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: 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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