Middlebrow Megachurch Infotainment

Benjamin H. Bratton on TED talks:

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an Astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a Professor of Visual Arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about Astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired… you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularization. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems — rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

What bugs me about most TED talks is that they seem designed to make the listener feel special somehow, as though we’ve done something good simply by hearing the talk, like “I know you’ll understand, you’re one of the smart ones.” It’s the same way Principal Skinner talks to Lisa Simpson.

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2 Responses to Middlebrow Megachurch Infotainment

  1. Recently (within the last 4 months I’d say), I was taken to task for saying I thought TED talks tended to be pablum and were designed to make us feel good because they tell us what we want to hear about what we already know. They make us feel smart. Not only do many folks love TED talks, you are not welcome to say bad things about TED talks. It’s all part of the Great Positivity movement. Not only must one be postive-thinking, but that person must be vanished if she is not positive enough. Bringing everybody down! Now I have to read the article you linked to. If only it were a sound-bite….

  2. pt dismal says:

    i hate ted talks, too, and let’s double down by continuing the war on christmas.


    ps–merry fucking christmas.

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