Agora Virtual Speaker Series: Graduate Student Pre-Conference Presentations Part 2

November 6, 2020 - 3:00pm to 5:00pm

“Satire as a Sincere Plea: The 2010 Stewart/Colbert Rally as a Populist Moment”

Comedians and news satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” (the Rally) on October 30, 2010 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as a call for bipartisan cooperation. This essay examines the Rally and Stewart’s rhetoric through a populism lens based on Lee (2006) and Kazin’s (1995) definitions of populism. I contend that the Rally qualifies as a populist moment in politics, despite the fact that Stewart is not a politician or political pundit. Furthermore, I argue that Rally itself acts as both as a political satire, as defined by Declercq (2018), and a sincere plea for political moderatism.


Schedule of Events

“Throw in the Tune: Musical Characterizations of Disability in Wrestling Films”

 In 2019, two American-produced wrestling films premiered to high acclaim: The Peanut Butter Falcon and Fighting with My Family. Both films prominently feature characters with disabilities—Zak, in The Peanut Butter Falcon, has Down Syndrome, and Calum, in Fighting with My Family, is blind. Each film tackles the idea of what ability means in an American athletic context not only through their narratives, but also through their music. While disability studies scholars like Joseph N. Straus and George McKay have written about the intersection of music and disability studies, their work largely elides film compilation scores. Drawing on Jeff Smith and Anahid Kassabin’s work on compilation scores, I interrogate how the music of each film represents disability and rejects the medical model of disability so often seen in the sports film genre. I apply Ron Rodman’s networked model of signification to the two films to illustrate how the films musically represent disability: creating then dissolving a musical dichotomy of (dis)abled bodies and creating musical uniformity across ability. This study promises to contribute to disability studies, film studies, and musicology through expanding the musical medium of analysis to encompass the interaction of incidental and compilation film scores. 


Max Dosser
“Debate from Distance: Speculations on the History and Present of Online Policy Debate”

The end of the 2019-2020 policy debate season coincided with an escalation of the 2019-2020 COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the cancelation of the National Debate Tournament, Cross Examination Debate Association championship tournament, and the Tournament of Champions, among other end-of-year national championships. To still provide a platform to host debates for the students who had anticipated these events, many forums suggested and implemented online tournaments through various video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Reactions from debaters, coaches, and directors alike were mixed, with many expressing their disappointment that their final debates would be mediated by webcams, microphones, and WiFi connections. Many debaters even refused to participate in these tournaments. While this phenomenon may appear to be policy debate's most extreme foray into its own digitization, the encroachment of online platforms onto competitive policy debate is far from a new phenomenon. In an activity dominated by digital evidence sharing, tabulation websites, and online debate camps, why did the crisis-driven digitization of national tournaments cause such a strong response from the community? What is it about the coming-together of debate tournaments that cannot be replicated by digital alternatives? How should the community work to preserve that quality, or is the 2020 Online Tournament of Champions a glimpse into the inevitable future of competitive policy debate? In this paper, I take up these questions through a critical rhetorical analysis of online director meetings and community reactions to the digitization of debate tournaments during the COVID-19 pandemic. By situating the tournaments within the history of debate's continuous digitization, I argue that online tournaments represent an investment in cybernetic capitalism that seeks to maintain, and even further democratize, debate without disturbing its rootedness in class society. I suggest that the conviviality of in-person tournaments gesture toward a sense of commonality that cybernetic capitalism cannot replicate. Centering the conviviality of the activity, especially in the shadow of the decline in programs, might point us toward strategies that move beyond the binary between preserving in-person debate and adapting to a presumptively-inevitable digital future.


Reed Van Schenck


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