PowerPoint[update 3/8/2007] PowerPoint has been an artistic medium perhaps since David Byrne’s IEEE, but as more students grow up on PowerPoint, its place in our culture is becoming more and more dubious. Recently, several artists used PowerPoint to create PowerPoint Valentines, which parody the pervasive medium, by imagining lovers whispering sweet nothings with fly-on effects or delivering dear john letters on custom “bad news” templates. These stand-alone pieces raise the question: what is a slideshow without a presenter?


gates Bunk Magazine’s current issue features a set of PowerPoint Valentine cards in which a group of artists have tried to deliver the bullet points to loved ones famous and infamous. Some use the AutoContent Wizard for very personal messages. Others parody those who might use PowerPoint to deliver such messages. In all there is a sense of play between the impersonal form and the personal content. The joke is often on PowerPoint itself and its painful entrance and exit effects.

But Bunk is hardly the only site parodying PowerPoint or using it for humor. This Ph.D. comedian uses PowerPoint in his standup acts. No doubt many an office yukster will claim to have beat him to the punch (remember that crazy slide show on third quarter earnings from that guy in accounting). In another popular PowerPoint parody, animated charts spin out from each other in an associative blur.


Edward Tufte leveled one of the more effective critiques in his writings, particularly The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Along with other critiques, his attacks on Powerpoint Phluff and low or poor-content slide design have even helped bring about the death of PowerPoint’s AutoContent Wizard. In this tract, he highlights Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg Powerpoint elegantly satirizes the reductionist form. Later, John Raffensperger’s elegy would offer its rejoinder. Ian Parker’s New Yorker article offers many of the key arguments in the debate. And I would be remiss, given the parody spirit of this post, to omit a link to this Power(Point) Ballad.

Here PowerPoint is the object and means of critique of this form, as Norvig and Raffensperger demonstrate how much or little the medium can accomplish. Of course, Norvig is not critiquing PowerPoint so much as the abuse of PowerPoint. This is one of the forms of media-specific analysis and cross-media comparison. If one avenue is to explore the possibilities of media (as we do in Benchmark Fiction), another is to ridicule its limitations. Although I cannot help but feel that some of the parody of Norvig and others seeks to usurp the hegemony of PowerPoint over our darkened meeting rooms, to reveal what little there is behind the curtain. (Thanks to Liz Losh for her meditations here). We can be constructive in our media explorations and productively destructive, attempting to break through the limitations of conventional practice.

SlideShare: YouTube for PowerPoint

Thanks to slideshare.net, slides can now reach the Web 2.0 world of user created content with slideshare.net. Through this social site, you(tubers) can upload your latest PowerPoint (or other slideware) slides and share them with the world, who can, in turn, comment on, zing, and favorite your work.

At the moment slideshows find an online asynchronis (or de-temporializaed) venue, the medium further changes from one predicated on a live performance to a shared and circulated medium (always already) separated from the presenter in front of the audience. The viewer, clicking through slides, takes the place of the presenter (except in cases where PowerPoint presentations are recorded and narrated). The slideshow format had alrady been removed from an onstage presenter in the popular interface metaphor. Think of viewing your photographs as a “slideshow.” They become usually uni-linear stacks of cards for us to peruse or skim instead of the visual complement of an oral presentation.

On slideshare, many of the (popular) shows are merely other web content (like forwarded joke images) in a slideshow format. Some shows feature mini lessons on design or Web 2.0 topics. Others offer traditional lectures, such as this one on Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour” appear (possible an alternative to Sparknotes) or a chance to sit through that lecture you never saw. Angela Thomas has this wonderful slideshow on Avatars, which she has also included on her blog. There is also some poetic fiction, such as amorous slideshow (text-only). At slideshare we will see how genres of slideshows will emerge; however, we should first note that many of these presentations are merely using the medium as a (uni)sequential delivery form.

Below, Julian reminds us of slideshow karaoke, a practice which further removes the slides from their original presentation and treats them as a kind of score for a performance. In this practice, the participant must present a slideshow they have found on the internet. No doubt what makes these so amusing is their fumbling attempts to reconstruct a coherent script from the illustrations.

Though the Bunk slideshows are parodies, here are a few examples of sincerel slideware Valentines (via slideshare.net).

4 Responses to “A Valentine to PowerPoint ”

  1. 1 Julian

    I can’t believe you wrote this whole long post about Powerpoint without even mentioning Powerpoint Karaoke.

  2. 2 Mark Marino

    An omission well corrected, Julian! Thank you!

    [I also left out the many, many PowerPoint templates designed specifically with a Valentine’s Day theme, for those “Oh, so romantic” boardroom encounters. A quick search terns up more than you could dream!]

    So, to extend:
    Certainly, this phenomenon offers another transformation of the medium. What happens when one person’s PowerPoint becomes another person’s game? What happens when slideshows become hit singles?

    More interesting to me (on this theme of parody of PowerPoint) is the way the use of the term “karaoke” satirizes the slideshow’s status as complete “song,” as a finished — and presumably entertaining — performance that can be recreated in a depreciated form without notes or script– again calling attention to the use of the slides as the script. Moreover, the karaoke performance (given its playful context) is no doubt far more entertaining than the “original” presentation. The joke works against the backdrop of the bored-room experience and the interchangeability of presenter, content, and slides.

    I cannot wait for PowerPoint Idol to come to Youtube, if it hasn’t already!

  3. 3 Mark Marino

    Stephen Colbert’s “The Word” segment offers another example of PowerPoint humor (albeit one bullet-point at a time). Of course, the joke is that the accompanying text always provides the subtext or an ironic play on his spoken words and gestures.

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