Saturday, November 25, 2006

A story told with just 6 words

Well... was reading Wired yesterday and attended a Cantonese "speech giving competition"at Shue Yan.

Now, as I was reading Wired, this piece particularly intrigued me. It is about writing a story, a whole story with 6 words. Now, it all started because Hemingway wrote a story with 6 words "and is said to have called it his best work".

Ok, before telling you all (or if you have read the piece at Wired), let me paint you a scenario. Please put yourself into the shoes of an husband, who in a desperate attempt to wipe out all shreds of reminder of a heart breaking event, visits his local newspaper, walks up to the counter that accepts classified advertisements and hands over the form for the following ad to be placed into the newspaper (which is also what Hemingway wrote)...

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Damn... powerful. You might have a better scenario that one I painted above, and thats the whole point, 6 words, can create a whole world of tension, drama and hits the message home.

Now what does it have to do with the "speech competition" I attended at Shue Yan College? Well, the competition was based on the GST (Goods and Services Tax - or Sales Tax) debate in Hong Kong. One of the rules of this competition is that competitors will be penalized on points by having a speech shorter than 4 minutes.

Yes... I also said "WTF?"

Speech/debates competition in Hong Kong is all about "correct pronunciation" 「咬字要正確」, "correct tonal control" 「語調正確」, "correct body language" 姿勢正確 (I am not kidding here, supposedly how high you hold your cue cards or even holding cue cards will get you penalized, I guess the competitions never entered the age of the telepromtper) etc... If thats the case, I do not think any of the speeches made by John F Kennedy or even Lincoln will qualify.

If the art of speech giving and debating, is to give the audience an emotional "punch in the stomach", what we here in Hong Kong in martial art parlance, is one of those wushu competition 南拳武術表演比賽. Where the participants dress up in the most delicate silk dresses.

But in comparison, in the real world of message delivery, news spinning, controlling the news cycle etc, how you speak and debate is a whole lot more like Streetfighting. Silk dress? Hell, you are lucky that they didn't aim for your loins with a broken Carlsberg beer bottle, and they probably would have "came from behind".

Imagine a typical Fox News dialogue between a Republican and Democratic "Strategist" debating Iraq. All you will hear from the Republican is an ad nauseam repeating of the line "Why do you want the terrorists to win??" (8 words) over and over and over again.

Will it win you any points at Shue Yan yesterday or at any other University level debates in Hong Kong?

No... You will be lucky not to be laughed out of the hall by the "expert" judge panels and the self-aggrandizing participants in these competition.

But do a survey of the TV audience watching that Fox News debate, and I can assure you when asked the question "Who do you trust more on Homeland Security? Democrats or Republicans?" They will say Republicans. Hands down.

So what does this all mean? It probably means that the public forum in Hong Kong is still pretty much green pasture. That there are MASSIVE amount of these debating aspirants that are blank books waiting to be filled, with style, with techniques and most importantly with ideology. I am tempted to do something about this. But perhaps I have to work on my own communication skills first. hehe~~

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