Aspen Ideas Festival: What you really need to know this week

David Meyer
Special to the Aspen Times Weekly

For the uninitiated, The Aspen Ideas Festival can feel a bit daunting.

Spanning 10 days with hundreds of events, lectures, panel discussions and film screenings on subjects ranging from guns, race, prisons, immigration, opioids, health care, the environment, technology and globalization to trending issues like #NeverTrump, #MeToo and #KanyeWest, one wonders if there ought to be an Ideas Festival panel discussion on how to schedule your Ideas Festival panel discussions.

A helpful tip, for locals and summer visitors alike, is that almost everything is scheduled either early a.m., over lunch or after work, so you can build your own little mini-fest that fits to your schedule.

“I tell people a good thing to do is just pick a time slot, say 12 p.m., and see what’s going on,” says Killeen Brettmann, managing director of public programs for the Aspen Ideas Festival. “We really want the local community to take advantage of this incredible lineup and come to as much as you can. If you live downvalley, get a baby-sitter and make a night of it.”

If you’re having trouble getting started we broke out a few zeitgeist-y topics that seem to touch on all the urgent issues of the day:

Who’s Afraid of Social Media? Everyone.

• “Tech’s Immediate and Existential Threat to Humanity” (6/27 • noon)

• “Social Media Versus American Democracy” with Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic and Jeff Rosen at the National Constitution Center (6/25 • noon)

• The CEO of Reddit discusses with Katie Couric how and why his site is the most human place on the internet. (6/28 • noon)

• “His and Hers: A Gender Informed Guide to Friendship” with author Deborah Tannen deep-dives into the world of modern friendships, how they differ between genders and hopefully explains why that guy ghosted me last month. (6/26 • 7:50 a.m.)

• Check out all of the Intelligence Squared events which are set up in a debate format with audience participation. There will be a rigorous debate about social media at the “Social Media Is Good for Democracy” live-taping. (6/26 • 5:30 p.m.)

• Come see the two 20-year-old wunderkinds at Berkeley who appear to have solved/mitigated the “bot” problem, which accounts for 66 percent of all Tweets. (“Keeping Bots in Check” 6/28 • 5:30 p.m.)

#MeToo: It hasn’t even been a year since the Weinstein allegations broke last October, so, what now?

• Something tells us that Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose will be skipping “After #MeToo: The Way Forward for Women in the Media” with a group of leading female journalists including Katie Couric. (6/28 • 8:30 p.m.)

• Bring your husband and/or bribe your teenage son(s) to attend, “Redefining Masculinity,” (6/23 • 7:30 p.m.)

• “Good Feminist, Bad Feminist” asks, “is anyone doing it right?” (6/25 • 8:30 p.m.)

• There is a screening of HBO’s, “The Tale” (staring Laura Dern) which is a haunting look not only at sexual abuse, but how our memories can deceive us. Writer and director Jennifer Fox is hosting a Q&A after the screening. (6/23 • 7:30 p.m.)

• Learn about the surge of women in American politics (“Who Runs the World?” 6/26 • noon) and/or “Women Becoming Leaders: Why It Matters,” (6/29 • 8:50 a.m.)

•“Has Modern American Feminism Failed Us?” (6/29 • 5:30 p.m.)

Global Warming and … Arks?

• “We Have the Technology to End Global Warming,” (6/26 • 8:30 p.m.)

• “Our Planet, Our Health,” is a conversation with Todd Stern who was the U.S.’ lead negotiator at the Paris Climate Accord. He’ll recount how it came together and what the pull-out will mean. (6/23 • noon)

• National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore is on a mission to photograph every animal species in human care — he’s up to 8,000 animals. Sartore is at the helm of a conservation effort of its own kind. (“The Photo Ark,” 6/28 • 8:30 p.m.)

• Another ark-themed talk: There is an island nation in the Pacific that is about to be swallowed whole by the sea. Four thousand years of culture and 100,000 people will be wiped out. (“Anote’s Ark,” film and discussion, 6/24 • 7:30 p.m.)

• “Bayou Breakdown: The Incredible Urgency of Coastal Restoration,” (6/26 • 7:50 a.m.)

• Keeling Curve Prize Awards for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. (6/29 • 5 p.m.)

Come On, Get Happy

• Yale professor Laurie Santos is easily the hottest thing in academia right now. Her course, “Psychology and the Good Life” is like the “Hamilton” of college courses. It was last month’s New York Magazine’s cover story. (6/28 • 7:50 a.m.)

