And in this business, inefficiency is a luxury that we can ill afford. So every move that you take must be taken with a clear aim to do the other side in. Every single thing must be deliberated; this is not the time to be rash.

So, what to do?

Remember, first and foremost, that as a collective there must be some kind of thematic unity. By thematic unity I mean some sort of common stance at some philosophical or practical level. It's a bit easy to forget, but from an advertising point of view, inherently successful campaigns of any nature sport a good tag-line that is easy to remember and often-repeated. With intellectual discourse it's very much the same thing. Of course it has to be followed up with an intelligent examination of why that tag-line makes sense, but the tag-line helps a mighty lot. With the anti-AIDS campaign in South Africa it was "One in Four", a reminder of the cold statistic that around 25% of the country's population are suffering from AIDS. With abortion it's usually about pro-life vs pro-choice. It really helps to reinforce that overarching, unified theme, and the home stretch is the most important time to do just that.

Secondly, pick your battles. There will always be a great temptation to deal with everything that's laid before you, but it's a little like what happens when you've got a buffet spread out right in front of your very eyes. In our desperate gluttony we'll probably grab anything and everything that the eye sees, and we'll hate ourselves for not having more hands and/or mouths to deal with them all at the same time. The consequence is usually that we're stuffed, but we don't know what we're eating. The same translates into "the profession"; if you're going in greedy and anxious to just beat everything back regardless of strategic and tactical importance. In the end, you'll have a bite at everything, but you'll also not be thorough enough in dealing with many of the things on offer.

The better way to go about it for more thoroughness and maximum damage is to pick your battles. You've got six or seven minutes to go through the buffet - think about just what you want to put on your plate. It's like the famous Supermarket Sweep. You only have so much time, you should plan beforehand just what you want to take. Plan your route, and focus on the most important things that you can swing your way. Once that is done, you're much likelier to hit and sink something big.

With that in mind, the natural question comes: "Okay, so just how do I do that?" There's no formulaic answer, unfortunately, because every discussion is on something different. The most I can say is that much depends on what has actually gone on. From there, it's partly about picking out what the big ideas were. A discussion on what the international community should do about the Zimbabwe regime, for instance, could boil down to whether economic sanctions is a principle-wise proportionate response, whether it actually works, and whether the collateral damage is worth it. For those who can't count, that's a grand total of three solid lines of consideration. And you think there's nothing to say...

Many "professionals" have a tendency to use the third round to do nothing but knock the other side down. That is, sadly, not enough. That's going into a firefight. The expectations of this position are a little higher than that. It is also about reinforcing what has been said before on the levels of principle and practice. Now, reinforcement is different from mere repetition. Remember, the other side has had the opportunity to get stuck in and give their take. Therefore, you come into the fight armed with the additional burden of dealing with the wisdom offered by the other side. You have to actually say why their beliefs are wrong and yours are right, or at least why your beliefs are more in touch with the ground realities and why they will therefore carry the day. To do that, you have to understand just what their beliefs are. Like I say quite often, you can't comment on what you don't know about.

And after all that is over and done, there's still one additional task that needs to be done, that is often not done. And that is to provide a quick, 90-second summary of what has gone on before. The summary role is one that often gets forgotten, because everyone thinks that that's for the closing statements. Actually, it isn't, not quite. A proper presentation will include a summary. Most of your energy may be focused on what the other side did wrong, and indeed it seems very natural to do so. Many people neglect that, to gain more credibility, you also have to explain just what you did right. How have you been contributive towards this discussion? What are the major issues that you have put forward that have entered our minds? Where do you deserve credit? That's what summaries are for - to tell us what you have done, not just where the other side got it wrong.

Once upon a time we talked about the whole issue of "Women on Waves" in Ireland, which was about a group of Irish women wanting to go someplace where they could get abortions done. Catholic Ireland, in case you didn't know, is a place where abortions are illegal. As one of the last men to speak, I had to deal with the concept that Ireland was a theocracy and that was the fundamental, unbendable reason why abortions in Ireland was an idea that would never fly. I don't know what made me do it, but I stood up and said something like "Ireland may be a Catholic theocracy, but it's also a country that is progressive and there is no reason to believe why the Irish can't be persuaded". I didn't have that down on tape, which is a pity because I'd like to take a look at it, but I was told that that was a great save. Faced up against one of the strongest men of the country (then, as now), that felt very sweet.

I think there's a lesson in that - it produced an interesting way to present a unified stance with strong principle-level convictions. There might have been a danger of wading into new territory, which is something that should never be done. But if you are to avoid that, lots of work would have to go into making sure things started out properly, so that a late save would not be necessary.

To round off, it should always be your aim to have the whole war decided within "regulation time". For the most part, after three rounds it is often clear who's going to win, and the closing statements are not much more than a formality. Of course, on really good days, that might not be the case and you'll actually be neck and neck - but that's something to savour. Otherwise the third round is about delivering the final blows, looking back and taking a look at just what has happened. There is more than one way to do it, but overall I think that's all I have to say.

Refreshments are outside. Please fill in the feedback form or click the comment button below if there's a particular area you would like to have discussed. I'll work on a popular demand basis, provided I can say something useful.

In the meantime, enjoy your weekend!

gambitch [ 4:33 PM]

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Those of you who have been following my blog since its earliest days will realize that I have not been blogging about The Amazing Race 6. It's not because I don't get to watch it - I do, actually, and I still faithfully watch every episode. It's just a combination of a few things that have made me rather unwilling to sit down and blog every episode.

