Day: July 13, 2009

on redemption and horror


I don’t get Cormac McCarthy. I’ve just finished reading The Road and have watched (but not read) No Country For Old Men. And I just don’t get what all the fuss is about. They seem empty to me.

The critical acclaim quotes on the back of The Road talk about ‘redemption’, ‘humanity’ and ‘beauty’. Granted, the language is beautiful. He writes very very well. Apart, perhaps, from the over-use of the word sepulchre.

But in order to create fear, McCarthy has invented a world in which people eat people. In order to create loneliness, he has written about people who are some of the last people on earth. In order to redeem, he uses luck and fate. No matter what the characters experience, there is no growth, no change.

It’s not that I’m opposed to post-apocalyptic stories or that I find science fiction twee — Children of Men is my favourite film of all time and I avidly consume Bradbury, Asimov, and Le Guin. It’s just that the people in this post-apocalyptic, sci-fi vision were too narrowly cast. There were good guys and bad guys. The good guys were redeemed.

For my money, Tim Winton’s Breath or Paul Haggis’ Crash capture humanity’s capacity for horror and redemption much more powerfully.

presentation offences

I was at a very interesting conference last week with some exceptionally bright and engaging speakers. But, with one exception, their presentation slides were woeful.


So, starting with offence no. 1 today, I will post my top 10 Powerpoint-Pet-Peeves over the next 10 days, all of which featured during the conference:

1. Having more slides in your slide-deck than you actually speak to

As far as I can tell this can happen for two reasons — both of which disrespect your audience:

(a) You think you have to tell me everything.

This usually means I hear lots about the literature, your aims and your project method and you end up having to skip over the best bit — YOUR RESULTS. This is dumb.

Your results are your contribution. I want to know just enough about the literature and your aims to know that there’s a research gap and useful research question, and just enough about your method that I know your research design was valid. But what I really want to know is what you found and what implications that has for the way we think and act (in this case in the realm of social policy).

(b) You are using a set of slides you prepared for something else.

This is the result of a shameful apathy. If you haven’t even thought far enough ahead to delete the extraneous slides from your last presentation before giving this one you demonstrate just how little you care about the current presentation.

Maybe you think that the message you send when you flick past the slides that you don’t speak to is “I know lots more than I’ve got time to share with you today — respect my research prowess”. But all I hear when I sit in the audience is “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to tell you today until I stood up here with my standard set of slides that I use for everything — I only have one presentation and I give it all the time”.