Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the launch of this year’s new Apple products
The week before last in south-east Michigan, employees gathered for a photo opportunity at Ford’s Flat Rock plant. Two dozen or so workers posed in their high-vis with the first production Mustang ‘15 — a model now in continuous production for a full half-century. It was kind of a big deal for this pony, now available to a global market. For the first time, right-hand drive models will come off the line, and local hopes are high that a third shift can be added at the factory. Ford marked the make-or-break occasion with commemorative T-shirts.
Yesterday in California, another much-loved American product was greeted with quite a bit more polish, a TMZ-worth of celebrity interest and no T-shirts. Shiny as a muscle car and lightweight as the press it generally inspires, the new Apple iPhone emerged to screams by adult humans.
A room of putative journalists went properly mental for Apple CEO Tim Cook. Styled to an Orlando Bloom standard of creative weekend casual, Cook and his untucked shirt gave The World a new iPhone and went on to announce the arrival of the Apple Watch. This will relieve us all of the burden of picking up our smartphones. He also announced Apple Pay, which will relieve us all of the burden of picking up our credit cards. (We’ll pick up our smartphones instead.)
To be fair, the Apple Watch has a screen that zooms like a Mustang and looks freaking awesome — what Dick Tracy might have worn had he known about Retina Display and Milanese leatherwork. That Apple designs and commissions the manufacture of great products is not in question. But so little Apple does do is in question. From patent warfare to monopolistic app tantrums to tax practice as questionable as Bono’s to its use of minerals and labour borne of conflict — Apple gets a free pass. This is partially due to the unhealthy parenting by the persuasive Apple PR department of idiot journalists whose emotional incontinence at Cupertino “events” makes toddlers at a Wiggles gig seem sober. It’s also partially due to the release of Mustang-quality tech muscle. This may also be due to a need in the culture to believe in good companies.
It’s not just a case of Apple telling journalists what to believe, who then tell us what to believe. Apple product releases are big news because we consumers seem to want them to be. Tech and news sites experience extraordinary surges in traffic every time they are able to report that someone in Cupertino has broken wind and/or offered mild improvement to an Android innovation. After watching the vision of yesterday’s revival meeting, I am unable to believe that all journalists assembled were able to maintain the naive faith in Apple their religious rimjobs ostensibly declare. While it is certainly true that younger news professionals may be more often obliged these days to reword PR, it is still true that they are trained as cynics. Few media professionals can hear “change the world” 17 times, sit downwind of Dr Oz and watch Bono finger-kiss a CEO without thinking that something is a little bit Jonestown here.
“The Ford Motor Company was for many years as Apple Inc. is now: America’s most valuable and best super-citizen.”
What has perhaps occurred is that America’s industrial pride — and so the pride of the Western world — has shifted across the decades from the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley. The sentiments of a nation that once were stirred by love for little towns like Flat Rock have settled in Cupertino.
Founded in Detroit three-quarters of a century before Apple Inc., the Ford Motor Company lived in the American imagination much as the tech giant does now. This was what the best kind of capitalism looked like: efficient American makers of affordable, quality goods. Henry Ford was an assembly innovator whose techniques have him remembered as the father of mass production. Steve Jobs was just as cutting-edge in his business practice. He brought beautiful products to market at a reasonable price by buying up the life of the Congo for tantalum, tungsten and gold.
Of course, we don’t talk about that, and if we do, it is with the rationale that you don’t get to be history’s most valuable company and produce beautiful watches that can send your heartbeat to your girlfriend, awwww, without a little Third World bloodshed.
What we do seem to want to talk about is how great Apple is, and while it is true that many of its products are marginally better for months at a time than those of the competition, nothing is as good as we imagine this thing to be.
Henry Ford wasn’t as good as America allowed him to be, either. Ransom Olds of Oldsmobile beat him to the assembly line process by several years and, boy, was that old union-busting shitter Ford one stinking anti-Semite. But the cars and the industry and the urban transformation he made possible all came to be confused with good character. The Ford Motor Company was for many years as Apple Inc. is now: America’s most valuable and best super-citizen.
There’s an argument to be made that humans need gods. Personally, I don’t buy it. But even if I did, I could see the difference between a god who functions as an idea of unknowable perfection and one whose perfection is consistent with the needs of maintaining fear in a particular era.
The Ford Motor Company was a sort of Old Testament capitalist: a hard patriarch who smote without fear or shame. Apple, as we can see in the eyes of its Cupertino clergy, is much more a Hillsong Jesus. Dressed up to look like new egalitarian love, Apple is structured to rule as formidably and cruelly as an old Detroit industrialist.
So, anyhow. The new Australian-friendly Mustang looks good. I’d like to buy one. But I’m waiting for a guarantee that it doesn’t come with a free U2 album.