Friday, May 23, 2014

My History with GEAR Debate at RHS

~~ originally written for the 2013-2014 year of Ringgold High School's school paper, The Ram Pride ~~

In my sophomore year, I stepped up to a podium in Ringgold High School's library, unruffled my lined paper full of my sloppy notes as much as I could, and gave a speech filled with statistics about drugs and football stadiums. This was my first time participating in a GEAR-sponsored debate at RHS, and it was a rather in invigorating experience. It remained the same rewarding thrill every time I did it afterwards.

Anyway, I got up there and gave my rebuttal speech, and our team full of tenth graders beat a team full with upperclassmen. I did a good job, which is a belief supported by my peers as well as the GEAR instructor at the time. We even went on to the championship, because our team scored higher than any other affirmative team. My quality stayed the same in the championship round, save for apparently coming off as petty and rude, according to some peers as well as one of the judges. The topic was drug testing for student athletes, a topic I really didn't have much of an opinion on prior. As we researched the topic, I started to support the side I was defending, starting my streak of always debating on the side of an issue I agree with. 

I find debate much more satisfying if I am defending ideas I actually think are good. So, as the lefty liberal I am, I debated in favor of Barack Obama for president, in favor of marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, against NSA spying, and finally just last April, in favor of a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10. It felt good to debate against the ruthlessly robotic Mitt Romney. It felt good to defend adults thrown in jail for putting a relatively harmless substance into their own bodies. It felt good debating against an over-reaching spying program that throws privacy out the window in exchange for a minuscule level of defense against terrorism. And finally, it felt good to throw my hat in the ring for a minimum wage increase from it's pathetically low amount of $7.25 to a much more reasonable number of $10.10. Debating in favor of my own opinion was even more gratifying when I knew that my opponents were also defending their own opinions; I know I was able to have that experience for all of my debates except for the marijuana one, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was my toughest debate.   

There are four people on each team, two doing what is called a constructive speech and the other two doing what is called a rebuttal speech. For my first two debates, I did a rebuttal speech, and for my last three I did a constructive. As the name implies, the rebuttals are speeches directly refuting the opposing team's arguments, and are done during the latter half of the debate. They are two minutes long, and are generally expected to be mostly put together during the actual debate because of the nature of the speech, although many don't follow this notion. I always did; I would write an opening sentence and a closing sentence prior, and then make bullet points during the debate. It certainly worked in my favor because both my peers and the judges took note. A rebuttal speech is much better when it is clear that the speaker is actually directly addressing what the opposing team said, rather than guessing in a speech written before hand.    

Because of how the program is structured, the constructive speakers are typically seen as more important than the rebuttal speakers. I have a hard time avoiding running my mouth and love attention, so I much preferred this route. Constructive speakers give a three-minute speech expected to be pre-written (although some very rarely speak off the cuff), are cross-examined by an opposing constructive speaker for two minutes, and then cross-examine the other opposing constructive speaker for two minutes. I have been passionate about writing ever since I was in sixth grade, so I always wrote a very good speech. My first time, I had a hard time on the cross-examination (we faced a very good team and were perhaps overly confident given the topic of weed legalization), but the two debates afterwards, I think it is safe to say that I did a positively great job on the crosses. The audiences' reactions were a bit animated in their support of me during these crosses, and the judges we're immensely positive. My opponents sure didn't like me after a cross, though, which I think is lovely. 

I suppose I have some advice. When cross-examining, address your opponent in the form of a question as much as possible. This forces them to address exactly what you want them to address, leaving them little room to respond with some other point. When your opponent is very weak on a certain point, it works wonders to ask a solid question, and then simply let them talk for all to hear. You must come off as dominant over your opponent to the audience and the judges during crosses; this means politely but firmly finishing your sentences when they try to interrupt. Crosses are all about looking good and making your opponents squirm. When it comes to the constructive speeches, I'd say the first speaker's speech should be more focused on a more emotional, moral argument, and the second speaker's should be focused on a heavier, statistic-laden argument. This eases the audience and judges into your side, first pulling them in and then affirming the position. And again on rebuttals, please don't pre-write; it misses the point entirely, although judges tend not to be nearly as harsh on this as they should be. 

The astoundingly low participation for the last debate is alarming to me; there were only two teams entered (usually there is around at least six), and a comparatively small audience. Two of the three judges were also chosen the day of the debate. If things keep going down this path, I fear the program won't even exist anymore, which would be a huge shame on the school. But since I am graduating this year, making sure the program is strong is a job that falls on the 2014-15 school year of faculty and students. 

