Lamp Shading

The reality of debate is that some positions you will be asked to defend are unpopular. Many Parli resolutions are constructed around socially relevant topics which the judge has probably heard something about and already formed some opinions on. Even in Team Policy or Lincoln Douglas debate, some arguments you will need to make may initially be unpalatable and unappealing to the audience even if they are valid. In order to convince the judge to hear you out instead of making their decision and laughing you off after the first sentence of an unorthodox argument, a speaker needs to let the judge know they understand where the judge is coming from. The speaker should be as relatable to the judge as possible by acknowledging to the judge they recognize the apparent absurdity in the claim they are making. However, the speaker should then ask that the judge hear their argument out, set all preconceived bias aside, and judge the argument from the merits presented. This process is called lamp-shading.

To illustrate, (a strong yet unconventional argument) a Team Policy team might, in an effort to raise funding for a plan that costs millions of dollars, choose to lower the U.S. Income Tax rate and divert the difference in Government revenue to their plan. (A team would run this plan if they had done the necessary research and found out that lower taxes incentivize market activity and that while the government might profit less from each individual laborer, an increase in laborers in the market will produce a net increase in tax revenue). A judge’s first intuition would be to disapprove of this funding decision as they would assume that a decrease in tax would naturally lower the overall revenue. This is a scenario in which a speaker ought to lampshade in order to prevent the judge from turning off their ears and refusing to be willing to hear the proposal.

When you think of the term lampshade, you doubtless picture a living room accessory and not a rhetorical device. The word ‘lampshade’ is not traditionally used as a verb. The reason we use the term lampshade is because it is a way to soften the blow or dissipate the harshness of the impact of a topic. A person staring into a lightbulb will turn away because of the blinding brightness of the bulb, but adding a lampshade makes the bulb more bearable to look towards. In the same way, a judge listening to an argument they impulsively disagree with will turn away because of the repulsiveness of the argument, but a lamp-shading argument can cause them to be more willing to listen to your point.

A judge is, as the term implies, judging you. An affirmative speaker might tend to forget that their job is not to convince the negative team to side with them and abandon all the negative positions. Rather, an affirmative speaker’s primary goal is to persuade the judge to abandon all their negative ideas, ones plainly stated by the negative and any preconceived opinions the judge walked into the round with. Because of this, a speaker must be vigilant to recognize what thoughts a judge might have about their case as a whole or about their individual arguments, and the speaker must tailor his or her presentation accordingly. Put yourself in the mind of the audience. Pretend you have not spent hours researching the validity of your claims and pretend you don’t already know all the claims that could oppose your position. In this fresh state, consider whether your argument sounds absurd or not. Then you can lampshade. Lamp-shading is arguing against the arguments you think the judge is coming up within their mind instead of exclusively responding to the arguments forwarded by the opposing team.

Take an example of an unpopular yet very necessary position in Team Policy Debate. Topicality is one of the stock issues in Team Policy, but unless you have a debate coach, an alumni or a very experienced parent, most of your judges (who are statistically community and newer debate parents) will hate Topicality arguments. Topicality arguments are seen as too technical, monotonous and a cheap way to avoid the real topic of the debate and instead argue about the rulebook. Sure, debate is training us to become like politicians, but if you think about it no one really likes politicians because of exactly that. They often bicker over minutiae instead of deliberating and solving the issues. In debate however, often Topicality is a pivotal position to take. Not only might it sometimes be your only position on squirrel cases, but even if it is not, it may be strong to argue that the impacts of a non-topical case are severe. If the judge has stated in their judging philosophy that they dislike technical arguments, or if you simply know that the judge doesn’t typically buy topicality then you’ll want to lampshade. A lampshading statement might look some