The Onion parodies TED Talks

In an article that I linked to some time ago, Alex Pareene describes TED talks as a “Massive, Money-Soaked Orgy of Self-Congratulatory Futurism” and recounts its history and describes the typical talk:

The model for your standard TED talk is a late-period Malcolm Gladwell book chapter. Common tropes include:

Drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems.
Technologically utopian solutions to said complex problems.
Unconventional (and unconvincing) explanations of the origins of said complex problems.
Staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights.

What’s most important is a sort of genial feel-good sense that everything will be OK, thanks in large part to the brilliance and beneficence of TED conference attendees.

The TED talks have reached such a level of preening, self-congratulatory, self-importance that they are ripe for parody and The Onion duly fills the need. As Betsy Morais says, the head writer of the parody series Sam West envisaged it as being just like TED except “only instead of a good idea, it will be a ludicrous one” and they have carefully included all the slick production techniques that TED uses to give the talks a sense of great import.

Here is the first Onion talk, on compost-fueled cars.

There are other Onion talks, such as one on how loudness equals power, ducks go quack, the biggest rock, and using social media to cover lack of original thought.

West says that, “We actually reached out to TED to see if they were interested in collaborating with us. But when they saw what we were up to, they didn’t really think it was an idea worth spreading.”


  1. machintelligence says

    What a great parody! It truly illustrates that nothing is impossible for the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.
    BTW With compost fueled cars, the air pollution might be a bit ripe, but that is the price of progress.

  2. Compuholic says

    Massive, Money-Soaked Orgy of Self-Congratulatory Futurism

    Absolutely spot on. I really like the concept of TED talks itself. And there are a lot of really interesting and good talks out there. But there is also a vast amount of talks where the speakers don’t really have anything to say but are extremely full of themselves.

    Then there are also the people who pat themselves on the back that they singlehandedly solved humanities biggest problems when they actually contributed very little.

    And I have had the impression for a while that the percentage of people who actually have something worthwhile to say has been declining.

  3. says

    I stopped watching Ted Talks when they had a woman on who *gasp* discovered you could buy outfits at secondhand clothing stores. The guy who said you could use fewer paper towels by shaking your wet hands rapidly, first, was another eye roll moment.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a few ted talks that weren’t completely laughable but they were far more forgettable, since I can’t recall a single one.

  4. eigenperson says

    Come on, the paper towel talk was amazing. He obviously understood how ridiculous it was and had a lot of fun with it.

    Plus, even if it is obvious, you can actually use that method to save paper towels. The median TED talk is full of semi-original faux profundity but won’t save even one paper towel.

  5. Tim says

    Whew. Good to know that others loathe TED talks as well. Nothing turns my stomach more these days than when someone at a social gathering says, “I saw this cool TED Talks video …”

    I thought that the Onion’s “Ducks Go Quack” video captured the phenomena exactly.

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