I kind of hate TED talks
There are good things about TED talks. It’s nice to have a thoughtful articulate person saying something a little bit new and a little bit different. OK I’m done.
Then there are annoying things about TED talks. People are so ridiculously polished. No idea is that perfect! Rumor has it that, after getting professionally trained for their TED performances, the producers then remove all the “umms” and awkward silences to make it even more perfect. Yuck.
Here’s one way to think about it: TED talks aren’t as good as blogs because they’re not interactive – the audience is expected to receive and not talk back. That’s why I prefer to blog in my underwear and bathrobe, imagining my friends on their living room sofas, also wearing pajamas, and objecting to my stupidity. And that’s why I like the feedback and the comments. It makes my ideas better.
At the same time, TED talks are not as deep as books, where you have enough time and space to actually think through an argument. How could you really develop a deep thought in 20 minutes? You just can’t.
Instead, you have a manipulation of the past which often result in simulated emotional responses, much like how the soundtrack to Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” makes me cry every time I hear it, no matter what emotional state I’m actually in.
The essence of what’s annoying about TED talks is perfectly parodied by Onion Talks, especially this one:
But what I really hate about TED talks is the curating of ideas that it represents. I realize that any gatekeeper will do this, but I’m particularly concerned about the TED byline, “Ideas Worth Spreading”. According to whom?
Who gets invited to those things? Whose ideas are interesting but non-threatening enough for the TED audience?
And how often do other, rawer ideas get ignored? How appealing do I have to make my idea to rich people in order to be an insider in this mini self-congratulatory universe?
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about written by a woman who was uninvited to give a TED talk under suspicious circumstances (with a follow-up here). Granted, it’s a TEDx situation, but it’s the same problem. The paragraph I worry about most:
Looking back, I must admit that upon learning of this invitation some of my colleagues and I questioned TEDx Manhattan’s commitment to serving as a platform for looking at our food system from a non-privileged perspective. Changing the Way We Eat is not a venue for the common person. The website makes no mention of available scholarships to enable low-income people or students to attend the pricey one day conference. Not only must attendees pay $135 for the privilege of sitting and listening, they also have to apply, explaining why they deserve to be part of the audience and then hope to be selected! Unless the Glynwood Institute does real serious targeted outreach to communities of color (which I haven’t seen and was the primary purpose of my screening party), their set up is going to result in the exclusion of low-income and people of color, regardless of whether it is intentional. I received feedback from a past attendee that presenters referenced poor people and people of color only as being the recipients of charity or service. I think Changing the Way We Eat needed to hear my voice in order to change the way the mainstream food movement thinks about poverty, food access, hunger, and food system change.