Video transcript
The Arts Unit @home Art Bites – Stop rebutting yourself (secondary)

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TONY DAVEY: Hey, you. How's it going?

HUGH BARTLEY: Good. Hi, Tony. How are you?

TONY DAVEY: Good. I'm good. Staying safe. So, tell us a bit about yourself so that everyone knows who you are.

HUGH BARTLEY: Well, my name's Hugh. I have been debating for a solid 8 or 9 years now. Back in 2015, I was in the Year 9 and 10 finals, and I won that. And now I work as a debating coach with you, Tony, and then as well at Sydney Boys High, all that while I'm studying arts law at Sydney Uni.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, excellent. So, what we're going to do is we're going to watch your speech from that final that you went on to win, back in 2015. By the way, at the end of this, anyone who wants to watch the complete video can just go and Google debating finals on Vimeo - V-I-M-E-O - and you can scroll down, and you'll be able to find the entire of the debate that we're about to watch. But, we're just gonna watch Hugh's speech. He was the third negative on that day, and the topic, I think, was 'that we should ban weight loss reality television.'

HUGH BARTLEY: Yeah, I think that was it.

TONY DAVEY: That's basically what it was. Yeah, 'The Biggest Loser' was really big back around then, so this was a TV show where lots of people, who were overweight and had health issues, would sort of compete to lose the most weight. No questions about how healthy that was. Alright so, we're going to get Hugh to watch his old self, and then we'll come back, and we'll get him to give some feedback to his old self, as if he was an adjudicator. And then finally, of course, the fun bit. We'll make him do some rebuttal of his speech and see how he goes, and see if he's able to crush himself.

Alright. So, let's begin. Let's watch the debate together. Ready?

HUGH BARTLEY: All righty.

TONY DAVEY: Here we go.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: The affirmative team's idea of using television to get people to lose weight is some sort of David Attenborough documentary - and the nutrient goes through the specimen's body and infiltrates his muscles, making him a whole lot healthier than he was before.

[interposing voices]

HUGH BARTLEY: Oh my god. That joke is not as funny as I thought it was.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: What they fail to recognise in today's debate is that drama is a good thing. Entertainment is a good thing. You are not going to get millions and millions of people watching these motivational programs. You are not going to get people interested in what's going on in the show without the drama, without the entertainment of 'The Biggest Loser.' 'The Biggest Loser' is only as successful as it is, it is only a big deal, because it is entertaining, because we can relate to the people on there, because it's funny. It's exciting. It's dynamic.

It's a competition. You are not going to get the masses to lose weight. You're not going to claim the benefits that we have claimed on today's - in today's debate. You are not going to get the people watching the program ...

[interposing voices]

HUGH BARTLEY: This is getting a bit rambling and repetitive.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... you are not going to get the people to lose weight with a documentary.

HUGH BARTLEY: Introduction.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: That is not the way to do it. Under the opposition's model, obesity rates will rise, and we have proved that to you down the bench, and I will continue to do so.

With that said, 3 issues. 1. Do these shows have good messages for people's health? 2. Do these shows have good messages for body image? 3. What do we think about freedom of programming?

First issue. They told us that the attitude amongst biggest loser people is that it's really aggressive, and it's like push yourself until you collapse. It has elimination and that stuff. We think that the people who go on these shows - they're going to be really, really overweight, and they're going to need strong motivation to lose that weight. And so, when you think of the people at home watching, they don't have to work as hard as the extreme cases which you see on 'The Biggest Loser.'

What we see on these shows is a sign of - kind of a positive, regulated, visible attitude where people are motivated to do this, and what the opposition somehow thinks that more exercise is harmful. We think that, even though people are eliminated on the show, that it's actually like a positive motivation for them to get healthy, because we can see there are 3-month check ins on these kinds of show. They go and revisit people who have been eliminated, and 100% of the time they are still continuing the diet. They are still continuing the regimes of exercise that have helped them become so healthy.

Next contentious point in this debate was when they told us that not - that general health is not necessarily the same as weight loss. And so, these shows give us a distorted perception of health, because not every overweight person leads an unhealthy lifestyle. If you are overweight, you have double the chance of diabetes. If you are overweight, you have triple the chance of having a heart attack.

So, although it's not exclusive, there is a huge intrinsic link between being overweight and being at risk of these kinds of terrible things to happen to your body. And those are just my conservative estimates. So we think that these are ...

