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.”