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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    Mar 24 2011: If we look at the ads as pieces of artwork, then yes, I think it's worth spreading.
    If the underlying purpose is to push brands to market, than I wouldn't like this initiative.
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    Jun 10 2011: As a new comer,I know little about TED,but after I watched several talks and gradually became a verified numember of TED,I realized that It deserve so much more because I can learn many from others who also have a hand in TED. And there are some ideas that made me excited and in favor of the speakers as well,the thing what should be attached importance to is I could think more openly.It can't be bad,can it?
  • Apr 29 2011: It seems most of the comments here are about whether or not TED should be supporting advertisements. It seems to me that in a way, TED has always promoted businesses, products, or sell-able ideas. As we move toward a horizontal relationship with companies and advertisers, supporting quality, trustworthy, entertaining and informational ads will improve our understanding of the lives around us.

    It's like the ted talk "The antidote to apathy". TED talks are fascinating in content, but fairly old tech in presentation. A speaker on stage using still powerpoints. Flashier presentations, like RSA animate or these ads, can provide more memorable video that engages you to remember more and take action rather than just interest.
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    Apr 18 2011: Well, what is Art? I've long thought about this as i've wandered through museums which could easily be seen as Art Cemetaries. Knowing that a particle observed acts differently (get your own citation if you need one, it's late dears!) and that How an observed particle is observed alters it's actions too, then art is more in the Process, than in the final result perhaps?
    When I take clay and begin to mould it, I can, and usually will access a special space where "it" 'comes together'. You can also tell that 'it' is there when someone tells a story and everything goes very quiet. (but given Jill Taylor's TED talk on observing her own stroke this might be 'accessing the right hemisphere of the brain'.) The role of the Art Object is perhaps simply to testify that Art has occurred in the making of it.
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    Mar 29 2011: William Golding on the Novel:

    "Boys do not evaluate a book. They divide books into categories. There are sexy books, war books, westerns, travel books, science fiction. A boy will accept anything from a section he knows rather than risk another sort. He has to have the label on the bottle to know it is the mixture as before. You must put his detective story in a green paperback or he may suffer the hardship of reading a book in which nobody is murdered at all; - I am thinking of the plodders, the amiable majority of us, not particularly intelligent or gifted; well-disposed, but left high and dry among a mass of undigested facts with their scraps of saleable technology. What chance has literature of competing with the defined categories of entertainment which are laid on for them at every hour of the day? I do not see how literature is to be for them anything but simple, repetitive and a stop-gap for when there are no westerns on the telly. They will have a far less brutish life than their Nineteenth-Century ancestors, no doubt. They will believe less and fear less. But just as bad money drives out good, so inferior culture drives out superior. With any capacity to make value judgements vitiated or undeveloped, what mass future is there, then, for poetry, for belles-lettres, for real fearlessness in the theatre, for the novel which tries to look at life anew - in a word, for intransigence?"
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    Mar 29 2011: Art according to Joseph Conrad:

    art was an attempt to render the highest justice to the visible universe: that it tried to find in that universe, in matter as well as in the facts of life, what was fundamental, enduring, essential. The writer's method of attaining the essential was different from that of the thinker or the scientist. These, said Conrad, knew the world by systematic examination. To begin with the artist had only himself; he descended within himself and in the lonely regions to which he descended, he found "the terms of his appeal". He appealed, said Conrad, "to that part of our being which is a gift, not an acquisition, to the capacity for delight and wonder... our sense of pity and pain, to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation - and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts... which binds together all humanity - the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."
  • Mar 28 2011: i totally say YES !
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    Mar 26 2011: Here are the winners of the Ads Worth Spreading initiative: http://www.ted.com/initiatives/aws
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    Mar 24 2011: Hafiz, I'm sure this will be a great debate!

    I hope you don't mind me cross referencing Harald Jazek's thread here. http://www.ted.com/conversations/1407/advertising_is_it_still.html

    For someone who hates nearly all advertising, so far, "Ads Worth Spreading" has prompted nothing but warm, fuzzy feelings all over. TED may have found a reasonable and responsible solution to our capitalistic dilemma.
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    Mar 24 2011: I definitely agree that TED deserves the benefit of the doubt. The two fundamental questions still remain though. How do we feel about art as industry and commodity? Secondly, in light of TED attempting to embark on a project of becoming the modern-day higher-learning institution, does the content it broadcasts (its curriculum) require justification in relation to its politics and economic values?
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      Mar 24 2011: Hi Hafiz, before trying to respond to your 1. question, please define "art" for me.
      As to your 2. question: I don't see that TED attempts to be a higher learning institution, but then, perhaps I missed something ?
      But regardless of that, I don't think the content requires any justification. TED has a very simple mission which is spreading ideas. It's up to each single person to interpret and use this ideas in whatever way he/she feels fit.
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        Mar 25 2011: Harald, firstly let me explain myself. I am not trying to villainize TED at all. In fact I have a lot of respect for the organization. I am however using the aws initiative as instigation for a much more complicated question. My question, is primarily exactly what you asked, what is art? It is impossible for me to answer that in light of what perceptions of art have become. Does art depend on being seen to exist? If so, then a certain industrialization of art has to take place, which means, that art is inherently supportive of an economic mantra through its very existence.

