On February 28, 2012, a video titled “TED Conference, 2023” appeared on the website of the eponymous Canadian-American non-profit organization. The fake futuristic presentation was the start of a viral campaign to Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s upcoming attempt to revitalize the sci-fi horrors of the Alien franchise with a witty prequel. But the video turned out to be a strange premonition in itself.
Written by Prometheus co-writer Damon Lindelof and directed by Ridley’s son Luke Scott, the video featured Guy Pearce as a younger version of his character Peter Weyland, the film’s ostensible antagonist, delivering a defiant speech in front of a massive audience crammed into Wembley Stadium, with cameras floating and real-time reactions scrolling across a huge projection screen. Prior to PrometheusWeyland was the previously unseen (and long-deceased) founder of Weyland Industries, which would eventually become the unscrupulous mega-corporation Weyland-Yutani (aka “The Company”) first seen in the 1979 original. Extraterrestrial. But in “TED Conference, 2023,” Weyland is alive and well, a 32-year-old tech mogul and true industry titan at the peak of his wealth, youth, and power combined with clear musings on the future.
“Prometheus takes place in the future, but it’s a movie about ideas, and I just thought it would be really cool to have one of the characters in the movie give a TED talk,” Lindelof said in a Q&A interview posted on the TED blog alongside Peter Weyland’s Video. “Obviously, since the film is set in the distant future, it would have to be a bit more contemporary. But wouldn’t it be cool if it was a TED talk a decade in the future? And what will a TED Talk look like in 10 years? And what would this guy have to say?
Peter Weyland’s TED Talk is just one example of how the inexorable march of time has eclipsed the wildest predictions of speculative fiction. In 2023, the most interesting thing about the video, however, isn’t its thematic or narrative relationship to Prometheusbut how it stands as an inadvertent time capsule of a time in our collective culture when tech CEOs were, on the whole, held in far greater esteem.
To say that 2012 was a different time than 2023 is like saying that the moon is a different place from Earth. The first black president of the United States was re-elected; both natural and man-made disasters and crises, such as Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, have rocked the nation; And The Avengers became one of the highest-grossing films in history – a record that would be eclipsed several times over by Marvel itself over the next decade.
Do you remember when Iron Man met Elon Musk?
Picture: Marvel Studios
However, the most relevant milestone of that year, as far as the Prometheus The TED Talk video, is the rising popularity of Elon Musk, who debuted on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in March 2012 with a net worth of around $2 billion. From the late 2010s to the early 2010s, Musk was Silicon Valley’s golden boy, the “cool” billionaire who loved video games and rick and morty and inspired Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark in 2008 Iron Man. He was the man who wanted to take humanity to Mars by 2021, and the subject of countless glowing profiles and editorials written by the likes of Esquire, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and more proselytizing the “triumph of his will” and his status as the most eligible bachelor in tech.
In 2023, Elon Musk is Silicon Valley’s richest outcast, a man who was booed onstage during a comedy show and then took his bully pulpit atop the social media platform that he bought to crowdsource his self-esteem, saying, “Technically it was 90% cheers and 10% boos. A man believed to be one of the inspirations for Edward Norton’s character in the 2022 Rian Johnson murder mystery Glass Onion, a peacock tech billionaire with delusions of grandeur (and a possible penchant for murder). A man who posts cringe-worthy dad memes and conspiracy theories when he’s not busy
his own tweets, or live-streaming fart noises at 2 a.m.
Holy Shit. Elon Musk just popped into a Twitter Spaces chat with a bunch of journalists. He was called out by journalist Drew Harrell, who he banned, for lying about posting links to his private information, then leaves almost immediately after being pressed. Here is the exchange pic.twitter.com/wVA9Gb5MVJ— Karbon (@KarbonSays) December 16, 2022
Weyland attempts to escape death by confronting his creator in Prometheus
Image: 20th Century Studios
In 2012, Damon Lindelof imagined a character who was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, a multi-time billionaire who, in the then futuristic year of 2023, emerged from a blackout. media self-imposed three years to enthusiastic applause. before moving on to obtuse wax on Greek mythology, the history of human technology and the madness of institutional regulation. In the reality of 2023, we’re at the point where we’re practically begging one of the richest men in the world to log off and shut the fuck up.
Musk, as my colleague Susana Polo would say, is a man who “wants to do what he wants and, above all, […] wants to be worshiped for be the guy who can do whatever he wants.” He and the fictional Peter Weyland share a lot in common. As revealed in the final act of Prometheus, Peter Weyland financed the expedition of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) to the distant moon of LV-223 so that he could implore the Engineers – the advanced alien species believed to have created mankind and the Xenomorphs – for a cure for death so he could live forever. No spoilers, but… well, you can guess how well this plan turned out.
History (speculative or otherwise) aside, the Prometheus viral marketing campaign remains a fascinating touchstone of popular science fiction culture and Hollywood ephemera, with the most daring element of the campaign being the Peter Weyland TED Talk. It’s more than worth revisiting, if not to highlight how the representation of our collective tech CEO culture has or hasn’t evolved, then just to see Guy Pearce turn it into Weyland in all its vain glory.
Prometheus is available to stream on Hulu.
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