All I can do is remember my history with the GEAR debate program; it's a pleasant thing for me to do. I loved my experiences participating in this program. Throwing on a nice suit and sneakers, feeling good about defending my ideals, and flexing the writing and speaking skills I am so keen on keeping sharp were always a joy. Whenever I'm arguing with friends about politics or about the fairness of my play-style in a video game or about the new item at McDonalds in the future, I'll think back on my times shutting down my opponents in my high school debates. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Loud Optimism - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Review

One of the most exciting things about 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" was the fun garnered from its fantastic portrayal of protagonist Peter Parker's alter-ego as a strongly confident, wise-cracking goofball. The sequel, aptly titled "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," has an important theme at its heart that it takes seriously, as well as its fair share of drama, but the movie as a whole takes that fun from the first and catapults it into a loudly joyous and optimistic experience. This is the chief reason why this movie, despite big problems with the two major villains, succeeds as a very good ride.  

After a mildly dull and shakey-cam filled (albeit compelling in the long-run) opening scene about Peter's parents, the audience is treated to an incredible action sequence filled with awe, humor, and seamless set-up. Spider-Man's web-swinging looks better than it ever has in the film medium, with lots of elegant acrobatics, first-person points of view, and cool slow-motion. The titular web-head also spits out a ton of hilarious one-liners and taunts the bad guys in his signature cocky, goofy fashion. A super powers-less bad guy played by Paul Giamatti gives an incredibly fun performance filled with exaggerated screaming and meat-headed mannerisms, aided by neat zoom-in shots of his screaming, pudgy face. It is so much unabated, pure fun; this same kind of fun finds its way to a healthy portion of this film, even just through funny dialogue when there isn't any action going on. The viewers are also treated to a quick but totally effective conversation on the street between Spidey and new character Max Dillon, who later turns into Electro. 

Dillon is a compelling character, incredibly well-acted by Foxx. Dillon is deeply troubled psychologically, with an intense inferiority complex. It's played for laughs, through his mad, bumbling social failings, but it's also effective on a higher level. Dillon develops an obsession with Spider-Man that makes him dangerous when he stumbles upon the power of control over electricity through a freak accident at Oscorp. This makes Dillon a wholly sympathetic character, which again, Foxx portrays wonderfully. The actor's skill seen in his silly comedic work as well as his more dramatic work in stuff like "Django Unchained" allows him to pull off a nuanced, lovable little train wreck.

It's a darn shame that they give up on the character towards the end of the movie. It's also a shame that time is taken away from him to develop a pretty crappy Green Goblin character. 

Dane Dehaan plays Harry Osborn, a friend to Peter and a higher-up in Oscorp after his father passes away; this character is poorly acted and feels out of place, only redeeming itself slightly whenever he is decked out in the aesthetically-pleasing Goblin get-up. Harry is characterized as intimidating throughout much of the movie and the writing is fine in that regard, but Dehaan simply doesn't pull it off. His performance is weak and doesn't grab for attention. The character is also jarringly thrusted into a close friendship with Peter, and has an overly simple development that makes the stealing of screen-time from Foxx's character criminal. Both characters are lazily brushed aside at the end to save for further use in sequels, leaving a complete absence of closure for both of them. There was thematic potential for Foxx's character as well as Dehaan's character to tie into the overall theme in a much closer way, but that is abandoned. These stumbles form a big gash at this movie's quality. 

It really is a shame, because there are so many fantastically good things to this movie. There is a large amount of character drama in this movie for Peter Parker in his romantic life, with his aunt, and in dealing with his dead parents. Andrew Garfield reprises his role as Parker and does the same quirky, slick, great performance as before. His romantic chemistry with Emma Stone's   Gwen Stacey is remarkable, no doubt helped by the actors' real-life relationship together. Their struggle is dramatic in a way that comes full-circle with the theme of the role of Spider-Man. Sally Fields has already proven herself as an incredible actress and her performance in this movie doesn't stray from that. There is one scene in particular in which she gives a powerful, teary-eyed speech about her love for Parker. The drama with Parker maddeningly worrying and obsessing over the kinds of people his parents were effectively adds to the Spider-Man mythos in an original way, and also increases the level of adversity the character has to face in a good way. 

That is what is really special about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2:" Parker has a tortured sole and has to deal with a lot of heavy drama, but the movie simply uses that to make the joyous optimism even more palpable. Sure, he has clue what he is doing with his girlfriend, but he is still able to stop criminals and have the city of New York cheer him on. Sure, there is an awfully dark and sad thing that, after lots of harrowing foreshadowing, finally happens at the film's climax, but the last scene builds it all back up. After a tear-inducing scene with a kid showing bravery inspired by Spider-Man, our hero gets right back to fighting the good fight, giving hope to regular people trying to do their best and live happily. 

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" stumbles in big ways, but it does something very well that most superhero movies don't; its loud positivity and optimism convinces that maybe everything is going to be okay. Thanks to that, I'd say it's a very good movie.