Four episodes into the race, let me explain why. Part of it is down to Race fatigue; the gap between TAR5 and TAR6 is a wee bit too short, and so I hadn't actually geared up for it the way I used to, with all the anticipation that is so requisite. It does not help that the teams don't promise much in terms of personality and grit. Tall order, that, given that we already have Chip and Kim, and Colin and Christie. Two perfect opposite teams that made great television in Season 5. And, oh, Charla and Mirna may have been hated to the core by some, but again they made great television.

In comparison, TAR6 does not feel nearly as competitive. The course is definitely shorter - the first leg already sent the teams off to Iceland (so no 24-hour bus rides to Cancun or fun tours down Buenos Aires), and I am beginning to run out of places I want to see. I'm sure the producers will come up with new ideas that tease our imagination a bit here and there as far as locations are concerned, but I'm devoid of those self-same ideas myself at the moment.

Looking across the teams, it's also a bit hard to spot teams that will be exciting to watch from a competitive perspective. After a trend of alpha male teams winning the race, Season 5 gave us a solid package of numerous seriously competitive-looking teams, which was enough to make us forget that Marshall and Lance were the only all-male team that season, and they didn't look particularly competitive. But Season 6? Avi and Joe, the only all-male team this time round, don't look alpha male (being Jew was, in this instance, not helpful in that regard, not that I think Jews are all wimpy). Indeed, they got bowled out in the first leg. So, no Team Guido to root for, no Reichen and Chip to hate, and no Derek and Drew to watch chug along (and if you're female, drool at that last bit).

Instead, we're stuffed with several teams of couples, models, and the like. I mean, Lena and Kristy? Mormon sisters in bikinis, labelled one person who did blog about TAR6. And I'll say this - Lena sure looks hot. As does Hayden (a girl's name, I can assure you) who races this time with Aaron. As does Victoria (who turns out to be a former Playboy Playmate). As, to an extent, does Kris. To prove my point, I quote this segment from House of Snark (I don't know how to address the writer, except that I know her name is Stacy):

"Kris is so cute as she prances off into the rose water, and Jon thinks so too ("Damn she's hot!") as the Amazing Editors give us a gratuitous shot of her cleavage. Nice... LOL."

This coming from a married woman.

I have fully followed four seasons of The Amazing Race (counting this one), and this is the first season where I think I would actually comment that they're stuffing lots of hot girls into this show. Season 3 felt average; Jill, of John Vito and Jill fame, looked tough as nails, and the only thing I remembered about Flo was that she looked like a soft whiner. Oh, of course there's Heather and Eve, the lawyer blondes who got into a disaster with driving a manual car in Europe. But I mostly remembered watching Ken and Gerard, Derek and Drew, and John Vito and Jill racing a good race.

The story in Season 4 was similar, one or two okay-looking girls, but the focus was on the show, and the babes didn't exactly do well. Unless you consider Kelly a babe, which to me was less of a concern than tracking David and Jeff, the beach boys, and Jon and Al, the clowns done good. Season 5? Alison was remarkable, somewhat, mostly because she was athletic. And Nicole was more a case of eye candy who couldn't race (a prettier version of Flo, perhaps), and Christie was so tough you forget she was once a beauty queen - or rather, princess, since she was in Miss Teen America.

It was always about the race, but only because I guess there were teams genuinely worth rooting for. I don't know what the producers were thinking when they tinkered with that formula that worked pretty well - well it worked pretty well for me - but I found it hard to get excited about any one team competition-wise and it reduced to watching babes with cute faces or decent tits (a very bad path for reality TV to go down, which is why America's Next Top Model never caught on with me).

Of course there's a whole bunch of "personality" teams in this race. I mean, look at Jonathan the screaming entrepreneur. How did he marry Victoria? Or more correctly, how did Victoria marry him? I'm sorry, but Victoria just ruined my efforts at moving away from the stereotype about nude picture models being stupid. Then of course there's Adam, the guy with two weird little tufts of hair that make him look like Shrek. There's Lori and Bolo, the pro wrestlers who are probably used to a steroids diet, and who look a bit too stupid to run this race from time to time. A bit harsh, I know, but after five seasons I'd expect CBS to cast more competitive, scheming planners, and these two just haven't looked the part yet.

I had to wait beyond the first two or three legs before seeing a couple of "stereotype teams" start to shine properly. My opinion of Gus (racing with daughter Hera) is beginning to improve after he starts showing a bit of intelligence that is in line with this race. And the old goats Don and Mary Jean are proving quite a bit tougher than Bob and Joyce from last season, though they may never overtake the famous Gutsy Grannies from Season 2 (pioneer advantage!).

So there still isn't that much to blog about TAR6. In-between sighting Hayden wearing low-cut spagh-strap tops (light blue last week, yellow this week) and covering my ears when Jonathan shouts at everyone (especially Victoria), I'm still in the warm-up phase as far as watching this season is concerned. I've a hunch about Hayden and Aaron making the Final Three, but for the most part the field looks wide open. The thing is, after eliminating the teams that I think will go out soon, it's remarkably strange how I don't remember who's left. In a way, they're all so similar to each other, it's disorienting.

But then, what can I say? I didn't have a hand in the casting.

gambitch [ 9:28 PM]


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