Friday, November 09, 2012

The Chickens and the Shoes: how to win any argument

I can't do this and now that I see your honest eyes, I don't think you can either. But it doesn't seem to stop many people. I'm thinking politicians, especially, who've found this method and are welded to it but it applies to many annoying people in real life and it only surprises me that you don't see it used much in drama.

I'm not very surprised. I mean, I am, but surprise is the smallest of everything I'm feeling today: currently the biggest feeling is anger. That actually doesn't sit very well with me: everything I'm doing is going terrifically – looks for wood to clutch, sees only metal and plastic, gulps – so it's not as if I go around grumping. Yet I have a new anger button and I'm afraid I want to share it with you.

On the plus side, you'll know a way to win any argument. On the negative side, you might be angered every time you see it used. On the bit in between plus and negative, there's the fact that you've already seen this.

This is how you win an argument: move it.

If someone says to you that shoes are the scourge of the land and must be destroyed, you respond with urgent vigour saying: "That absolutely should be looked at and do you know what else? Do you know what's worse? Chickens." 

And then you argue about chickens. 

You do that because you actually have big issues with chickens, because you've got a nugget of chicken info you can use, or because you can't afford to deal with shoes. 

It's such a blatant and supremely obvious move that it's childish yet it works again and again. At the first peak of criticism of the current UK Government, Nick Clegg launched a huge debate about rabbits or something. I guffawed. 

But he got hours of coverage on television, there were debates on radio – especially local radio – and he got acres of newsprint. It's not as if newsprint matters any more, but you'd have thought one of them would have had a headline going "Rabbits? Seriously?"

In that case the shoes of the argument were just minor things like betrayal of the democratic process, the self-destruction of the Liberal Democrats and the certainty that the government's plans for restoring the economy would start and conclude with making sure that the members of the cabinet are okay. The chickens were rabbits.

I've been bubbling about this for much of the last month as we've approached the date of voting for the Police & Crime Commissioner lark. It's a democracy, I believe entirely that voting is important, so off I go looking into who to vote for.


The shoes.

The shoes this time are that what's happening is the reduction of the police force. It's slicing away at the force and the cost of policing. It's reducing the Bill. 

We don't get to vote on that, we get to vote on the chicken part of the argument: which poor sod gets to have a job. 

I've gone round and round about this. Voting is important but voting for this is a way of playing chicken, it's a way of validating the chicken, it's a way of ignoring the shoes completely. There will be a lot of fuss and attention about the results and you know that there will be political pundits proving that so-and-so winning means this has been a blow to the government. You also know the government doesn't give a damn and has no reason to: they wanted the reduction and the cost saving, they got it.

But you've got to vote. Got to. It's so important.

Except. I'm minded of the protestors who were against one of the early motorways. I can't remember which one or when this all was, but a particular UK motorway was planned to cut through some nice countryside and protestors managed to make enough noise that something happened. The government of the day (I've no idea if it were Labour or Conservative) announced a public enquiry.

But a very clever protestor recognised the chickens and the shoes. He saw that the public enquiry was the chicken and no more. The typically long and detailed ruling that set up the enquiry included one key shoe-in: the government was now legally obligated to hold the public enquiry before building the motorway. But exactly and precisely that: obligated to hold the enquiry before building. It didn't actually matter what the result of the enquiry was. The public could condemn the motorway unanimously, they could prove that it was the end of the world, the government could still make the motorway once the enquiry had happened.

So that smart protestor blocked the enquiry.

Forget any voting in it, forget making a case, forget the power of oratory in politics, just stop that enquiry happening.

I'm not saying we should stop the Police & Crime Commissioner vote. I'm saying that it wouldn't make a difference. This government has done the whole shoebang before giving us the chicken feed.

As I say, I've been going round and round in my head about this and I wanted to talk to you about it because, well, I always do. And I know you've seen this happen, I want to know what you think about it and whether it narks you as much as it does me. I want to examine it as a drama issue because I think the reason you don't see it in scripts, that you don't see characters doing the same thing, is because it's too unbelievable. There's that Mark Twain quite: "No wonder truth is stranger than fiction: fiction has to make sense."

