On February 28, 2012, a video titled “TED Conference, 2023” appeared on the website of the US-Canadian nonprofit organization of the same name. The spoofed, futuristic presentation was the start of a viral campaign for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s then-upcoming attempt to revive the sci-fi horrors of the Alien franchise with a high-level prequel. But the video turned out to be a weird premonition in itself.
Written by Prometheus co-writer Damon Lindelof and directed by Ridley’s son Luke Scott, Guy Pearce starred as a younger version of his character Peter Weyland, the film’s apparent antagonist, who delivered a defiant speech to a huge crowd at Wembley Stadium, with floating cameras and real-time reactions scrolling across a huge projection screen. For PrometheusWeyland was the previously unseen (and long-deceased) founder of Weyland Industrieswhich would eventually become the unscrupulous mega-corporation Weyland-Yutani (aka “The Company”) first glimpsed in the original 1979 Alien. But in “TED Conference, 2023,” Weyland is alive and well, a 32-year-old tech tycoon and a true titan of the industry at the top of his combined wealth, youth, and power with clear thoughts about 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 from the movie give a TED Talk,” Lindelof said in a Question and answer interview published on TED’s blog alongside the Peter Weyland video. “Because the film is set in the distant future, it should of course be a bit more contemporary. But wouldn’t it be cool if it was a TED talk from a decade in the future? And what will a TED Talk look like in 10 years? And what would this man have to say?”
Peter Weyland’s TED Talk is just one example of how the inexorable progression of time has eclipsed the wildest prophecies of speculative fiction. In 2023, however, the most interesting thing about video is not its thematic or narrative relationship with it Prometheusbut how it stands as an inadvertent time capsule of a moment in our collective culture when tech CEOs as a whole were held in much higher esteem.
To say that 2012 was a different time than 2023 is tantamount to saying that the Moon is a different place than the Earth. The first black president of the United States was re-elected; disasters and crises, both natural and man-made, such as Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, shook the nation; And The Avengers became one of the highest-grossing films in history – a record that would be eclipsed several times over the next decade by Marvel itself.
The most relevant milestone of that year, however, when it comes to the Prometheus TED Talk video, is the rising popularity of Elon Musk, who in March 2012 debuted on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires with a net worth of around $2 billion. In the late 1980s to early 2010s, Musk was the golden boy of Silicon Valley, 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 2021and the subject of countless glowing profiles and op-eds written by the likes of Esquire, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and more that highlight the “triumph of his willand his status as techs most eligible bachelor.
In 2023, Elon Musk will be Silicon Valley’s richest pariah, a man who was booed on stage at a comedy show and then went to his bully’s pulpit atop the social media platform he bought to crowdsource his self-esteem, stating, “Technically, it was 90% cheers and 10% boos.” A man suspected of being one of the inspirations behind Edward Norton’s character in Rian Johnson’s 2022 murder mystery Glass onion, a peacocking tech billionaire with delusions of grandeur (and a possible penchant for murder). A man who posts cringe-inducing daddy memes and dog whistle conspiracy theories when he’s not busy banning and evading journalists, boosting his own tweetsor live streaming fart sounds at 2 o’clock
In 2012, Damon Lindelof imagined a character who was one of the world’s richest and most powerful men, multi-billionaire, emerging from a self-imposed three-year media blackout in the then-futuristic year 2023 to thunderous applause. before getting stupid about Greek mythology, the history of human technology and the folly of institutional regulation. In the reality of 2023, we’re on the verge of almost begging one of the world’s richest men to please log off and shut the fuck up.
Musk, as my colleague Susana Polo would put it, is a man who “wants to do what he wants, and, crucially (…) to be worshiped for be the man who can do what he wants.” Both he and the fictional Peter Weyland have so much in common. As revealed in the final act of PrometheusPeter Weyland financed Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) expedition to the distant moon of LV-223 so that he could defeat the Engineers – the advanced alien species believed to have destroyed humanity and the Xenomorphs created – for a cure for death, so that he might live forever. No spoilers, but… Well, you can guess how well that plan worked out.
History (speculative or otherwise) aside, the Prometheus The viral marketing campaign remains a fascinating touchstone of sci-fi popular 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 clarify how our collective culture may or may not have evolved tech CEOs, it’s just to see Guy Pearce play as Weyland in all his glorious glory.
Prometheus is available to stream on Hulu.