Onion Talks Are a Parody Worth Spreading

The latest Onion sketch series parodies TED talks in a series they call Onion Talks, and the first is hilarious. Satirizing the hubris and grandiosity of TED speakers, the first takes a loudmouth 20-something talking about his idea for cars that run on compost…and that’s it. The New Yorker goes in depth behind the series:

The Onion’s latest webcast, to be aired Wednesdays at noon, comes as part of the satirical newspaper’s content partnership with YouTube, which will stream each new episode. Sam West, the head writer of the Onion Talks series, imagined it would be just like TED, “only instead of a good idea, it will be a ludicrous one.”

The staging and production of TED Talks are what give the series its distinctively smooth contours. As Heller wrote, “TED favors tight shots for sensitive moments—‘to gaze into the speaker’s eyes’—and to make an intimate frame for small Web-player screens. Most lectures begin with introductions, throat-clearings, and lame jokes, but TED prunes all that out.” Coughing, awkwardness, and blunders are removed and paved over with audience reactions and wide angles—the intimacy of inspiration, and the expanse of influence. These are the very characteristics that the Onion found ripe for lampooning. In particular, West said, “Some crazy percent of them end with standing ovations, and I think that sort of encapsulates it more than anything else, the self-importance of the talks.” The Onion’s team of five writers, and the actors who pontificate their way through three-minute performances, embody the TED brand of arrogantly benevolent wisdom.

But does an Onion parody mark the end of importance of TED talks?—TED may be running out of ideas anyway. Or does a parody signal the strength of the TED style? If we’re to believe a Prometheus cut scene, the presentation style TED has popularized will have a long-lasting impact in the way we appreciate ideas. Hopefully, these Onion parodies will put that admiration into a critical context.


The New Yorker

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