Urban Legend and the Sad Truth

Nobody to my knowledge has done any research or collected any data on the social norms, stories, and narratives that accompany debating tournaments. I do know of one research project that was a sociological study of high school debaters in the U.S., but nothing more than that.

I have a few strange books in my apartment, and one of them that is always interesting to flip through is a collection of American Folklore. This is the sort of thing I have in mind.

No doubt one of the most frequent and repetitive urban legends would take up a good chunk of that study. I don't know what to call it, but the formula is something like this:

1. A team does very well running arguments based on a cutting edge thinker. They use cards from this author on both sides of the resolution.

2. People begin to also use cards from this same author, but not with the level of success as the team who first used it.

3. The reason for this is that the author himself or herself teaches at their University and is helping them with the argument, or they are in a special high level class with that famous thinker, where they get all the secrets about the thinker's philosophy and advocacy.

I've heard this urban legend several times, about Shapiro, Spanos, Zizek, and Spivak. But I'm sure there are other names that would fit into this urban legend.

The trope would be funnier if it wasn't for the tragedy in it.

The tragedy is that debate is still firmly connected to a modernist philosophical tradition. It's evident in the way this urban legend operates discursively.

Instead of a team being successful because they have found a way to make a very complex system of thought palatable to an audience, the success has to come from the source. The debaters are closer to the source of the actual argument than anyone else, so they win more.

Modernism is not a straw person. This should be apparent when people who regularly dismiss modernism as vapid and decrepit nonsense are the first to turn to the internal logic of it to explain why a team is doing so well when they are using new theories.

Why is a rhetorical explanation, an explanation that should be very closely hinged to what debate supposedly teaches, not persuasive?

The various ways of grappling with this question will reveal the sad truth of modern debate teaching practice. Emphasis on modern.