        Segwaying into the AWS, I think it conjures a very pertinent question, why are these ads worth spreading? In the about AWS video, the reason was because they are either fun, entertaining, thought-provoking, supportive of a cause, etc. Nonetheless, however, they are still advertisements (key word) that have been further pushed to a convoluted abstraction of content taking precedence over form on one layer, but on a second layer form taking precedence over content.

        I believe, that as TED further extends its brand, despite having a token position of having 'no road map' (see links below), this is definitely hard to believe, especially, as you said, they have to pay their bills at the end of the day. How does something like AWS relate to that. In the AWS video, it was said towards the end that the hope is for this to foster greater accountability on the part of advertisers (which relates to my previous comment). I think there should also be a level of accountability on the part of TED, in terms of the non-superficial/PR spin of why they do what they do. Again, obviously they don't owe this to anyone, however I think it is only fair. I think of a comparison to the Gates Foundation, which, having a massive endowment of private wealth, has the potential to shift policy of numerous countries, simply through the projects they fund. Yet they are accountable to no one.
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        Mar 25 2011: In regards to TED as a higher learning institution, Although they have not outright said this, they have alluded to it, and allowed people who frame them as such to get away with it (which is surprising as they are very particular about their brand). I don't necessarily think this view is realistic, but I do think it has credence, and like what I said earlier, should be explained. Particularly in the sense of where do they draw the line between "ideas worth spreading", "ads worth spreading" and "bills worth paying", "agendas worth pushing"?



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          Mar 25 2011: Hi Hafiz, I'll respond first to your second post and come back later to your first one.
          I think, as you say, imagining TED as a higher learning institution is not realistic. The reason is, that TED has no clear defined curriculum and no particular goal of teaching a specific topic.
          In addition, I see TED more as a place of "seeding" ideas. The simple fact that talks are not longer than 20 minutes means that any topic that is brought on can only be touched on very superficially. If these 20 minutes are wisely used, then the talk should be thought provoking and stimulate people into researching more about the particular topic. So TED is for me more like a nursery of ideas. than a teaching institution.
          About drawing the line, I think most people will understand that as a non profit, TED has to find a way to finance itself. Still, I think TED is doing a good job in focusing on what really matters......ideas worth spreading.
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    Mar 23 2011: I say yes. Supporting these ads are a way that the TED community can say thanks and pass along important messages in a world where the truly important fights for mindspace with tripe like actors and their meltdowns, pets in purses, and sobriety issues.
    I think TED deserves the benefit of the doubt as it finds its way.
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      Mar 25 2011: Debra, I agree that TED deserves the benefit of the doubt and as Harald says they are placing them in a way that is not annoying or pushy. I don't agree that AWS necessarily pass along important messages. The only thing I find value in the ads are the art of the ads. The creative ways in which a story is told. It's the shell of the ad that I enjoy, but the meat of them--the product, are often not inspiring or worth spreading in my opinion.
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        Mar 25 2011: You may have a point. What messages would you like to see the artful ads transmit, Adam?
        Would you agree that even as they are they have a more important message than Paris Hilton's purse dog?
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          Mar 25 2011: Debra, I would like to see ads that transmit actual "ideas worth spreading," instead of products like luxury cars. I'd like to see products that clearly contribute to the greater good.

          I don't know that as they are, they have a more important message than the product they are selling. Again, I can enjoy them as artistic creations that are well designed to invoke positive emotions in humans, but as you ask in your first question, what else can we do with this talent?
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          Mar 26 2011: I have done more research including investigating the initiative in more detail, and watched a lot more of the ads (winners and honorable mentions).

          Particularly enlightening for me was reviewing the judging criteria:

          Understanding this frame helps me understand the winners. I guess I just care the most about the ads that do a social good.
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        Mar 26 2011: Adam, I have to apologize. I clearly did not see the ads you did. I saw no luxury cars but rather an ad for protecting the lives of 12 year old girls so that they could grow up and start a virtuous cycle. Forgive me if I commented on something in ignorance and mislead anyone or endorsed what I do not believe in. I guess I spoke out of turn.
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          Mar 26 2011: And I hadn't seen the girleffect.org ad, so I too had a blind spot. This is exactly what I was hoping to see in ad. Artfully done to convey an altruistic idea/effort.
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        Mar 26 2011: I can't. I must have something confused, Revett. The ad worth spreading that I saw was about protecting young girls. I thought that these were the ads we were referring to in the ads worth spreading. I did not see any products at all. Now I am confused!
        I certainly would not have endorsed luxury cars. I am sorry if my confusion mislead anyone.
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        Mar 28 2011: I guess that I do support the use of artful advertising for good causes. If I am going to plug in an all my experience in psychology and an MBA in Marketing I think that it should be used for socially positive purposes like girls.org, or other causes.
        I am not sure the world needs anyone pushing the Rolex mindset any further than it has already been pushed.