Opinion

Published on March 26th, 2019 | by Bill Stiteler

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“It’s Showtime” and 1984

While Amazon and Netflix have been winning praise from show runners for their hands-off approach, allowing them to create daring and innovating programming that would never be allowed on broadcast television, some reports have been leaking out that Apple is being very aggressive with their “notes” on what they want shows to look like, with notes like “don’t be so mean” allegedly being common. And the New York Posts reports that we probably won’t be seeing a show like Black Mirror on Apple TV+ anytime soon with an anonymous quote from a producer:

“They want a positive view of technology,” the producer noted.

I remember having two thoughts reading that quote. One being that it’s unfortunate that Apple is meddling with the creative process, considering that I’ve often viewed them as a company that makes tools for artists. The other thought was, “this is just like 1984.”

Apple is, at its heart, an optimistic company. Things can be better. Computers can “just work.” A phone should give you a good internet experience, not a crummy, low rez version. If you buy a movie, you shouldn’t have to sit through non-skippable messages about how stealing movies is wrong. The experience can always be better, and faster, and they (as a company) should be working to deliver that at a price they think is fair (and is usually much higher than other providers).

So, when Apple corralled Spielberg and Winfrey to bookend a hype fest for Apple TV+ with no real information about when it will be available, what it will cost, or what it will look like, they couched it in very vague, but incredibly optimistic terms. If a game designer had come onstage to describe their next role-playing game using only words and personal anecdotes, they’d have been torn limb-from-limb by the audience. But this is Steven-freakin’-Spielberg talking about the science fiction stories that inspired him as a child. This is Oprah Winfrey saying that this moment is the most important, that people crave connection in our divided world. And in perhaps the most evocative moment of the presentation for me, Kumail Nanjiani talking about his upcoming series on the immigrant experience, Little America, by saying that he hopes (hopes! Did he actually say that word?) the show will teach us that there is no “Other,” only “Us.”

Apple has fired a lot of cultural broadsides in its time, from Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash,” to the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC commercials,” but as frustrating as this Apple “event” was with its lack of content and information, what it most reminded me of was the perhaps the most indelible advertisement in Apple history, the Ridley Scott-directed “1984” commercial, which was so vague it didn’t even show the product it was talking about, but instead was an attack on the very idea of what people thought computing was—robotic, bland, and soul-crushing.

Maybe I’m an idiot. Maybe I’m such a Mac fanboy that I’m ascribing altruism where I should simply see corporate greed. Maybe Apple is creating a streaming service because everyone has a streaming service and they want that sweet subscription money pouring in every month. But because of the tone they projected, even if they had little of substance to say, I don’t know. I keep thinking back on that woman in the track suit, heaving her hammer at the bland, blue screen.

You didn’t learn what you’d be buying or how much it would cost, but Apple was telling you they were going to make tomorrow better.

 

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About the Author

Bill Stiteler has been covering technology since the 90s, with a focus on Macintosh games and video production.



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