• The mayor of Boulder seems to have hacked happiness as her city earned top ranking on the National Geographic Happiest Cities list. (“Where in the World is Happiness,” 6/23 • 8 a.m.)

• Silicon Valley wants to outsource our emotional needs with AI in “Artificial Intimacy: How to Solve Loneliness in a Data-Driven World.” (6/29 • 8:30 p.m.)

• The new president of the Aspen Institute, Dan Porterfield, is part of a panel on mental health at college. (“Report Card: How Do Colleges Score on Student Health Needs,” 6/22 • 8:30 p.m.)

Don’t Overlook These

It’s only natural to gravitate toward the famous names and familiar topics, but something quite unique to the festival is that you can wander into something you know nothing about. Kitty Boone, vice president and managing director, adds, “We always recommend to pick something that you don’t know anything about. Challenge yourself to learn something new and you won’t be disappointed.”

• Art meets social change meets freedom of speech in this Town Hall discussion, “Town Hall: Freedom of Speech, Creative Expression and Democracy” with Paula Crown, Eric Gottesman, Tanya Selvaratnam, Hank Willis Thomas and Dan Moulthrop. (6/24 • 7:30 p.m.)

• After the town hall pop over to the Jerome Ballroom for “Selected Shorts: Lovers and Strangers,” a live performance of the popular public radio series featuring a selection of short stories. (6/24 • 8:30 p.m.)

• Open your laptop and Google, “306 Hollywood trailer.” You won’t be disappointed. (Screening and talk, 6/25 • 7:30 p.m.)

• We are all guilty of this. “Can Americans resist the pull of tribalism?” (6/29 • 7:50 a.m.)

• The CEO of Patagonia is giving a talk about how activism can be extremely good for the bottom line. (6/26 • 5:30 p.m.)

• Bill Maher’s hero, the very controversial Jordan Peterson reports from “The Barricades of the Culture Wars.” (6/26 • 8:30 p.m.)

• The governor of Montana and the governor of Colorado are speaking about the state of State Health. (6/22 • noon)

• “Yeethoven: How Kanye West and Beethoven Collide,” compares these two artists — both controversial, both toeing the line of sanity. An 11-piece classical ensemble will illustrate. This concert brought down Alice Tully Hall last January. (6/27 • 8:30 p.m.)

• Maybe wear a disguise and leave your cellphones at home if you attend “No Such Agency: The NSA Explained.” A senior official is going to let us peak behind the agency curtain. (6/29 • noon)

• If you really want to get into the belly of the beast, check out Christian Picciolini, a reformed neo-Nazi who was one of the America’s first skinhead leaders (“Free Radical” 6/29 • 5:30 p.m.) or see “Of Fathers and Sons,” and watch two little boys grow up in a radical Islamist family in Syria. (6/29 • 7:30 p.m.)

• “The Sentence” captivated Sundance audiences (as well as HBO execs who snatched it up.) First-time director Rudy Valdez looks at the aftermath of his sister’s incarceration, examining the consequences of mandatory minimum sentencing. They will both be in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. (6/27 • 7:30 p.m.)


What is the Ideas Festival?

The Ideas Festival is The Aspen Institute’s annual conference hosted here in Aspen from June 21 to 30. It’s a curated mixture of panel discussions, lectures and film screenings divided into three parts: Spotlight Health, Ideas Fest 1 and Ideas Fest 2. Each part is further divided into “tracks” which are just topics or categories.

If I don’t have a pass, am I still a good person?

Yes, you are! It is a little intimidating over on campus with the intense security and everyone vying for a lunch seat between David Brooks and Barbara Streisand; however, a lot of the marquee events are open to the public and located in town at the Jerome, The St. Regis, The Wheeler and Belly Up.

Where can I find the full schedule of public events and where do I buy tickets? for the schedule. Go to to buy the tickets or you can buy in person (and save on the processing fee) at the Wheeler Opera House.

What about this Millennial Pass?

Get a pass for $75 if you’re a local between 18 and 35 at or at the Wheeler Box Office. There are student passes available, as well.

Can I ask Katie Couric for an autograph?

Ehh … perhaps have a copy of her book ready for signing at all times, including on hikes. Last year, Katie saved me and my friends from getting caught in massive rainstorm on Cathedral Lake.