TED Conversations

Hafiz Juma



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Is the new TED initiative of "Ads Worth Spreading" worth supporting?


I am pretty sure I will come off sounding like a hyper-critical pseudo-leftist sympathizer by putting this question up for debate. However, I feel it relates to a growing trend in contemporary life.

Firstly, is the TED initiative an endorsement of capitalism? Or to add a layer of criticism, is this a push towards cultural commodity fetishism as illustrated by Marx and elaborated by Benjamin? What happens in a society when the lines between culture, art, commerce, 'philanthropy' and development are blurred.

Or are we simply to accept that there exists a distinction between Art and Culture and the Art and Cultural industries? If so, how does that affect how we relate to things like TED, Museums and Academic institutions? Are we still capable of taking content at face value? Especially when a clear trajectory of an agenda surfaces (see TED and Africa, TED and Women, TED and the Acumen Fund)- albeit for an ultimately 'good' cause or one with seemingly good intentions?

On the other hand, if the only alternative to an Art as an industry is Art as therapy, is all art produced, regardless of intended implications (whether it be for a cause that is capital-averse or humanitarian, what is Art? Is it a socially dependent process requiring audience and a connotation of value?

I think this is a complex question that requires debate, however, does this inevitably take us to the conclusion that art is inherently capital-driven?


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    Mar 24 2011: @ M.A.L.G., thanks for commenting. I don't mind at all. Harald's point is definitely relevant.

    Something that I've been thinking about is the notion of accountability. If the aim of aws and the 'forward' thinking advertisements they promote is to create a greater level of accountability, what does that do the notion of universal suffrage?

    Meaning, ultimately, no matter how well intentioned we want to think of an advertisement, it is still a device for enhancing brand equity and translating into profits. Looking at organizations corporate social responsibility program is a perfect example.

    Nonetheless, the private sector has proven to be better suited than government in a lot of areas, particularly social services. Is aws a subtle nod towards this notion of private sector led policy and development by creating a culture and medium for critical engagement and accountability? Even if this is only a by-product, it is great that it will push the private sector into being more accountable. That said, who will they be accountable to? I am assuming customers or prospective customers. Even if the 'emergent markets' (the people who are exploited for their limited purchasing power) are one of these potential customers, inevitably, those who are bigger customers, with greater right to being accountable to will be calling the shots. So maybe we will have a say, but some people a bigger say than others? ....capital democracy
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      Mar 24 2011: I'm not a big fan of ads, and much less if they are forced on me.
      However, we also need to be fair to TED and recognize that
      1) TED is a non profit organization and placing ads is probably part of the way TED is paying its bills
      2) I find TED is doing a pretty good job in placing the ads in a way that they are not annoying.
      3) I think the initiative of ads worth spreading shouldn't be overestimated. It is a fairly minor segment within TED and for those with an aversion against ads, it's easy to avoid them completely.
      Hafiz, I didn't understand the point of ads creating more accountability. What do you mean with that ? As you say, the ultimate goal of an ad is to increase profits for a company. Although ads are also used to further a cause or to increase awareness without the goal of profit.
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        Mar 25 2011: Harald, please don't get me wrong here. Perhaps I am being overly harsh to TED. It is definitely not my intention to villainize anyone. In fact, I have plenty of respect for TED. I suppose I am using them as an example for a much more complicated question.

        To respond to your first question, that is my question. I am trying garner different people's interpretations of exactly that, what is art, in light of it the ad initiative? Is art only art when a commodity. Is it simply the industrialization of creativity, meaning, if art has to be seen, by default, practically it has to operate within a economic structure to do so. Is that something that we should accept?

        Secondly, even though TED hasn't necessarily positioned itself as "the higher-learning institution", it is more and more being perceived as such. While I think this is an exaggeration, I think it is worth considering when TED starts an initiative like this. In a recent interview, Chris said that there is no road map for TED, however, that is hard to believe with these constant extensions to the brand. (see links at the bottom).

        Finally, I agree, TED has to pay the bills. This was initially done through traditional sponsorship and ad revenue. By now putting a spotlight on these ads, does this relate to TED's sustainability or seeing a real value in the Ad's they are promoting.

        The comment about ad's enhancing accountability, that was directly lifted from the video on what aws was. Watch it again, it may clarify what I was trying to say.




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          Mar 25 2011: Hafiz, there is a place to look at art from a philosophical point of view: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/art-definition/
          It quickly becomes clear that a definition of art isn't an easy feat. For me, and probably for most people, art is something highly subjective.
          For example, for some, graffiti on a house wall might be highly annoying, while others might look at it as a piece of art.
          For me personally, art is something that stimulates my senses and feelings in a positive way. If we apply that to ads, there are ads that are funny, or even try to convey a message, or ads with great visual effects. That I might consider as a piece of art.
          I don't understand the question of whether art is only art if an commodity. I think it doesn't matter whether it's a commodity or not. If I'm the only one on the planet who considers a particular painting a piece of art, then it IS art (at least for me, although being the only one, it might be a proof of pretty bad taste). Top songs in the charts can be considered a commodity, because there are probably million of people liking this particular song. In other words, art can be either, a commodity or something very exclusive. Was that more or less what you meant with your question ?

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