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The Order of Oddfish

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Shelly Tan’s Chatterbox and the NED Talks

December 12, 2011

We’ve seen Shelly Tan’s great fan art for The Order of Odd-Fish before (check it out here) and even her fan art for my work-in-progress The Magnificent Moots (she was one of my writing students and I read the first two chapters aloud to the class; you can see her terrifying squid-worms and dragon-wasps from the book here). Now Shelly has come back with one of her best pieces yet, above―the pernicious centipede journalist Chatterbox, resplendent in his exquisitely tailored “fifteen-piece” suit.

I love it! Especially all the different “business” Shelly has for his palps―grasping his hat in mid-doff, fiddling with his cane, angling in akimbo skepticism, etc. In the lower left hand corner, Shelly notes, “Those brown curvy things near his face are actually a first pair of legs that Nature has modified into a pair of poison fangs. Yes, poison fangs. Awesome, No? (All centipedes have them. And some centipedes eat roach babies. Just a heads-up.)” Whaaaat! So there is a natural animosity between centipedes and cockroaches that I coincidentally alluded to with Odd-Fish‘s rivalry between Chatterbox and Sefino? Perhaps I was drawing upon some great collective unconscious of entomological lore. Great work, Shelly! Check out all of her work on DeviantArt here.

Have you heard of the TED Talks? “TED” stands for “Technology, Entertainment, and Design.” Their slogan is “Ideas worth spreading” and it’s a series of talks by smarty-pants people about topics like using video to reinvent education or new insights in brain imaging or counterintuitive statistics about developing countries. At their best, the TED Talks are illuminating and entertaining; but on their off days, there’s a mockable tendency towards naive techno-utopianism, cockamamie schemes for “changing the world,” and a self-satisfaction in the speakers and audience in how smart they are.

Enter the NED Talks of Chicago. Their motto? “Spreading worthless ideas.” It’s ballyhooed as “TED’s idiot brother” and it’s the brainchild of why-aren’t-they-millionaires-yet Chicago comedians Seth Dodson and Kellen Alexander. (The hilarious Seth was my co-host for the Chicago screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival).

So last night I did a NED Talk at the Hideout (about the 90-Second Newbery, actually), along with other hilarious presenters Steve Waltien, Christina Boucher, Ross Bryant, and Grace Tran. It was a lot of fun! Someone was videotaping it, but the video isn’t online yet. However, I did find a video of one of the older NED Talks.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the Platonic ideal of all NED Talks―adroitly skewering the preening vocal style of the presenters, Wired-magazine faith in technology, and condescension to developing countries (essentially, a sandbox where Silicon Valley philanthropists can try out their Innovative Ideas), etc. The talk is by Daniel Kibblesmith, speaking here as “Miami Volt,” about his new nonprofit “Level-Up”―a way to help Third World countries through the power of video games. “We all know that you can save the world in video games. But can video games help save the world?”

Brilliant. To learn more about the NED Talks, here’s a story in the Chicago Tribune that also has an interview with Seth and Kellen. An idea whose time has come!