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Forensics: Seeking Fresh Bodies

Jul 06, 2009

A disclaimer: forensics is not dead. Furthermore, it doesn’t have anything to do with dead bodies. (Though the debaters can be quite dangerous sometimes.)

The forensics that I speak of is speech and debate, arguably one of the most underrated extra-curriculars out there. People tend to be put-off by the idea of forensics, either because they’re intimidated or don’t want to be involved with such a nerdy club. It’s true that the kids in speech and debate do tend to be impressive students. For what it’s worth, they do take time out of their Saturdays to don a suit and compete with one another – but forensics is also so much more.

Forensics is ideal for the person who is good at English, and is especially helpful for anyone who wants to improve their English grade. Why? Because forensics is, at its core, the art of argument. This “argument” can come in many forms; a person can be literally taking a side of a resolution, or simply trying to tell a believable story. Either way – either consciously or unconsciously – you become extremely engaged with words. Forensics is just a fun way of learning how to communicate effectively and entertainingly.

It’s not all work, though. Watching people perform is half of the fun – from slam poetry to a two-man interpretation of Fight Club. Then there is the downtime between the competing. While I’m sure that the athletes in my school would disagree, forensics is not that much unlike track: while the events are individual, a team identity is formed. Competitors from the same school teach one another, telling one another the tricks of the trade, the quirks to their individual categories and areas, and things to look out for. Especially between rounds of competition, there’s a lot of time to hang out and bond. Because they spend all day together, competitors often become extremely close friends – and many times, they make friends with people from other teams. From personal experience, I found that you tend to meet the most incredible people in forensics – perhaps more so than in other activities. They tend to be literate and engaged in the world. Mostly, though, they’re really great for fun – and funny – conversations. After all, forensics people love to talk, and they’re very good at it.

This last reason should obviously be secondary to all of the others, but it’s out there, and there’s no point in hiding it: the college application. Forensics, because it requires enthusiasm and commitment, is not something you should get into just for the resume boost – but it does look especially shiny on an application. This is because speech and debate, by its very nature, creates a very appealing kind of student: a creative person who can formulate an informed opinion, and, most importantly, express it articulately. Forensics shapes you into someone who is poised, eloquent, and confident – and who knows how to pull off a suit.

If this sparked your interest (and I hope it did), then here follows a brief explanation of the details of forensics. While individual categories differ vastly from state to state, forensics is generally divided into two main categories: debate and speech.

Debate is very simply when two sides are face off about a single resolution. Typically, the resolution for the month is issued by the league online, giving competitors time to prepare before the tournament. This also allows them to work on and improve their cases from tournament to tournament. There are two main types of debate: public forum and Lincoln-Douglass. Public forum debate is excellent for people who don’t like to work alone, because people enter in teams of two, and tag-team. The topics tend to be about policy, switching from domestic to foreign depending on the month – sometimes the resolution is about military action in Iran, and at other times it’s about the effect of social-networking sites. Lincoln-Douglass, on the other hand, would appeal to the mavericks among us. It pits two solo debaters against one another, and tends to have more philosophical and ethical topics. One month, the resolution was about the ethics of vigilante justice. Lincoln-Douglass does tend to involve a lot more jargon, and can be very confusing for the layman, but in many ways, it allows for more creativity than public forum. Once, a debater in New Jersey won a round by arguing that it was impossible to argue the resolution. Depending on the region, there are other forms of debate as well. It’s trite, but true: the categories, because of their differences, are uniquely rewarding.

If that kind of thing sounds too combative – and a little boring – then there is the other half of forensics: speech. Speech appeals to people who like to act, interpret literature, or just plain talk. A lot of the time, speech is rather difficult to explain, because it often feels like a blanket term for categories that differ vastly from one another. It’s easiest to break it down into interpretive and public address categories. Interpretive events, or “interp,” involve taking published writing and turning it into monologues or dialogues, which are then memorized and performed. Many times, a single person performs multiple parts. Humorous Interpretation and Dramatic Interpretation are for monologues; Duo Interpretation, as implied by the name, involves two people working together to tell the story. Public address is for people who like to speak more than they like to act. In certain categories, people take speeches that have already been delivered – the “I Have a Dream” speech, for instance – memorize it, and perform it. In others, competitors have to write their own ten-minute speech on whatever their heart desires. Speech tends to be for people who care more about art, creativity, and self-expression.

So, no, forensics has very little to do with the dead – it’s very much alive, kicking, and thriving, and I sincerely hope you take part.

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