HUGH BARTLEY: That's not the argument, though.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... these are good goals to aim for. And, on the important point about people who have genetic diseases and things like type 1 diabetes, we think that the best way to exacerbate fat shaming in society is by having every single person on TV being a skinny, attractive model with all of their makeup done up. That is the best way.

What we have proven to you on the negative side of the house is that, when you have a show that shows regular normal people going through their positive goals - positive health goals - that means that we can see these kinds of people on TV. We can accept them for what they are, and we have shown you a case of nuance, where this lifestyle obesity is clearly distinguished from those other cases. They told us that the show's message ...

HUGH BARTLEY: I'd make a good salesman, I think.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: I don't really see many participants on 'Biggest Loser' becoming bodybuilders anytime soon. They told us that what they would prefer is they'd have health shows on how to be healthy, that we're going to get rid of weight by watching people watch this really entertaining documentary on exercise.


YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: No. That's just not going to happen.

HUGH BARTLEY: I am not funny enough.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: We think that these documentaries will not change behaviour. They will not get the benefits of popular culture, popular interest. They will not make it cool to lose weight. What we are doing on our side of the house is we are making it cool to lose weight. 'Biggest Loser' is an extremely popular show, and it has proven that, when people are doing something, when it is glorified for people to do something so important, they are more likely to do it.

When you see all of these people on TV trying to lose weight, when people around you are trying to lose weight, they're watching this show, it becomes cool to be healthy. And our goal in today's debate is to make the population healthy. The opposition's harms are limited to the people in the show. Our benefits of the shows are not - are limited to every single person in Australia, because they are motivation for everyone watching the show, their motivation to be healthy ...

HUGH BARTLEY: That's a persuasive trade-off.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: Often it provides a well-rounded idea ...

HUGH BARTLEY: I'll give myself credit for that one.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: They told us that there would be - there's not much of a focus on food. They're just going up hills, but in reality, these shows analyse each of the diets of the contestants and how a person at home can do these things. The shows go into detail. How can you do the exercise that x competitor is doing? You need this equipment. You can do it in your loungeroom ...

HUGH BARTLEY: That's definitely a--

[interposing voices]

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... this amount of time, this amount of days a week. How is that not helpful to people losing weight? And it's entertainment. It just doesn't make sense.

They told us that the people on the show will be chosen by their personality or their drama, but honestly, we're fine with that. We think that boring people are not going to connect with the everyday people at home, and they're not going to connect, and they're not going to display the benefit of these shows.

They gave us the example of Big Kev, who apparently had to come back on the show because he didn't lose enough weight. I'm pretty sure that Big Kev lost a lot of weight on 'Biggest Loser,' and he's just one example. I'm pretty sure 100% of people who went on 'Biggest Loser' lost weight. That is just not disputed. That is just an objectively good outcome. And so, at the end of this issue, we can see that health messages are clearly enhanced by 'The Biggest Loser,' clearly enhanced by these shows, and people are more motivated to be healthy - people outside of the show - and not relevant to the harms that they have been proposing.

Second issue about body image and self-esteem. They told us that people on the show will get bullied for their weight. 2 responses. First of all, we think that everyone in the show opts into being on TV, so they understand the risks of Twitter and stuff, but second of all, we think that these people have consented to that extra motivation. And, most of the messages that they received by the group of people who would be bullying them, are more positive ones.

They're like, oh, good on this guy who lost 50 kilos in two weeks. He's such a legend. Good on him. What an Australian hero. It's more positive than that.

They told us that these shows will promote the mocking of participants and that all of the self-worth of these people will be placed into how much weight they lost. Couple of responses - first one, we think that every game, or competition, or reality show has to be rude sometimes. That's the way they do it.

HUGH BARTLEY: Ooh, that's a bit of a concession.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: That's the way they engage viewers. That's the way they're entertaining, but the way that they are rude is not degrading. It's not damaging. These people who have committed to losing weight, doing whatever they can, the messages are positive. They're like, work harder, rather than you're lazy.

HUGH BARTLEY: That's a contradiction.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: That's not the way it works. You watch 'The Biggest Loser.'

