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Loaded Questions: “How Long Is It?”

So, you’re not having much luck in this serial, are you?  People keep asking you questions that couldn’t be more loaded if they were attached to the back of a truck heading to a discount store.  The good news is you’re learning who you can and can’t trust.  You tucked and rolled from the car of the guy who asked you what kind of music you listen to.  You still talk to the guy who asked how old you are, but you wouldn’t trust him with anything important.  You have got to meet some new people.

You find someone.  Seems like a cool guy.  You take him back to your place, and you have a bunch of fun doing whatever it is you do with your friends.  He seems so cool to hang out with, so you want to show him this cool internet video you made.  You’re sure he’ll like it.  It totally fits his style.  So, you tell him about it, but you get a chilling response, “How long is it?”

So, why is the question of runtime the first to come out of his mouth?  Why not questions about the style, why you think he’ll like it, whether it’s funny, or anything more relevant?  That’s because the question couldn’t be more loaded if Joe Classon was shooting craps with it.  He doesn’t really care about the content.  He’s only looking for an excuse to tell you it’s too long.  Even if you said it was only thirty seconds, that would conveniently be five seconds longer than he had time for.  What he really wanted to say is, “I’m not interested in your video.”

But, he didn’t say that.  And, because he didn’t say that, you shouldn’t give up.  When someone lies like this, do what Margaret did to Linda in Becker.  Linda said she liked Margaret’s hideous sweater, so Margaret, knowing damn well she was just saying it “to be nice” had her husband make Linda one too.  It’s great all around.  It rewards those who are legitimately honest with you and punishes the incredibly vindictive tactic of lying to be nice.

So, when your new acquaintance (he’s been downgraded from friend for lying) asks you how long it is, how should you respond?  Well, there are a few ways.  My new favourite is answering how many columns of pixels the resolution is.  For example, if it’s 1080p and 16:9 resolution, respond by saying, “Oh, about 1920 pixels.”  You have very literally and truthfully answered their question, and this usually shuts them up.

But, what if it doesn’t?  What if they’re persistent on knowing the runtime?  Then give them a vague and subjective answer.  One of my responses is, “Long enough for you to enjoy but short enough to appeal to your attention span.”  They can’t argue with that one because you have just handed them the answer to the “reason” they asked in the first place.  Any further questioning you about runtime will expose that it never was about runtime.

Let me be clear.  I’m not pretending runtime has nothing to do with the quality of the picture.  I’m not pretending a film being too long doesn’t turn people off.  But the cut-off point of runtime is subjective.  It depends not only on the person watching, but the content of the video itself.  For example, three hours of Terminator 2 is barely enough for me, but 30 seconds of YouTube’s Fred is way too much.  On YouTube, I’ll put more time into a comedy than I would a tutorial or an opinion piece.  But, if runtime really were the problem, it wouldn’t be the first words out of their mouth.  Especially if it’s something they’d never seen before.  They’d have to at least see a little of it before they’re able to determine what’s too long.

For this reason, “How long is it?” is not necessarily a loaded question.  It depends on when they ask and how much they knew about it prior to asking.  If the question is cold, it’s loaded.  If the question is warmed up a little with other questions or foreknowledge, that’s a grey area.  And it could still be a loaded question even if they know everything else about the piece.  At any rate, now you know how to handle three loaded questions.  Stay tuned for the fourth instalment, which will be published when I’m good and ready.

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