Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Oddly Ignored Culture War

We’ve been fixated on the red vs. blue culture wars for a long while now, but one of the underrated culture wars is Apple vs. Microsoft, specifically, in the mysteries of the whole thing. While I’m sure we can pretty much figure out the whole red-blue divide, in the different sensibilities and what-have-you, the Apple-PC venom is odd, really. For one, it’s more unidirectional than anything else; Apple people are more evangelistic than venomous, while PC people are mostly just venomous. Really, just look at any comment thread about the iPad (and yes, I’m quite aware of the folly of using internet commentary threads to represent everyone, but me and my friends engage in the same kind of activity everyday, if a little less linguistically rich), specifically this one for the depth of the venom:
You cannot ask for a more preordained perfect combination than the Ipad & vanity. What could be more appropriate, than another wait on line in wind and rain have to have to feel good about yourself Apple device designed to appeal to vanity at the core of its merchandising? To be glancing at one's own happy reflection, while playing with your first on the block to get to impress everyone who is watching this hottest of new toys, is the perfect synergy of production vanity with the consumer variety. It's the latest in a series of must haves for the advertised into total subliminal dependence for happiness set. And being a television watching newspaper reader internet news junkie myself, I too am not being totally immunized against I-product mania. Just look at the name I- (insert various apple products which have long proven more popular than jesus). Tell me that this company is not built on vanity. It's all about I- can easily be read as (me). I cannot truly decide if I am jealous and wanna have mine too, or if it is really bringing out the inner Luddite. Vanity thy name is Apple. Eve bit the Apple, way back when, and just look at what happened since then.
I think this is something like the perfect anti-Apple quotation, combining all the elements: Apple customers are vain yuppies who buy overpriced gadgets to feel good about themselves. Like any good polemic, it has some elements of truth: the Apple demographic is upscale and doesn’t mind paying higher prices. Where PC people see the empty vanity of forever chasing the newest hot device, an Apple customer justifies the purchase as embodying an appreciation of design, of craftsmanship and a superior customer experience. Like all good culture wars, the division here is mostly qualitative and therefore cannot be resolved (except: Apple fans are right.). Given that I’m typing this on a MacBook, and given that I’ve used Apple products approximately my entire life—I owned the first generation iPod, which either makes me an a) hip early adopter or b) a sucker—you know which position I take.

This debate might look like a red vs. blue debate in disguise (or a bobo/yuppie v. everyone else—David Brooks’s Bobos In Paradise describes this well and why yuppie/bobo and Apple is a marriage that will forever stand strong.), but it’s not. Because your average PC zealot shares many of the same characteristics: being well-informed (though wrong) about the differences between Apple and PC, it’s likely that your average PC zealot (as distinct from your average computer user, who genuinely doesn’t give a shit) has a high disposable income and is him- or herself a gadget freak. Which is to say your average PC zealot is a yuppie endlessly chasing the next neat gadget. Which is to say that the Apple-PC battle is less a Manichean battle between dramatically different sensibilities (e.g. Red-Blue culture war, Celtics-Lakers (80’s), Sopranos-The Wire, Leno-Conan-Letterman, Spurs-Suns, Kobe-Shaq, Kobe-LeBron-Durant, Yankees-Red Sox, White Sox-Cubs, World War II, etc.) than a civil war between competing branches of the same family (e.g. World War I, Star Wars-Star Trek, Wars of the Roses etc. etc.). Which makes that culture war simultaneously odder and more interesting.

Ultimately, being a partisan in the debate, I’m unable to resolve it in an objective way other than to suggest that those Windoze jackasses had better shape up and learn to understand the other side. But this seems unnecessarily harsh. At any rate, those guys seem to get rather heated over their espousing of low prices and their anger about our wanting to indulge our vanity or what-have-you. Apparently our mistakes really rub them the wrong way, which is odd since it in no way affects their welfare. But cultural wars have flared up over less. Probably the answer lies in Steve Jobs and his aura: the presentation of Apple as a way to “Think Different” and so on—so cool! so hip! And those PC people dislike the implication that they’re lame and uncool. So they lash out against the product. I understand: I hate hype as much as the next guy. But of course the entire thing is purposeful, and listening to Apple about how cool Apple users are is like listening to Axe tell you how many girls you’ll get to tackle you if you use Axe. You don’t want to be susceptible to that media manipulation; that’s just letting Apple and Axe win. And you don’t want to be the kind of jackass who uses Axe, now do you?

No comments:

Post a Comment