HUGH BARTLEY: You can't be rude and positive at the same time.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: We think that, when you have people's personality exposed, their talents highlighted, people are more likely to relate to them on a personal level. And, we think that people who more - who go to the extent of going on to a public TV show and showing their - their huge bodies on those TV shows, are willing to go to those lengths to be healthy. And, we think that's a really uplifting story for the people watching the show.

We think that people do not have to go on the show, or they don't have to watch it. It does not infringe on their rights, if they're uncomfortable, by pressing the off button. These shows provide positive stories. They told us that real people are exploited because of their body image and all this stuff. If this is the case, then why is the affirmative team not banning 'Australia's Next Top Model,' a show where ...

HUGH BARTLEY: They could just say that they're happy to ban 'Next Top Model.'

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... to be like, oh, I am so ugly. I'm not like the person on that show.

HUGH BARTLEY: [inaudible] as well.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: It's literally so much more damage than people who watch 'Biggest Loser.' 'Biggest Loser' makes people feel good about themselves. The affirmative's model is not conducive to helping people's body image standards. In fact, 'The Biggest Loser' and other shows like that are entertaining, are decent shows, which promote good body image, and promote normalisation of this kind of attitude, and the thing that you can do it. You can lose weight.

I have a minute and 10 seconds left, so I'm going to talk about my final issue, which is basically what - it's basically the freedom of programming and why, even if every single thing ...

HUGH BARTLEY: Don't think he'll have time for that last issue.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... we told you about the practical material on our side of the case today didn't exist - why the opposition can still not prove their burden. Because their bar of some - a show being unethical to ban is not 'The Biggest Loser,' right? The stuff we ban on TV, like extreme gore, extreme nudity and dark scenes - they told us that, just because someone is offended, or hurt, or the show's crass, and it's judgy - have you ever watched 'The Bolt Report?' I don't know about you, but I think there are a lot of offensive show ...

HUGH BARTLEY: Ah, yes, my political opinions have not changed.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: There are a lot of offensive shows that are allowed, and we think that the bar is extremely high for not allowing programming in primetime. And, in this particular example, weight loss programs - weight loss programs are apparently worse than Quentin Tarantino movies, who are restricted after 9:00pm, but apparently ...

HUGH BARTLEY: You can ban those, as well.

YOUNG HUGH BARTLEY: ... because they're so harmful - it's so harmful watching people try their best to be healthy. It's so harmful watching people do whatever they can to make their body better, and it's so harmful watching people try hard to achieve their goals. It is not very hard for me to think I'm proud to represent today.



HUGH BARTLEY: Smashing conclusion. Pity applause there.

TONY DAVEY: OK, congratulations. So, the first thing is I wonder if we could get you to give a little bit of feedback to your younger self. So, if you'd been the adjudicator, and you were able to talk to yourself at the end of that debate, what kinds of tips would you give yourself? Does that sound like something you can do?

HUGH BARTLEY: Absolutely. So g'day 15-year-old Hugh. That was a decent speech. Congratulations on the win.

I think it's probably 3 things I'd say to you to keep working and keep getting better in your future debating activities. I think, firstly, the stuff you did well in this speech is I think you had good macro structure. And, as a result of that, I think there was a good strategy here at third neg in how exactly you saw your team winning the debate. So, that was nice to see. There was a clear sort of - clear sort of strategy of like, well, our team is going to maximise the health of as many people as possible, and then trying to minimise the affirmative's harms about body image, and mental health, and that sort of thing. So, I think that, it was good approaching the debate from that macro perspective.

2 things you could have worked on, however. 1. I think that you rely way too much on rhetoric and jokes in the absence of analysis. So, when you make a claim, or you try to assert a mechanism in this debate that, for example, entertainment equals motivation for viewers to lose weight, it's not enough just to sort of characterise the program, and then maybe characterise the viewers. You have to analyse and give reasons why the viewers are likely to be receptive to that entertaining content, rather than more dry or factual stuff. And so, while jokes and David Attenborough impressions can be funny, and you provided a lot of adjectives about what the shows are like, you've got to have that analysis, and then various reasons why those connections are likely to exist.

And then, the second thing I think you need to improve on is I think you need to take on the other team at their best. So, even if the other team's characterisation of the shows is correct, even if they are bullying and degrading, why is it true that your side still comes up, comes ahead in the debate? So, do those trade-offs for me. How many people are benefiting in either circumstance? Why is it still better than the alternative, without these shows, to have them in place, and to be helping the participants and helping the people watching? So, you've got to be willing to actually engage with the best case of the other side, and then that will make your arguments a lot stronger. So, that is the feedback I would give to myself.

