Last weekend something called Politicon took place in Los Angeles. I am not overly familiar with Politicon but once read somewhere that it can probably be described as comic-con but about politics instead of fiction. The main attraction of this convention was as far as I can tell a “debate” between Cenk Uygur of TYT and the infamous Ann Coulter, a debate that I happened to watch on Youtube last night, here is a link for anyone interested.
Much has been or soon will be said about the positions the two debaters took on the various issues but I will for now ignore that and instead here focus on some sort of meta-analysis. I want to say a few things that either need bringing up or to the extent that they have already been brought up need repeating.
A few seconds into the clip I realized that there was one phenomenon in particular that bothered me throughout the debate, that I would have to accept subjecting myself to or skip watching the clip. Put simply, it had to do with the presence of an audience that constantly felt their need to make what the late Hitch in similar situations referred to as “zoo-noises”. Whether it was applauding or booing or cheering, there was too much of it and valuable time was lost waiting for it to die down before the “debate”, if we are to call it that, could continue. Needless to say, I would have preferred audience participation to be limited to some questions towards the end.
At one point early on Uygur said something about how he knows that he has more fans, and suddenly the noise-makers started. Then we had to wait for them to shut it before Uygur could say that since Stephen Colbert has stopped pretending maybe Coulter should too, and before we got Coulter’s reaction the human sirens went off again. At a later point Coulter said something controversial about the war in Iraq and in the middle of one of her sentences she had to stop and wait for the crowd to do their thing. Throughout this Uygur kept commenting on how there were more people clapping for him than Coulter, like the people watching the whole thing don’t already notice that.
All of this was amplified by the fact that Coulter, whether she denies it or not, to some extent is an outrage-monger, explicitly trying to be undiplomatic. The people in the crowd opposing Coulter fell for it each time with predictable results.
Note here that I am not trying to say that Coulter is pulling an act of some kind, I will grant that she believes what she says she believes, but if she was really out after something more than cheers from those who already agree with her and boos from those who don’t, and thought about how to get that and present something that would make someone come over from Uygur’s side to her, then it is hard to imagine that she wouldn’t have been able to come up with something more persuasive.
This same point actually goes for Uygur too, someone agreeing with Coulter on immigration or taxes will never be swayed by Uygur throwing out the most obvious catchphrases. The kind of preaching-to-the-choir-rethoric they both employed only has one very specific use. If someone agrees with Uygur or Coulter on nine issues out of ten, and on the tenth is uninterested and has no position, then that person can be made to repeat the party line on that tenth position since they figure that Uygur or Coulter is right about everything else so why not this. Now Coulter may be a lost cause and soon fade into irrelevancy, but I wonder if Uygur, who whatever else one thinks of him will probably just gain more and more influence, doesn’t aspire to a slightly higher intellectual level than that. I hope so, but all we got now was a shallow reiteration of positions we know he holds combined with, like I said, the audience making zoo-noises.