Check out the next Original Oratory Speech Spotlight featuring Cheyenne Central Speech and Debate Senior Whitney Brooks and her conspiratorially cool oratory, "Down the Rabbit Hole."
Cheyenne Central Speech and Debate Senior and Team President, Whitney Brooks is here today to share her Original Oratory from last season on Speech Love. Whitney has been a Cheyenne Central Speech and Debate Competitor for three years. She is the 2022 Wyoming State Champion in Original Oratory, and a two-time National Qualifier in Oratory as well. The speech she shares today is from her 2021 season, and it is called: "Down the Rabbit Hole.” This cool speech tackles conspiracy theories!
Here are some ideas about how to use these speech spotlight episodes. First, enjoy an excellent, engaging, well done speech. The speech spotlight is another opportunity for students to share their unique and powerful voice to an audience in an audio format. So, sit back and enjoy some brilliance from our speech and debate community. Second, consider how you might use this speech as a model for anyone who is looking to write and perform their own original oratories. Third, these speeches could be excellent learning tools for coaches and competitors. Actively reflecting on what makes a speech powerful, effective, or even flawed can help coaches and competitors add more tools and ideas to their own speaking toolboxes.
The full text of Whitney's speech:
Down the Rabbit Hole
Full disclosure here, I love Alice in Wonderland. I’ll admit, the original book may have
been a bit weird, but come on- it’s relatable! Alice follows a distraction down an unfortunate path and ends up falling into an entirely different reality- one which she must fight her way through in order to wake up. See? Relatable. This story actually can mirror a variety of lived experiences, but I think it’s most applicable to those who find themselves engulfed in conspiracy theory culture. While the basic shape of the story may be the same, conspiracy theories have far darker real-life consequences than getting high with that blue caterpillar thing. And what’s contributing to and resulting from conspiracies is often (just like the implications of that caterpillar) brushed under the rug. So today, let’s examine; first, why people believe conspiracy theories; second, the adverse political and social effects these theories can have; and third, what can be done to limit or reverse the consequences of belief in conspiracies.
Much like Alice, we can all find ourselves chasing our own white rabbits- distractions
leading us in the wrong direction. Some conspiracies can serve as white rabbits, leading people into their lies. But in the end, it’s just a rabbit. And conspiracy theories are just theories. Which begs the questions, why are they so enticing? Why do so many people believe in them? The simple explanation is that they’re, well, simple. As Rob Brotherton explains in his 2015 book Suspicious Minds, conspiracy theories offer a simplistic reason for the problems of a nation’s existence. To really dig in to what he’s saying, let’s consider the “chemtrails” theory that rose to popularity in the 90s. Taking its name from the contrails that we see in the sky behind planes as they fly, the “chemtrails” theory stated that the United States government was using airplanes to release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, which were then supposedly responsible for everything from sickness to aggression to climate change. By now, we (hopefully) know that all these actions and occurrences have far richer causes than scary plane chemicals. But wouldn’t
it be so much easier if that really was the singular cause? If all of our problems had such simple causes, and therefore would have much simpler solutions? Yeah. There lies the danger.
Brotherton continues that conspiracies present a view of reality in which “events do not have multiple causes and the chance factor in history is discarded.” In essence, in the world of these theories, every event can be traced back to deliberate actions taken by the conspirators. This effectively eliminates the ambiguity of history, instead opting for a simplified version. It is much easier to believe that bad things happen because the Illuminati wanted them to than it would be to admit that bad things just happen, or that people make mistakes. It is much easier to believe that you were wronged than to admit you were wrong. This makes you more susceptible to misinformation over time. This misinformation then compounds, creating a sort of positive feedback loop, leading people to making greater and greater assumptions, believing theories less and less connected to our generally accepted shared reality. People fall down the rabbit hole.
As our friend Alice could attest, the trip down the rabbit hole is not quick nor is it
comfortable. However, once the journey has begun, it’s nearly impossible to return to the surface. And the reality that we find at the bottom is almost entirely incompatible with the one we left behind. Take, for instance, the theory posited by David Goldberg on Twitter in October 2016, stating that Hillary Clinton and other top democrats ran a human trafficking and child sex ring in the upper floor of a Washington DC pizza parlor. Yeah, that happened. While this has been clearly and repeatedly debunked, the theory did manage to gain quite a bit of traction, being dubbed by proponents online as PizzaGate. At first, it was just something for everyone else to laugh at; come on, the place is called Comet Ping Pong Pizza! But as the theory was propagated around social media, some people took it very seriously. In December 2016, a 28-year-old North Carolinian decided to take action after seeing and spreading the theory online. He travelled to the supposed site of this trafficking and opened fire with an AR-15 style rifle,
firing three shots that struck walls, a desk, and a door. The perpetrator of this violence later told police he was attempting to investigate the theories he had seen on 4chan. While no lives were lost in this incident, it’s horrifying to think of the tragedy that could have been. Tragedy which occurs far too often. For a more recent example, we only need to look to the 2020 presidential election, in which rumors began sprouting up that the election was fraudulent, rigged, stolen- a conspiracy theory coined the “Big Lie.” Whereas the violence triggered by PizzaGate in 2016 only had the potential for tragedy, the January 6th riots at the US capitol brought on by this conspiracy made tragedy a reality. Five deaths have been attributed to the capitol riots that day. Five lives lost because people took the easy way out and believed a theory that said they were unquestionably right. Like I said, no easy way out of the rabbit hole.