TONY DAVEY: Okay. Excellent stuff, Hugh. Harsh, but fair, I think. Those are some very good tips. Alright? Before we let everybody go, then, it's time for the funnest bit. If you could maybe deliver some stinging abusive rebuttal against your old self. Thanks for helping out, and yeah, good luck with your rebuttal. Cheers.

HUGH BARTLEY: Alright. So, in responding to the third negative speech, I asked myself 3 questions. The first of those is, what is the threshold at which we ban television shows from broadcasting? Negative tells us that we only, we set a very high bar to ban a show, that we would only ban extreme gore and nudity, not just merely offensive things.

The first thing I would note is that extreme violence and pornography are on the same scale as offensiveness. They're just quite offensive. And so, the reason they're offensive is because they offend the public sense of decency when they're being broadcast to millions on public television channels. What they do - what gore and pornography does - is they make children feel upset, victims of abuse feel traumatised, and many other people, as well.

On the affirmative, we would submit that weight loss shows do the same thing. They vilify overweight people. They contribute to trauma and widespread mental illness. And further, we would add that they're even worse than very violent shows, because they contribute to a broader social culture that harms everyone in society, not just those people who happen to be watching.

If we're right in those claims, we've easily met the threshold to ban that show, so we definitely have a right to do that. We would also ban 'America's Next Top Model.' We would also ban Tarantino films, but this debate isn't about those. So, at the end of that first question, it's totally within the realm of possibility that, by these shows being offensive and degrading to people, we have a right to ban them from TV.

On to the second question, then. Going to talk about whether banning these shows would improve widespread body image and mental health. So, we argued in this debate that contestants are bullied and humiliated publicly, that they're shouted at, insulted, and they're portrayed as stupid or incompetent. The negative tells us, well, it's not that bad. It's actually very positive.

They're celebrated for their achievements, and it's very uplifting - this sort of thing. So, the problem with this is that it's at tension with the third negative's own concession that these reality shows need to sell. They need to get ad revenue. And so, they're likely to be rude. They have to be rude to entertain people.

This is fine on shows like 'MasterChef,' where you're just being rude about someone's cooking, but where it relates to someone's raw identity, and their appearance, and their characteristics, it's a particularly crushing form of rudeness and humiliation. Note that producers have this sole incentive to maximise the revenue of their shows, so they're likely to be as offensive as possible, because those are the things that create the most drama, get the most clicks, and will ultimately get them the most viewers and, therefore, ad revenue.

Even where those contestants are celebrated, which is a minority of the time, it's done in a patronising way, and that celebration can necessarily only happen when you earlier condemned that contestant for being very fat or being a failure. And so, that is the necessary precondition to any sort of positive celebration happening. So, by and large, these shows are very degrading.

Negative's response to this would be, well, look, they consented to being on those shows. They knew this was going to happen. I think that consent is hollow for 3 reasons. Firstly, because ordinary people have never been exposed to media attention before, so they can't know what it's like when they go on these shows. Secondly, because there's financial coercion. They're paid a lot of money. They're lured with big prize money and sponsorship.

And thirdly, because contestants are probably a bit deluded about how they will be portrayed. Because producers tend to spin negative narratives about some people, just because it's convenient and not necessarily for any legitimate reason or any actions that they undertook.

So, the conclusion of that to the contestants is that they face a lot of mental harm, and I would note that a lot of these narratives that perpetuate about contestants then filter down to the viewers, because it is not just the degrading language and actions towards the contestants that only apply in the show. Rather, it's setting an example for all of the people watching, and informs a culture for the rest of society. So, a lot of our analysis, then, applies to a much broader group of people watching that show.

What do the shows do? They breed a broader culture of body shaming, of overweight people in society. It tells us that they are hopeless, and they're failures of people. And they need intervention.

This, then, enables lots of bullying, both among kids and among adults. And bullies will feel that their actions are then more legitimate because of - they're just really copying things that they've seen on 'The Biggest Loser.' Note that you can turn off a television, but you cannot opt out of a culture of bullying and fat shaming. So, it affects not just the people watching that show, but also the people who have type 1 diabetes, or maybe the people who grew up in a cycle of poverty, and their family never instilled in them healthy eating habits and that sort of thing. So, these people will then be unfairly victimised, because millions of others are watching that show and then taking in that cultural influence.

