Friday, May 21, 2010

iPad: The Revolution Will Be Declared By The People Who Are Trying To Sell It To You

Remember me? I work for Apple now!

Lately I've found that I can't leave my TV on for more than a few minutes without seeing the latest advertising fare from Apple Computers. The most recent ad is all about the world of the iPad, or the lifestyle of the iPad, or something. I can't really follow it, because, much like the levees on the industrial canal at the Ninth Ward, my tolerance for Apple's particular brand of advertising pretension was long ago breached—by a deluge of dancing silhouettes and endless waves of self-conscious music by the likes of that crap band Jet.

And so I can't really tell you anything about the iPad ad in particular, except that it includes a self-assured voice over (maybe Peter Coyote, or another similarly crafty-named actor), rapid fire edits of people with their heads cropped out holding the iPad close to their groin regions, and colorful, catalog-like tableaux of Vespa scooters, area rugs and cutesy sneakers.

That said, there is one element of Apple's marketing magic that I think I understand. After exhaustive research (which is to say "watching too much television"), I have come to believe that the explosive success of all the "i" gadgets is due to Apple's deft exploitation of the fact that people want to act like idiots. For some reason Apple has a lot of fans who are so, well, fanatical about new products with a cute vowel affixed to the front of their name that they will pay upwards of $400 for the privilege of road-testing anything that Steve Jobs holds up in front of a crowd in an auditorium.

There's a simple equation at work here: Excitement turns people into idiots; idiots buy stuff. But what is the cause of excitement? Put simply, it's the opportunity to incur the envy of strangers at the bus stop by manipulating a plastic-shelled device that will be obsolete inside of 6 months. Steve Jobs knows this. He also knows that these ostensibly enviable people are too dumb/excited to realize that in the lexicon of the Apple world, “1st Generation” means “the one that sucked.”

So why are so many people susceptable to the kind of bedazzlement that causes them to make rash purchases?

One theory (meaning something I just made up) suggests that a lot of people developed a bad habit that they can’t shake: they failed to learn their lesson after repeatedly waiting in line for 27 hours to see the opening of each of the final three Star Wars movies, telling themselves each time, “this one will be good!”—

The line for Star Wars: Episode XII - Attack of the Ennui
(photo from

—and now, still vaguely unfulfilled, they carry with them an insatiable urge to sleep on a sidewalk and spend an obscene amount on an over-hyped but entirely unproven piece of technological wonderment. Ostensible wonderment, anyway.

Waiting for iPad.
(There's a Samuel Beckett joke hiding around here somewhere...)
(pic from

Now, it’s conceivable that I’m a little bit cynical about all this, so I should consider the possibility that these wee devices are actually innovative and impressive. But even so I suspect that the unwashed, pavement-reposing, toy X-Wing Fighter-collecting nerds, among others, are willfully in thrall of the shameless self-aggrandizement produced by the Apple marketing juggernaut.

I visited the iPad page on Apple's website to discern more about this "magical and revolutionary" iThingy. There was some factual information, but mostly I found outlandish suggestions masquerading as unassailable truths—such as might easily persuade the eagerest among us.

"With a split-screen view and expansive onscreen keyboard, it lets you see and touch your email in ways you never could before."

Expansive! So, basically it’s… bigger than an iPhone. Mind you, I have been waiting for new ways to touch my email!

Anyway, now that you’ve piqued my interest, just how expansive is this thing?

"The 9.7-inch high-resolution screen makes iPad perfect for watching HD movies, TV shows, podcasts, music videos, and more."

10 inches, huh? Say, you know what else is perfect for watching HD movies? My 47-inch television.

And while we’re on the subject, you know what’s NOT perfect for watching HD movies? The subway, an airplane, the line at the Post Office, a canoe, and pretty much ANY crowded or moving location where I might find myself trying to kill time by watching a movie on a screen smaller than a box of Wheat Chex.

"A vivid LED-backlit IPS display makes viewing photos on iPad extraordinary."

More extraordinary than looking at photos on a monitor? I mean, I’ve seen a computer screen before. Who is this ad for? People fresh off a bus from 1940?