Only, you've picked up on the past tense there. I'm every bit as angry about this as I say, and you've picked up on that too, but there's a new shoe and a new chicken in town.

I don't think politicians are inherently stupid but I do think they know safe ground and they run toward it whenever possible. The safest ground of them all is the media. Preferably the BBC, but any of it will do.

So now we have the incident with Philip Scofield on This Morning. If you missed this, he presented Prime Minister David Cameron on air with a list of alleged child abusers. Schofield's point was that you can find this information online and he asked if Cameron was going to investigate the people on the list. This was a list of alleged child abusers and the list itself is getting gigantic attention but what is on the list is not.

Schofield has had to apologise and I can see that: you could apparently read the list if you looked at your telly close enough. 

But David Cameron did not want to discuss alleged child abusers so he moved the argument. He could've said that this was trial by television, that's a popular phrase, and he could've done what has happened since and criticised ITV to the point where some reports say the broadcaster will be in legal hot water.

Instead, he went for a chicken so big that I can't ignore it even as I know unquestioningly that it is shoe-avoidance.

This is what he said:
"There is a danger, if we're not careful, that this could turn into a sort of witch-hunt, particularly against people who are gay and I'm worried about the sort of thing you are doing right now - giving me a list of names that you've taken off the internet."
It doesn't matter if David Cameron actually believes that gay is a synonym for child abuser, it matters very much that he alluded to it. 

I know that the shoe is that these child abuse allegations may involve government and Number Ten. I know that the chicken is this enraging slur.

I know this and yet I am enraged. I know what he's doing, I watched him do it and I know that I shouldn't let my blood steam up over this when that helps him dodge the abuse allegations.

I know this and I know it means he wins. 

But sometimes you've got to punch that chicken.


Adaddinsane said...

Yes, I actually don't follow the news particularly (for reasons you stated - most news is just chickens). But I saw this because I read a blog that talks about TV.

And I say the comment from Cameron and had a complete double-take. What have "gays" got to do with this? (I thought.) That's just insane.

But as you say, it's not insane. It's a chicken.

Adaddinsane said...

"And I say..." = "And I saw..."

hardy24 said...

I'm ignoring Cameron and recent stuff because I'm not great and keeping up with the latest shoes and chickens, often I'll be out the loop, then I'll catch up, and ask someone on twitter "why is the chicken the story?" and I'll get a. "Shrug" in reply.

Anyway, in Drama I've seen it a couple of times, rather appropriately on The West Wing, in one instance CJ has a lightbulb moment and says "we're moving the goalposts and claiming the match!", "don't accept the premise of the question"/"pivot to..." are key phrases in the last 2 seasons.

William Gallagher said...

Oh, now I'm conflicted: I read you saying The West Wing and thought yes! Good old Sorkin! And then you say it was the last two seasons. Hmm. I was long gone by then and now you're giving me reasons to watch it. Curses.

Now you've said that about moving goalposts, though, I do remember a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode where Miles O'Brien, your archetypal Starfleet deeply good guy has a revelation because someone suggests changing the rules.

hardy24 said...

If you haven't seen the last two seasons of West Wing you should, they come recommended.

Also I did happen to watch that episode of DS9 this weekend... "thanks bar keep!"

William Gallagher said...

Oooh, which DS9 is it? I tried to remember and couldn't. Wasn't even sure who said it to O'Brien yet I could picture him at Quark's.

DS9 was such a good show. Does it still work or does it look really dated?

hardy24 said...

It's Captive Pursuit from Season 1. It does hold up, though a remaster like the original series and tng would be very exciting.

William Gallagher said...

Season 1! I would've sworn it was much later.

The geek in me is secretly happy that TNG is getting all whizzily Blu Ray HDd up because of that one crossover episode with DS9 so we'll see the station in HD at least that once.


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