The negative tells us that people are likely to feel good about themselves watching the show, because, well, they're not that fat in comparison to the contestants. I think there's 2 responses. 1. Plenty of ordinary people actually are that fat. Australia is one of the most obese countries in the world.

Secondly, even if they are less fat, there's rhetoric that is used on the show applied broadly to overweight people. And so, they are still likely to be vilified from the narratives those shows create. So, at the end of that second issue, then, the shows actively promote humiliation, and then subsequent trauma and mental illness of overweight people, regardless of any fault of their own. And this is more than enough to meet our burden to ban those shows, even if the opposition can prove some - some increase of motivation of viewers to lose weight.

So, moving to that final issue, then, about whether these shows actually promote people's health. The negative tells us - I think this is their main thrust - that 'The Biggest Loser' gets people to lose weight because of the drama, and the comedy, and the entertainment with the flawed relatable individuals who are participating in the show. Maybe it is true that the shows are perversely entertaining. I don't know. I don't watch them. But they do not motivate people to lose weight.

I think there's 4 reasons why. 1. Because their exercise regimes and the diet regimes they put them through on the show are incredibly onerous, and no person, no viewer, will want to participate in that. It is designed so that contestants are pushed to their very limit, and it's not really a model for people to copy.

Secondly, the show contestants are not relatable at all. They are very obese, and people are likely to feel complacent if their situation is not as dire as those people. Thirdly, the setting of the show is unlike that of real life, so they're in this weird boot camp thing, so it makes it seem more like fiction and not like something that's relatable.

And then fourthly, the shows are likely to be broadcast in prime time, right at the end of the day, where people are likely to be exhausted after looking after children or working all day, and so they're probably more looking for light entertainment rather than lessons that could be applicable to their own life. So, that's why the shows probably don't actually help people lose weight.

Even if they did, though, why is our comparative better in providing things like documentaries and weight loss fiction, that's much more likely to lead to weight loss. Probably, in the void that is going to be created by the departure of weight loss television programs from the TV broadcasting schedule, you're more likely to get documentaries that are going to be much more factual and analytic with legitimate advice for people. So, even if fewer people do watch that, they're probably likely to be - likely to be much better informed than the greater amount of people who would watch 'The Biggest Loser.'

But, I would submit that fewer people would actually watch. It'll probably be about the same. It might even go up. David Attenborough documentaries are some of the most popular programs on television. People love learning about science, especially stuff that's relevant to their bodies. So it's all well and good for the third negative to make a funny joke about how boring David Attenborough is, but he's actually quite interesting and quite popular.

And so, weight loss. Well done weight loss shows are likely to have the same viewership. Same scenario applies for weight loss self-help books. Those are best sellers, and we would be basically producing the exact same thing, just in a different medium, on television instead of books. So, a lot of people are likely to consume this content, and it's going to be much more informative and relevant to their lives.

Even stuff - even fiction about weight loss is probably going to come out of this, so people will - who wanted that lighter entertainment. will be able to look to fictional characters that they can follow their example, rather than the flawed and sort of unrelatable reality TV show people. So, I think that these documentaries and weight loss fiction is going to be much better at getting people to lose weight.

The last claim, I think, of the negative here is that we now lose a broader social culture of it being cool to lose weight, that somehow 'The Biggest Loser' perpetuated. I don't think that ever existed. Even if it did, I would say it is much more likely to occur when people are not ashamed of being overweight, and then they can speak openly about their progress. And so, if you want more of that culture that comes with weight loss and being in mainstream media, probably much more likely on our side.

So, at the end of that issue, I am doubtful. It is probably just not true that viewers are somehow going to be more healthy, they're going to be more likely to lose weight because of 'The Biggest Loser.' Even if it does happen, that's probably going to be a greater effect in our scenario, where we have other programs that do not vilify or humiliate people. And so, we actually get better health of the population on our side.

So, at the end of this debate, we have a right and a responsibility to ban weight loss television shows because they vilify and humiliate people. They cause widespread mental distress, and they impede good programming, which could actually help people get healthier and lose weight. And so, it's pretty clear the affirmative has won. Suck it in, Hugh. Yeah, what an idiot that third negative was.

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