Wednesday, July 09, 2008

IMovie for Conversations

Watching this Bloggingheads between Matt Yglesias and James Kirchick reminds me of what I dislike about Bloggingheads, namely that it seems impossible to actually have a conversation in this form. It's like watching Mary Matalin and Bob Schrum go back and forth on Meet the Press, except with the pretense of deference between people who are actually terrible on TV. A form like this can work between two nimble, camera-savvy people who like each other but disagree on some things; let's say Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens would be the best case, while Ross Douthat and Yglesias would be less good. But even then, it's not the best form, and for nasal, curmudgeonly, and belligerent twenty-somethings, it's just disastrous.

Marc Ambinder's The Table is significantly better, but that's because it takes everything down a notch, coming a bit closer to the Charlie Rose / Terry Gross form of the relatively disinterested (but well-prepared) interviewer. I mean, with Sullivan, the Ambinder reaction shots (where he nods or does nothing) don't really add anything, except to establish that the two conversees actually are in the same room.

Part of the problem is the performance of the people who are having these conversations -- but (and this is a big but) I would like to believe that ordinary, non-telegenic people can have smart, compelling conversations that can be presented in an intimate and reasonably naturalistic way. And if we're going to do that, then I think we need some new technical tools to do that. Since I'm not really a technical person, I'm not sure exactly what that is -- but some kind of iMovie for conversations, a cheap, easy way to shoot and edit two or three people talking to one another, that can pull it together, in the same way that anyone can now pull together a pretty decent home movie with inexpensive tools, would benefit internet discourse tremendously, and maybe even contribute something both new and good.

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