Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Apple cult. Why it is the way it is

The Daily Telegraph have, momentarily, abandoned their Apple-enthusiasm and published an article on the ridiculousness of Apple-fandom. One feels a curious sensation of deja vu about this: the huge surge in popularity of a name or brand which can do no wrong, followed in time by a flagging of interest, and then eventually the doubters and complainers become more numerous - the obvious flaws become more apparent.

I've been one of the doubters for about 5 years, entirely coincidentally that is since just before the iPhone came out. I had my first taste of Apple zealotry from some people I was working for - truly nice people, but who behaved like unpaid volunteer advertisers for a product, as though they were promoting a way of life. Now I'm well aware that associating your product with a way of life is a standard advertising/PR strategy. And I think this goes a long way to explain the particular strain of snobbery surrounding Apple.

Let me explain. Part of the image we've been given to associate with Apple is this elitist image, there are two facets to this that I'll talk about: firstly, that they attempt to appeal to those who 'think outside the box', and secondly the idea that Apple products are for creative types.

On the first point, I remember finding out about cold-reading, part of a group of methods that confidence tricksters, fortune-tellers, mediums and sometimes salesmen, use. Basically the trick is - when you meet someone you've never met before - to say things about them that apply to many people, but sound very personal. One particular sentence that is often used is to say "you like to be accepted by the crowd, but at the same time you feel you are a little bit different, and think differently from the herd"

This is brilliant because it applies to every single one of us. I think it about myself, you think it about your self, We all do ('I don't' says a voice). It's incredibly common to self-justify in this way and people who are trying to persuade you to do or think something have known this a loooooong time. So saying that your product is for people who "think outside the box" is a very old trick in advertising.

Secondly, it's asking for trouble to try to appeal to creative types, or people's hidden creative side. I live in the UK and I've seen pathetically tiny amounts of the class snobbery that people associate with us. But that's not to say I've never seen snobbery here. Snobbery is alive and well in the UK, in fact it's rampant. In Music. And I strongly suspect in Art and Literature circles, and probably in theatre and film too. It is hard to credit the posturing, toadying and clique-culture that exists in these social circles. Seeing oneself as 'creative' seems to be inextricably linked with a strong tendency to ego-gratifying self-image. Not universally, but it happens a lot. People who wouldn't be like this normally are sucked into this mode of behaviour just so that they can exist and hopefully prosper in musical circles.

So there you have my thesis, perhaps not a new one: advertising techniques and cultures which emphasise that you are creative or "thinking outside the box" are in great danger of encouraging snobbery. I think that's what's happened with some Apple aficionados. There is a certain irony in hundreds of people who think they are different and special, but as in the link I gave above, Monty Python captured that pretty well for us already.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Celebrating an ex-PM's death? Really?

So the big story in the UK media today, it seems, is not Andy Murray winning the US Open (congratulations to him, btw) but the printing of T-shirts - for sale at the TUC conference - celebrating Lady Margaret Thatcher's anticipated demise. The messages on the T shirts include "Hey ho the witch is dead".

The story was most read on the BBC website for a while, and attracted over a 1000 comments in a few hours on the Telegraph website. But there's little more to say. It does, I suppose, look like more nastiness from the Left - the self-professed nice people in politics.

But what are we to make of the level of hatred and the standards of behaviour? Do we want to live in a country where it is acceptable to celebrate the death of another? It was bad enough when the tabloids crowed over Myra Hindley's passing - it is a hundred times worse in this case, to say this about someone who devoted her life to serving her country. Yes someone who made some mistakes - unlike the rest of us no doubt...

It is a sign of civilization to maintain the best standards of behaviour you can during political debate - the most divisive, passionate area of discussion there is. Those of us debating can get angry precisely because we become so involved in the issues. But the point is that we're arguing so we can attain a more civilized society (aren't we?) So if we can't behave like compassionate human beings then I would like to know what the point is of listening to fine words spoken by politicians, or indeed debating anything.

I imagine TUC leaders may get quite pompous over the course of the conference (will they condemn these Tshirts? Have the Labour party done so?) But I don't know what these fools, or any other bunch of fools, can do with a country full of people who think it's acceptable to celebrate the long, undignified death of another human being.