Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Friday, February 6, 2015

Listen up forefathers

A recent iPad Air 2 commercial (“Change is in the air”) features a song by The Orwells called “Who Needs You” with the following lyrics. The italicized portions are the lines actually used in the spot:

You better toss your bullets
You better hide your guns
You better help the children
Let ’em have some fun

You better count your blessings
Kiss mom and pa
You better burn that flag
Cause it ain’t against the law!

You better pledge your allegiance
You’re not the only one
Listen up forefathers
I’m not your son
You better save the country
You better pass the flask
You better join the army
I said: “no thank you, dear old uncle Sam!”

You better toss your bullets
You better hide your guns
You better help the children
Let them have some fun, some fun, some fun!

On its own terms I find the social commentary of the song a bit murky. It is hard for me, old fogey that I am, to distinguish between the things “you better” do that are meant ironically and the things you better do that are serious, if there are any such. The song seems to stretch for a Sixties-style oppositional sensibility without any clear sense of what to be opposed to. Is it a sly lament about alienation and not feeling needed, or a declaration of complete autonomy? Is the lesson that helping the children is fun? Maybe hipper and younger people at Apple caught the drift when they edited the song in such a way as to suggest that having “some fun” really is the key point. But even then, I wonder what fun is it to burn the flag if it is not against the law? And who cares if you don’t join the army when there is no draft?

Still, the use of the song by a huge and profitable corporation like Apple strikes me as (ahem) Orwellian, if in a relatively familiar big-business-cutting-its-own-throat sort of way. Who needs you? Apple needs you, to be the success it is, a success that still seems to be riding very much on the coattails of its forefather, Steve Jobs. And indeed, most of the images in the ad suggest that you need people in order to have fun with your iPad, or indeed help “the children” with it.

But the inner contradictions are not the only problem. Apple has been able to have its success in this country precisely because it is a child of its forefathers. The Constitution of the United States, as it serves to protect private property, provide the rule of law, protect trade and intellectual property, promote domestic tranquility, and provide for the common defense, is the necessary condition of Apple’s existence, let alone of its managers’, shareholders’, and workers’ ability to profit from its existence. (The same might be said of the suburban-kid Orwells, of course.) If the changes in the air are based on a repudiation of the foundations secured by our forefathers, Apple will not long thrive. Go have some fun then.

Apple wants to be in our heads, and is pretty good at getting there. And this dismissive — dare I say unpatriotic — attitude is the message they choose to link with their product. There’s no arrogance like big-business tech arrogance, no blindness like that of the West-coast masters of the universe who think that the world was created at the beginning of the last product cycle.


  1. Frederik deBoer, in an only slightly different context: "For the geeks, this should be a moment of triumph and celebration. And yet instead, the typical geeks today still regard the world as fundamentally hostile to their beloved properties. The 800-pound gorilla still thinks of itself as a 98-pound weakling, and the results are ugly."

    Or as Ben Folds said: how's it feel to be The Man?

  2. The Joe Pug song, "I Do My Father's Drugs," seems apropos. I wrote about it and link to it here. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/09/carls-rock-songbook-joe-pug-i-do-my-fathers-drugs Pug's far more together lyrically than these Orwells. You're right to attack Apple's most selective appropriation of them, however. If you like my Songbook, google "Songbook at a glance." Best, Carl Eric Scott


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