I recently finished reading True Enough by Farhad Manjoo, which fascinated me the instant I saw it in the store. Its main thesis is that, thanks to the Internet and cable news channels, we no longer differ merely in what opinions we hold, but in what we hold to be basic truths. I will have more to say about it in general when I announce Truth Court probably over the weekend, but there's a point, expounded on on pages 113-122, which I want to devote a post to. It tells of an experiment performed by a researcher named John Ware. Ware hired an actor to masquerade as a distinguished expert and talk at length and with a lot of flair about a bunch of nonsense and not really say anything of substance. The audience was a bunch of college-educated professionals and even professors - in theory, able to see through the ruse. But instead, they all talked about what a great speaker he was, how stimulating his lecture was, and so on.
Ware had the lecture played for a second group and got the same results. He showed it to a group of students - a group "enrolled in a graduate-level course on educational philosophy" to boot - and got the same results. Some in the group even claimed previous experience with the "expert" or his topic. Ware soon became devoted to studying the "Dr. Fox effect" (after the name of the fictitious expert in the original experiment) and conducted several more experiments on the topic. One experiment involved breaking another group of students into groups and playing several lectures that varied based on "content" and "expressiveness"; the lectures with the highest levels of both did best, but expressiveness rated far higher than content.
I leave it to Manjoo to bring the implications into stark relief: "[P]rofessors were better off teaching very little very enthusiastically than teaching very much very badly."
Manjoo makes the point that this means that some "experts" are only experts in presenting nonsense like Dr. Fox. But let's repeat the implications one more time: If you attempt to tell the truth in a boring, dry manner, you will lose to someone who tells complete lies in the form of jokes. We've all heard about how people value style over substance, but you probably could have never imagined how important it could be. I'm honestly stunned you don't see the implications fully realized more often - more politicians explaining their positions with flowery metaphors, more professors teaching their subjects with sarcasm instead of sleep. Of course, politicians that try to inject more energy into their speaking style end up coming across like Howard Dean, but personally, I thought "The Scream" made me more likely to vote for him, if I were paying more than superficial attention to the race and if I were old enough to vote at all. I want more energy in my politicians, and after reading True Enough, I suspect most Americans do as well, they just don't realize it. Heck, I'm fully intent on making Da Blog as entertaining a read as possible, not just a blog of dry substance. Style and substance, in perfect unison, is the best blend of all.
Which may or may not be the best segue to Zero Punctuation.
After getting exposed to ZP (and before getting exposed to True Enough), I have become convinced that any speech can be made more entertaining by reading it really fast in a British accent laced with profanity while crude stick figures acting out everything the speaker says appear on the screen, laced with simple rebuses and often dissonant phrases. Go ahead, try it with the driest speech you can think of!
Ben Croshaw was a game-developer hobbyist and sometime reviewer for some time but didn't get his 15 minutes of Internet Fame (TM) until he decided to create a special video review for a demo, which quickly proved so popular he did a second. And after just two videos, he was contacted by The Escapist to keep making funny videos for them every week so they might lure
(See what I did there? This is a piece of cake.)
But perhaps I should let Croshaw explain it himself:
That only scratches the surface of ZP's popularity. I invite you to take a look at the archives I linked to above. I guarantee you you will find yourself watching video after video, unable to stop until you've been through the whole archive, even if you're not really immersed in "video game culture". ZP has become big enough that previews of it now air each week on G4 - a real, like, TV channel, and stuff. It's not a tiny Internet subculture by any means. There are more than five hundred comments on - and thus many hundreds if not thousands more people watching - a bunch of crude images presented as though their presenter had ADD while a Brit basically says "omg popular gamez sux lol" really fast only with a lot more profanity. (Not to mention more than its fair share of ripoffs littering Youtube.)
That's the future of dialogue regardless of the field. The more energy, the more visualness, the more everything you pour into what you have to say to make it more than "what you have to say", the more you will survive and thrive. Simply put, The Daily Show is the wave of the future, not just in news but in everything from politics to sports. The people who say media is dominated too much by "sound bites" and who, well, gave us the "style over substance" cliche in the first place will probably decry this development, but if it gets more young people involved in politics, well...
...um, why is all of that a negative again?