William Dalrymple – Historian of India and the Islamic world
Eric George: The content of last night’s discussion was fairly bipolar in nature – equal parts geriatric sex confessions and ham-fisted debate over peace in the Middle East. Naturally, Dalrymple struggled early on as he awkwardly strung historical anecdotes together while scrambling to work out how he was going to address questions over modern sexual norms. Once the discussion shifted to Islamic history and culture, he was in his comfort zone, and put together the best cross examination of the night (we’re looking at you, Mr Jones) by skewering the clueless Sylvia Nasar. It may have been dull throughout, but a few enlightening moments lifted Dalrymple above the dreck that was last night’s panel.
Timothy Arendshorst: He knew his stuff when it came to Islamic history and culture, I’ll agree with you on that one Eric. But even with Tony trying his darnedest to ignite debate, he (much like the rest of the panel) failed to launch. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing” – then what are you saying, William? Also peculiar was the way in which he rarely faced the audience, with his chair primarily pointed towards the rest of the panel. An odd choice considering it’s the audience who ask the questions…
Ruby Wax – Comedian and author
EG: Ruby Wax clearly isn’t someone suited to the format of QandA. Luckily for the comedian, she wasn’t alone in this respect last night. But watching her gave the distinct sense that she couldn’t get a read of her audience. She spoke of dressing up for sex when asked about the pressures placed on women by modern society, and began an answer on depression with plugs for her book and her show. Most frustrating of all was the manner of her answers. Watching her zip from topic to topic, looping back into contradictions along the way reminded me of the flight of a deflating balloon. Fittingly, her explanation about how books help us grow leaves and dream better dreams was surely one of the most inane conclusions we’ve had to a show in recent memory. In fairness, she wasn’t the only participant in last night’s train wreck, and she won’t be the only participant not to score a point.
TA: She was the comedian on the panel so I guess she felt certain expectations to be more funny or zany than the others. And while I may have cracked a smile once or twice, unfortunately she didn’t win me over. Beginning the night with brash comments about the intentions behind stilettos and shaved legs, Wax came across as if she might be trying too hard. This became all-to-clear when she began to divulge the state of her underwear (some things just can’t be unheard). While interruptions are not uncommon on QandA, she could have at least interjected with something of worth. In reality, the only time she managed to win me over in the slightest was when she wasn’t trying to be funny. Speaking from experience, it was her opinions on her own struggle with depression that have earned her a few Tonys last night, even if her comparisons to “the gay movement” left her sounding almost jealous about the level of support they receive. Yet, her persona changed again when conversation turned to war. She became instantly silent. Nothing outrageous or insightful was said. What’s that old saying? Is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt. Well she half did this anyway.
Faramerz Dabhoiwala – Author The Origins of Sex
EG: Amongst a wretched panel, Faramerz was a lone shining light. He may have been far too buttoned down for the QandA format, but he never joined his colleagues in a race to the tawdry bottom (no pun intended). Dabhoiwala did provide fairly concise, informative answers on a range of topics throughout the night, and managed to keep a straight face (barely) as he watched Sylvia Nasar attempt to talk her way out of trouble down the stretch. Not a great performance, but last night it was the best we had to work with.
TM: Faramerz Dabhoiwala (even Tony couldn’t pronounce that mouthful) was a bit of a Cinderella story last night. Taking reign of the first question, his opinions came across as informative but dry and a little out-of-touch with current times – as in, we get it, stop talking about the 18th century. However, when debate (which there was so little of on the program) turned to the way in which women dress, I saw a flicker of insight in Dabhoiwala’s answers; it’s a shame this was hidden behind a polite or timid inability to interrupt – what a pity Wax didn’t feel the same obligation. Carrying on into the discussions on war, I desperately wanted him to get fired up and show some conviction. Instead, his opinions, though generally interesting, would finish in a whisper with all insight losing effect. All in all, a lukewarm best of the night.
Sylvia Nasar – Author A Beautiful Mind
EG: Oh dear, Tim, this is where it gets ugly. I honestly thought that Nasar was going to be this week’s non-contributor after a fairly sedate first 40 minutes. But then began the most cringe-worthy sequence in recent QandA memory as she attempted to defend America’s foreign policy track record, taking on all comers in the process. It was immediately apparent that Nasar was woefully ill-equipped to maintain the argument against two panel members who were clearly very familiar with the subject material involved. Her willingness to plow onwards in the face of blatant inadequacy was impressive, if entirely futile. Another zero.
TM: A deer in the headlights. I can’t honestly think of another way to describe her performance on QandA. Sylvia Nasar really struggled on the program last night. Like a disciplined student, she only spoke when spoken to, but that’s just not how QandA works. Her opinions never seemed to go anywhere past a nod that looked more like a twitch than an answer. It’s sad when the people asking the questions are forced to provide the answers as well. Worse was when she did actually attempt answering questions about America’s involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She was reduced to a mess of ummings and ahhings; I felt embarrassed for her. Nasar’s ramblings exposed that she was clearly out of her depth, with myself, and I’m sure the panel and the scoffing audience all internally pleading for her to stop. Stahp, Syvlia, stahp.
Mike Carlton – Journalist, commentator and author
EG: I had high hopes for Mike last night, as he was the only conventional panellist on the show. I shed any expectations early on though, when he switched from euphemising about modern girls being “more giving” to commenting on the commonplace nature of blowjobs in modern society – all within the first ten minutes of the show. In my opinion, it never really got better from there. There was the odd insight into the politics surrounding the Vietnam War, but I was watching through my fingers by that point. I realise that last night’s program was a loose one to say the least, but it still struck me as an opportunity missed for Mike. Another zero; a trifecta of zeros!
TM: You’re definitely right there, Eric, talking about girls being more giving, and blowjobs every Saturday night isn’t exactly a crowd pleaser. I mean, seriously Carlton? Also inadvisable was his decision to follow this with the “poor men” card. Just don’t go there; especially when the guy to your right is infatuated by the 18th century. I guess his presence on the panel was that of the macho man. As he spoke of a childhood brought up on bread-winning fathers and woman chained to the stove, I can understand where his perspective has originated from, but understanding can only go so far. Everything else he had to say on the program will be overshadowed by his astounding lack of tact.