August 28, 2010

Winston Churchill: Oratory and Soundbites- a thought

This is a fine article from the New Yorker about Winston Churchill. One of the most interesting points that Adam Gopnik makes is about Churchill's prose as a speaker. It is fascinating to reread his 1940 speeches and notice how short of specific content they are. Its fascinating both on the levels that Gopnik identifies, but also because the tendency towards the inspecific in oratory doesn't seem to have changed. I was watching this afternoon at one point, a video that a David Milliband fan had put on youtube: what the shadow foreign secretary was recorded as saying was inspirational but content less. I'm not questioning Milliband himself here- you could do the same with most other modern politicians- but its interesting in terms of what a political speech is supposed at its best to do. Churchill's speeches, as he himself confessed, were important less because of their policy impact- nobody remembers whether he specified a piece of the North African coast to invade- but because of their emotional impact. Its that sense you get listening to him that the country will hold out against the evils of Nazi and Fascist tyranny that was key at the time. In that sense a soundbite, which is the reduction of a speech, is not really much of a reduction: perhaps the secret with Tony Blair's 'people's princess' is that whereas Churchill spoke for hours to the Commons to capture the national mood, Blair could do it with a phrase to some journalists.


Harry Barnes said...

See -