Christian Long

Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney: The Jill and Julia Show

In TED Talks on April 26, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Reflection by KYLE M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney:  The Jill and Julia Show

Perusing the comment section on Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney’s duet marks one of the few instances where I have fundamentally opposed the consensus regarding a TED video. While experiencing this splendid and cleverly composed musical numbers, I suspected other viewers would echo my sentiments and appreciate it as a delightfully scathing little piece.

It would appear I should have harbored much different expectations; much to my surprise, the section turned out to be startlingly critical. Its ubiquitous tone can be summarized by commenter Nikhil Vijayan’s proclamation that the video is “definitely not TED material.” To varying degrees of severity, this general assertion pops up countless times in the discussion, indicating that the majority of people were disappointed with the “fluffy” nature of the presentation.

At first glance, these complaints seemed to be perfectly valid, and one might assume they indeed are due to my evident decision to focus on them rather than any substantial content in the video itself. I (and I suspect the individual performers in question) would freely confess that Jill and Julia’s performance does not offer an abundance in the form of analytical material or table-upending suggestions; aside from a philosophical debate that could potentially arise from Miss Julia’s pointed commentary on a film called The Secret, the song does not directly present anything other than largely frivolous entertainment.

I would also never claim the video is even remotely on an intellectual par with the overwhelming bulk of presentations prevalent on TED’s website; as much as I chortled at the brilliant contrast between Jill’s elegant vocals and Julia’s scratchy ranting, every other talk I’ve witnessed thus far has proved to be far more productive for my cerebral juices.

Nevertheless, I think there’s a critical, two-fold misunderstanding on the commenters’ behalf.

Primarily, I see no reason to assume that TED’s sole function is to showcase merely profound dissertations on the universe and sweeping deconstructions of the human psyche. Of course, the organization’s slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, which is clearly not the focal point of the video, but as one commenter wisely pointed out: the “E” in TED does stand for entertainment.

Further, it is not as if ideas are completely devoid of a place in the song; for example, ruminations on the fallible nature of heroes are present in Jill’s lyrics. It’s nothing I would personally deem Earth-shattering, but such is a subjective value judgment on my part; clearly, the organizers at TED felt it was worth while, and pointing that out is not so much an appeal to authority as it is a recognition that just because I was not particularly enlightened does not mean the performance does not deserve a place at the conference. On the flip side, there are those that could find far more meaning in her words than in an exploration of societal evolution, and I’d hope this hypothetical individual wouldn’t suggest that such a talk would “have no place” at TED.

The other mistaken assumption I’ve perceived is that sitting through days of TED talks can not be a grueling and draining exercise. If I, as an attendee at TED, had just slogged through hours worth of heavy philosophizing and complex scientific reasoning, a slight dose of levity would likely be a welcome diversion. Essentially, one could think of Jill and Julia’s performance as court jesters entertaining a council of governing officials in the middle of a dire convening; it’s not exactly a flattering comparison, but as self-aware comedians, I’m sure the two entertainers would appreciate the analogy. Even, and perhaps especially, in the midst of grave discussion, a little light-hearted amusement has yet to prove detrimental.

While their musical skit may not aspire to skyscraping heights, perhaps that is the lesson one can gleam from the song: a bit of fun never hurt anyone. It’s not as awe-inspiring as one might expect from TED, but based on what I’ve observed from the video’s response, some might do well to take it to heart.


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