March 10th, 2017

The great debate switcheroo

You may already have seen this experiment in which parts of the Trump/Clinton debates were restaged—complete with gestures and expressions matching the originals—with an actress playing Trump and an actor playing Clinton. The idea behind it was this:

Maria Guadalupe, an associate professor of economics and political science at INSEAD, had an idea. Millions had tuned in to watch a man face off against a woman for the first set of co-ed presidential debates in American history. But how would their perceptions change, she wondered, if the genders of the candidates were switched? She pictured an actress playing Trump, replicating his words, gestures, body language, and tone verbatim, while an actor took on Clinton’s role in the same way. What would the experiment reveal about male and female communication styles, and the differing standards by which we unconsciously judge them?…

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy.

In fact, viewers (the majority of whom appear to have been Hillary voters; the professors were from NYU so I’m assuming it was staged in New York City) were stunned and distressed by what they saw:

We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened”—meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman—that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another—a musical theater composer, actually—said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate—you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.” Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience.

Here’s a clip of what I believe is a rehearsal:

Absolutely fascinating—particularly for me, because I study the process of political mind-changing. Certainly some of these people must have experienced the glimmerings of a change of mind, although there are many ways to fend off and/or rationalize such an experience if it occurs in isolation and isn’t followed up by more. I’m struck, however, by the honesty of the people’s expression of their unanticipated reactions, even though they were surprised and dismayed by them. People often refuse to even admit evidence that contradicts their assumptions.

But I have a caveat in terms of the gender conclusions. The fact that Trump is a man and Hillary a women was certainly no small part of how and why people reacted to each them (and to the battle between them) as they did. But it was still just a part. Both Trump and Clinton are also specific individuals who each have very distinctive characteristics that make them absolutely unique. Although the actors mimicked the candidates’ every gesture and expression, with genders reversed, the mimicry was only of the outward form of the presentation. The essence of each person was missing (at least, in my opinion), and not just because the sexes were switched, although of course that’s a big factor.

Watching that clip, I didn’t feel as though I was seeing a female approximation of Trump or a male version of Hillary, even though the actors were speaking their lines and imitating their movements. Did you ever see a play and then see it with a different cast of lead actors? I have, many times. The genders aren’t switched, but the performances can be like night and day. We all bring our idiosyncratic selves to every single thing we do, and that’s even true of actors who are pretending to be someone else.

12 Responses to “The great debate switcheroo”

  1. Griffin Says:

    Seems to me that the people who hate Trump hate him much, much more than those who hated Clinton (not that they liked her just not as much hate) so there was probably nothing he could have done or no way he could have presented himself that would have convinced these people to even give him a little credit. So the switcheroo shouldn’t be that surprising.

    The pathological hatred of Trump is very fascinating to me. There has never been a politician that I have remotely hated like some people hate Trump. Mentioned to a distraught relative a couple days after the election that their life was really no different than before but just wouldn’t buy it. Don’t get turning over one’s happiness to such a distant force. Seems sad.

  2. Susanamantha Says:

    What surprised me the most was that the clip and the results ever saw the light of day! It seems like it would have been shelved and forgotten.

  3. Ann Says:

    One of the producers said the audience was quite put off by the effeminate mannerisms of the man playing Hillary: “I was particularly struck by the post-performance discussions about effeminacy. People felt that the male version of Clinton was feminine, and that that was bad.” Perhaps if an actor played the part without those mannerisms, the result would have been more pro-Hillary.

  4. Matthew Says:

    This election was about who America hated least. There are die hard Trump and Hillary lovers, but not many.

    As for hating people, I’ve held some serious grudges over the years. I’ve mostly gotten over them, but the level of the feelings I had scare and make me ashamed today. Hatred and anger can be addictive. People also like looking down on others to make themselves feel better. The great danger of comparing yourself to others is not feeling bad, but feeling good.

  5. Gene Says:

    To a large group of voters (like the NYU crowd here), Hillary was an emblem of female progress and thus could not be viewed critically, particularly when contrasted with a boorish, genital grabbing, chauvinist from central casting. Reversing the sexes of the participants drains the ideological charge from the encounter and reveals the snarky, supercilious, and substance free presentation so beloved of red state America. An interesting illustration of how stereotypes cloud one’s ability to see what is in front of you.

  6. AesopFan Says:

    Matthew Says:
    March 10th, 2017 at 6:38 pm… The great danger of comparing yourself to others is not feeling bad, but feeling good.
    * * *
    In a corollary, I’v seen the caution that you should be very careful if you “discover” that God hates exactly the same people you do.

  7. Dan Says:

    I couldn’t watch the debates at all because I found both of them loathsome. I voted Libertarian for the first time ever, but the reaction to Trump’s win – breaking windows, starting fires, beating people up – has completely changed my mind. I’m glad he won and will be voting for him in 2020.

    I’ve been reading Scott Adams’ blog recently and a lot of the stuff he says makes sense; that a lot of the stuff I’ve heard Trump say in the past is just part of his persuasion. He’s not just being a jerk.

  8. Yancey Ward Says:

    A commenter at Althouse said it was amusing watching progressives have to smell their own shit.

  9. delta6 Says:

    I found this a very fascinating exercise – not the least of which is the diff between the idea and the execution…what seems smart and simple suddenly becomes complicated and a bit confounding.
    My reaction had much of what “Ann” commented on above: I personally preferred Trump in the actual debates., but my major reaction to the ‘male Hillary’ was about how ‘Gay’ he came across. Maybe that makes me a misogynist brute or something? Or does it suggest that Hillary is a female who over-signals ‘maleness’??…..to complicate it, I felt the actress ‘overdid’ her Trumpness – especially the bending forward toward the floor, which struck me as a caricature.

  10. The Other Gary Says:

    delta6 wrote:

    … but my major reaction to the ‘male Hillary’ was about how ‘Gay’ he came across.

    I had the same reaction. But then, given the left’s victim-based calculus, shouldn’t this presentation of Hillary’s views be given a few “bonus points” because it’s delivered by what appears to be a gay man rather than some disfavored, generic heterosexual white-guy?

    Instead, in a prior comment Ann quoted “one of the producers” of this experiment as saying, “… People felt that the male version of Clinton was feminine, and that that was bad.”

  11. Ymarsakar Says:

    Hillary would be in jail if I was present. Wonder who said that.

  12. delta6 Says:

    re ‘The Other Gary’…
    …TOG, if I may name The Other Gary that, makes great points here!….mostly, imho, in support of the idea that this noble experiment, as brilliant as it was in conception, simply raises even more issues and questions!!…which would be fun if it wasn’t also so frustrating..ha! …So one gender’s words do not have the same impact as when ‘spoken’ by an opposite gender? Or does one gender simply seem incapable of credibly speaking in the fashion of the opposite gender???? Or are there simply a lot of bad actors out there….has any male ever played a female well since Shakespeare’s day..or vice versa, ever?? I’m getting a headache. …. 🙂

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