Has YouTube made the recycled talk even more ragged-assed?

Salon.com has a nice acount of Jonathan Franzen’s recent visit to Kenyon College, where he got away (kind of) with not being original. Here’s writer Wendy MacLeod:

Franzen admitted upfront that this would be a recycled talk, one that he hadn’t looked at since giving it at a conference in Germany a year ago. Would the audience, which consisted largely of students, be charmed by this slacker admission? In fact, a prim article appeared later that week in the college paper, gently reminding the reader of the Tenets of Public Speaking, the first of which was: Be prepared. If you are invited to speak in front of any group — from your local Girl Scout troop to a huge convention — consider it an honor. The article seemed to fault him, not for giving the same talk again, but for not having readied it.

His was not the first recycled talk to be given at Kenyon. Many have done it, and most have confessed to it. …

Franzen customized his opening by outing himself as a bird watcher, claiming to have just seen some special black vulture on the village’s water tower. …

The students later discovered that Franzen’s talk was already circulating on YouTube; he’d given a portion of it last fall at the National Book Festival. Instead of Germany, Franzen had begun by saying that he hadn’t looked at the talk since he’d given it in Seattle. He used the same kind of comic asides, pausing after a given sentence to announce that it would be rewritten. Or he’d say “good evening” and then correct it to “good morning,” in order to bring the audience into the joke of the recycled talk. I thought of something Anna Deavere Smith had written: “Public figures are so expert at … performance that they have a greater gift than actors for making what they have said before seem as though they are saying it for the first time.” The students pointed to this clip as evidence that they’d been had, and their mortification morphed into indignation. They began to speak of Franzen as if he were a freshman friendship that they were so over.

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