Fast Talk tracks the Northwestern University debate team as it tries for a second consecutive championship while simultaneously examining why debaters now talk so fast and how their arguments are unintelligible and inconsequential to a non-debate audience. Clearly there are benefits to fast-talking--more arguments presented in a shorter amount of time. But is there a dark side? Has debate slowly morphed from an academic activity meant to train young minds to an activity meant to train winners regardless of whether or not they know how to communicate and/or form nuanced arguments? At a broader level, perhaps what has happened to debate is a microcosm of what has happened to many arenas in academia (and the world!). Students are increasingly pressured to achieve more quickly. Often good pedagogy (and health!) is sacrificed in favor of rewards whether it be certificates, trophies or A's. In addition, Fast Talk looks at the relationship of speed to privilege, race, and gender.
Regardless, as the film shows, there is much to admire about the present state of debate: Coach Scott Deatherage cares deeply about his team. The debaters are also very committed to their activity and very emotional about their losses.
As an aside: some viewers have responded to Fast Talk as a sports film as it depicts a nail-biting competition along the lines of Spellbound. Others have commented on the cultural critique aspects of the film as described above. Some viewers have responded to the film's strong characters , including Deatherage but also Josh Branson, the intense team star who is trying to repeat his previous victory, and Noah Chestnut, Branson's debate partner, who struggles with being overshadowed.
Bottom line: The film will be of interest to the general population, debaters, and academics across a wide range of disciplines: performance studies, cultural studies, rhetoric, gender studies and education.
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