Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

15 Jun 2014, 10:07 a.m.

Writing Between The Lines

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I'm trying to think of public speeches where the orator clearly does not believe what s/he is saying, and subverts literal or ostensible statements with tone, cadence, asides, body language, etc. I'm specifically interested in speakers going as off-script as they dare in situations where it's socially unacceptable to truly speak their minds. This came to mind because I just watched Tom Hanks introducing a Sony product at CES 2009 and making a deliberate hash of his lines. (Link via MetaFilter.) It was hilarious. None of the examples I can remember feel quite right:

Promising veins for this hue of sarcasm include various kinds of shilling, financial and political. I'd especially love non-US examples if you have any.


15 Jun 2014, 12:53 p.m.

Harvard sponsored an Oxford-style debate on the future of libraries a few years ago. The people assigned to the we-won't-need-libraries-in-future side clearly disagreed with their proposition, as did most of the audience, but did a spectacular job defending the proposition. I can't tell whether that fits with what you're looking for or is the neat photonegative of it ;) Sadly, the video link seems to no longer work.

(R. David Lankes and James Tracy were the ones defending that proposition. Seriously, spectacular - I have high standards for public speaking and stage charisma, and they were just jawdropping. Naturally they lost because their point could not be supported to that crowd, but I think any honest evaluation would have found them the better debaters.)

15 Jun 2014, 23:54 p.m.

I know it's tricky to distinguish deliberate subversion from indifference, but would James Franco's hosting of the Oscars count?

(Also, a slightly different verson of this comment was rejected as being possible spam. I'd love to know how that's determined, seriously.)