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Why the Debate Was Such a Snooze

In his live blogging of the debate last night, Jonathan noted, “If there was a more boring one than this, I don’’t remember it.” That’s for sure.

But why was that? The stakes were just as high as in the previous couple of debates, the debaters were the same (absent Rick Perry, a small loss), the need to strike a knock-out blow as great. So why was it such a snooze?

The reason, I think, was the audience was under strict orders to shut up and, unfortunately, they did. The seats might as well have been filled with shop-window mannequins. So the “actors” had no one to play against. It was the audiences clapping, laughing, cheering, and booing in the earlier debates that brought those debates to life and lifted the performances of the debaters in the process. It is the interaction between the audience and the actors, after all, that makes live theater so exciting and so different from the movies.

The best description of the interplay between audience and actors I’ve ever seen is by Oscar Hammerstein II, in one of his great, if now undeservedly forgotten, lyrics–“The Big Black Giant.”

A big black giant who looks and listens
With thousands of eyes and ears,
A big black mass of love and pity
And troubles and hopes and fears,
And ev’ry night the mixture’s diff’rent,
Altho’ it may look the same.
To feel his way with ev’ry mixture
Is part of the actor’s game.

If the remaining candidates have any sense, they’ll insist the audience in the Thursday debate be allowed to express their reactions to what the debaters have to say. They are, after all, voters, a rather important part of the democratic process.

 



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