Oh my goodness, what warm baths are these new Apple adverts! With candles and incense! Is that harp music I hear?
Does Apple have no shame?
Apple is not the first company to take itself too seriously, of course. And it is no stranger to over-the-top ads, but they’ve always seemed disciplined somehow, by humor or irony or some such. But this latest wave of ads is way too much. I wonder: Is this because Jobs is gone? That dear man knew that restraint is a virtue that carries a high rating. Has his strict minimalist approach kept this nonsense at bay all these years?
The above ad came on during a Braves game a few nights ago. It made me think, as so many things in this life do, of Walker Percy. For those who don’t know, Percy was a Southern writer with a wry view of life. The theme that runs through all his work is the displacement of the self in an increasingly technological age. (He died in 1990. I often wonder what he would have to say to us about the Internet.)
Perhaps his strangest book is Lost in the Cosmos. In it, in contrast to his novels, he treats his theme directly. He says that we each have a self. Further, he says this self must be conceived and located. Doing so successfully is one of our major tasks as human beings. Traditionally, religion has made this possible: totemism (Aleut Indian: “I am Bear”); Eastern pantheism (Hindu: “I am Atman, which is Brahman”); theism (Christian: “I am a self with you under God, both created in God’s image”). In all three cases, the self is reconciled to the world by being located relative to it, and this location defines and eases the self’s interactions with the world and with other selves.
We have a need for identities, is the terribly simple point.
But, Percy writes, “in a post-religious technological society, these traditional resources of the self are no longer available.” What alternatives do we have? Mainly, to just be in the world, Percy says, immanent and inherent to it. But how to do this? There are two extremes:
On one extreme is Homer Simpson: “the compliant role-player and consumer and holder of a meaningless job… the anonymous one in a mass society.” This one pretty much reacts mechanically without thought or understanding to the automatic forces of the society in which s/he is immersed: “the backfence gossip or the Archie Bunker beer-drinking TV-watcher.”
At the other is found what Percy calls “the autonomous self, who is savvy to all the techniques of society and appropriates them according to his or her discriminating tastes, whether it be consciousness-raising, consumer advocacy, political activism liberal or conservative, saving whales, TM, creative cooking, moving out to country, moving back to central city, etc.”
With this one I always think of The Most Interesting Man in the World from those (hilarious) Dos Equis ads. He appropriates the world to himself and never makes a wrong choice: “He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.” He is a man of the world: “He speaks French — in Russian.” He has the best of everything: “Cuba imports cigars from him.” He knows when to say no: “He has never filled up on chips.”
The thing about this Apple ad is: It suggests that buying an iPhone makes you the Most Interesting Man in the World, when the truth is it makes you Homer Simpson. You feel as if you have truly discriminating taste to select such a fine piece of technology but you’re just reacting automatically to this feeling, this urge to be saved, post-religion, by anything, anything at all. You’re being manipulated, plain and simple. It’s not new to advertising, which is probably the deadliest (legal) industry in America, but rarely is it this silly or this obvious. These ads are so bad I can hardly believe they’ll work.
(BTW, in Percy’s view there’s not much difference between the extremes: both Homer and the Most Interesting Man in the World are drowning in the immediate and the immanent, fully in it and of it, “sunk in everydayness.” That one has better taste is neither here nor there. D’oh!)
I am typing this on a MacBook and I have an iPhone in my pocket. But these ads, along with that nice roomy Microsoft outlet at Lenox Square, make me wonder how long I’ll be sticking with technology “Designed by Apple in California.”