Unfortunately, kinetic conflict like this is not the only conflict created by conspiracy theories. As anyone even adjacent to the political sphere (and about half of this year’s oratories) can attest, our nation is becoming more divided by the day. But don’t just take it from me. In 2009, Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort described the titular decades-long “big sort,” stating that Americans are increasingly clustering into like-minded communities. As Bishop explains, surrounding yourself with people who think just like you think has a profound effect. It’s human nature that when like-minded people gather, they collectively grow even more extreme. This is especially, and often dangerously, true for conspiracy communities. Now let’s add in another ingredient- enmity, or hostility. It is clear that partisan Americans dislike each other quite a bit. We live separately, snarling at each other across a growing divide. The result is a political sphere dominated by fear and rage, in which policy differences often take a back seat to the list of grievances that red possesses against blue- and blue against red- and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and… do you remember getting the invitation to the Mad Hatter’s tea party? Yeah, me neither. At this point, it becomes clear to both Alice and, hopefully, to the rest of us that we need to wake up from this elaborate dream.
The approach we take to wake up- to slow or stop the spread of conspiracies- boils
down to personal accountability. This means that, regardless of who you’re talking to, you must be sure that you’re placing even greater emphasis on facts and established truths. This is an individual change; but this personal accountability is a necessary prerequisite for the institutional change that is also badly needed. The media needs to be held accountable. I know this is a tired refrain, but it is crucial to understand that we are living in a moment in history in which credible, well sourced facts in scientific research and news reports are just not particularly meaningful to lots of people. Until that changes, we must continue to repeat the cliche lines that I’m sure you are tired of hearing in speeches and that I know speech kids are tired of saying. When journalism is truthful and when it is trusted, we can combat misinformation much more effectively. The consumer has the power to influence the product that they receive; this is especially true with the media we consume. So we must make a change. Don’t just sing along to the tune of “Merry Unbirthday.” Because fighting the epidemic of misinformation will involve recognizing the madness around you and- even more importantly- calling it out. In a 2019 study from the Institute of Public Relations, researchers found that the most trusted sources of information are other people- 74% of respondents had high levels of trust in information from family and 70% trusted information from friends. We cannot let each other down here; we need to live up to this trustworthy reputation and make
sure that we are checking ourselves and those around us- especially those who may be in their own Wonderland without wanting to wake up. In the end, the best thing we can do here is to speak to each other- with kindness, and calmness, and most importantly with truth.
So overall, where in Wonderland (or rather, where on Earth) does this even leave us?
Well, at the very least you got a refresher on Alice in Wonderland. But (probably) more
importantly, the aspects of conspiracies we’ve discussed today need to be brought to light through frank conversation just like this. They are unbelievably easy to believe in, and the forces dragging people down the rabbit hole are unquestionably sinister. Look, I know that it’s easy to mock conspiracies and those who believe in them. And I get it; they can be funny! The idea that lizard people control every facet of our life and one of them is Beyonce? That’s funny! But ultimately, the best way to combat this is the harder option. Empathy. Understanding the places that people are coming from, the appeal of their white rabbits, and the forces pulling them down the rabbit hole. Working with people, rather against them, to communicate more effectively and truthfully. That is how we solve this, how we fix our communication and our information. And, by extension, that is how we begin to pull our nation out of the rabbit hole.
Thanks so much to Whitney for sharing her conspiratorial and creative Original Oratory. Be on the lookout for a One Clap interview with Whitney later this week in which she discusses her speech and debate experience, details about her original oratory, her deep, dark, band nerd secret, and a whole lot more.
Whitney Brooks Quick Bio: Cheyenne Central Speech and Debate Competitor for three years, 2022 Central Team President, 2022 State Champion in Original Oratory, two-time National Qualifier in Original Oratory, Advancer to Octofinals in Original Oratory at the National Tournament, and self-proclaimed hardcore band nerd.
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