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March 16, 2006


Judge Not? No Way!

story and digital art by RICK ST. CHARLES

Just when you think you've heard about all the incredibly talented people in Humboldt County, someone new pops up. In this case, it was three individuals, including HSU faculty, who judged video documentary entries in the annual History Day competition.

High school kids from all over the county spend countless hours, months even, preparing these productions. At the judging event at Humboldt State University on Saturday, March 4, there was a technical problem: You could see the video, but the audio wasn't working. The judges asked the entrants and their parents to come back in an hour while they worked out the bugs. When everyone returned, the problem hadn't been fixed. The profs aired some beefs to the tune of, "This always happens whenever I try to play a video in class! Our equipment is so outdated! Where's a janitor when you need one?" etc. And then they proceeded to play the videos with virtually no audio -- one judge pressed her ear up to the micro speaker on the laptop and gasped, "I can hear something!"; the other two judges sat in the back of the room and heard nothing -- and judged them.

One mother expressed outraged astonishment. After all, her child had worked long and hard on her production -- of which HEARING IT was a CRITICAL FACTOR of being able to UNDERSTAND IT. The judges pooh-poohed this theory and brushed her off, commenting that she was making a "big deal" out of it, adding reprovingly that the kids were supposed to provide their own means of playing their DVDs or VHS tapes. Curiously, nowhere in the official entry rules is this mentioned. Assuming it's true, it smacks of a sort of Alice in Wonderland logic akin to requiring Reese Witherspoon and every other Oscar contender to bring their own projection equipment to the Academy Awards if they want their clips to be shown.

Anyway, upon hearing of this amazing ability of the judges to watch a documentary with no audio and pass judgment on it, I realized that these people are truly gifted. Imagine turning on the evening news, muting it and trying to figure out what's going on. Or popping Chinatown into a player with no audio and deciphering the plot, which is a hard enough task with the audio and subtitles. Lesser people like myself would give up, or, in the case of the History Day competition, say something to the effect of, "Well, we OBVIOUSLY can't CRITIQUE these without being able to HEAR them." But not these judges! With their "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!" American can-do spirit, they went ahead and judged the videos and were ready to announce the winners just a few hours later at the awards ceremony.

So I have an idea. With HSU's resources strapped and budgets tight everywhere except in the Useless Architecture department, they have a rare opportunity to rent out these three uniquely endowed individuals -- let's call them the Intrepid Trio -- to judge events that mere mortals would shrink from. Naturally, the fees should be high. A few potential situations come to mind:

Art exhibitions during power outages. With all the recent storm activity, there have been a lot of blackouts. What if one of these took place during, say, a competition at the Morris Graves Museum of Art? Who else could possibly judge the paintings without seeing them?

Outdoor Chili-Cookoffs during sudden cloudbursts. The chefs with their secret family recipes have each spent hours lovingly simmering a unique entree replete with exotic herbs and spices. Now the judging table is lined with bowlfuls of chili diluted with cold rainwater. Who ya gonna call?

Theater reviews when the curtain is stuck shut. It's opening night and the show must go on! It is imperative that it be reviewed so the public knows whether to attend it or avoid it. But no one can see the actors or the set and all that can be heard are muffled voices. Thank goodness for the Intrepid Trio!

A Science Fair after a fire. Unfortunately, the kid with the model of Mt. St. Helens used real lava, and the whole gym went up in flames faster than Homer Simpson's barbecue. All that remains are charred lumps of blackened foam core and some misshapen six-volt batteries. Not to worry! One of these piles of charcoal will soon be on its way to the Grand Competition in Sacramento, thanks to you-know-who!

I figured that in all fairness to the Intrepid Trio, I should send them this column to make sure I got all the facts straight before it was published. I accidentally sent them three blank pages. They gave it a blue ribbon.


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