"iPad is the best way to experience the web."

Again, I’m going to differ on this one. I think the best way to experience the web is on a 90 inch wall mounted flat screen, viewed from the comfort of my jungle room’s new hot tub as I imbibe some kind of unpronounceable single malt Scotch while Tour de France podium girls attend to my every need, including a few that they’ve just made me aware of.

I'm not saying Apple's handheld devices are no good. The 'pod and the 'phone are obviously something of a big deal. And maybe this will be too, and that's fine. It's just that I can't stand the ads.

I don't think all ads are terrible. I understand that advertising pays for pretty much everything that our taxes don't. You have a brand, and you want me to know about it, and you'd like me to buy it? Well Humpty Dumpty, maybe I will. And if your ad makes me laugh, we could really be on to something! But when you start to tell me what to think about your crappy product, and you think I won't notice your trickery, then frankly you are an asshole treating me like an imbecile. Which maybe I am, but that's no excuse. Stupid is as stupid does, but so is asshole.

Remember the "1984" Apple Computer commercial? The one with the woman smashing the giant, projected face of Orwellian personal computer oppression?

A quarter century later Apple is still trying to convince consumers of the world that every gadget they produce is a revolution. Only now they're doing it without any imagination—they're not conjuring up an evocative image of revolution, like a woman with feathered blonde hair and a sledge hammer; they're just saying words like "revolution" and "magical" and banging them into your head Frank Luntz-style. Basically what the woman with the high-waisted orange shorts did to the status quo with her sledge hammer—that's what Apple is now doing to you with their advertising.

To that end, Apple is employing the clever tactic of deliberately confusing "revolution" and "novelty." But even so, the novelty of people flicking photos around on a touch screen is by now about as fresh as the waters of the Gulf Coast (which BP is currently revolutionizing with their innovative "sludge-hammer" technology).

The novelty of this crap did not last long either.

By this point you've probably deduced that I'm a total imbecile for taking Apple's clearly superficial 'revolution' marketing trope so literally. As I've said before, I have a tendency to obsess about trivial things. Having just now stepped away from all of this long enough to make a rejuvenating snack (my favorite: toast with a thick spread of microwaved Circus Peanuts), I see the folly of my hypercritical ways. A little perspective reveals to me that the 'revolution' silliness is just one weapon from Apple's advertising arsenal. Their overall campaign is not all that complicated: ultimately the overarching stroke of marketing genius is that Apple's ads are a potent mix of visually striking and deliberately obnoxious—the dancing-douchebag iPod ads, the smarmy "I'm a Mac" spots. The fact that people mock the ads is, of course, proof of their effectiveness. So by letting them get my dander up, I'm just as much a tool as either the simps who fall under Apple's spell and pay full price for the latest prototype, or the snarks who post iPod ad parodies online, thereby contributing to the ubiquity of Apple's marketing presence.

The bottom line is that the little guy is no match for the likes of perhaps soon-to-be wordlwide market-share dominators Apple Computer. Unless I can find a way to produce a new kind of revolutionary metaphorical sledge hammer, I will be beaten down like the rest of the masses. Possibly by this guy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Crummy Meets Filthy: "Time Out" & "The Village Voice"

A particularly well-inked Village Voice cover. Protective hand-wear recommended.

If you have spent any time in New York City over the last decade, you may have had the misfortune of opening the weekly periodical “Time Out New York.” I tend to be dismissive of it now, but some years ago I was actually very excited about the initial appearance of Time Out in our metropolis, in part because for a few months I had lived in London, whence Time Out hails, and thus the pond-hopping periodical's New York debut gave me an excuse to bore people with my worldliness.

But more importantly, the glossy pages of Time Out magazine provided a welcome alternative to The Village Voice for anyone wishing to peruse events listings without coming away with the blackened hands of a chimney sweep. This was particularly fortunate for me, given my penchant for reading while pensively stroking my chin and otherwise affecting sophisticated airs at sidewalk cafes. (On occasion this grubby-fingered habit inadvertently resulted in a surprisingly accurate facsimile of a goatee, which suited my pretensions nicely, but most times my ink-smudged visage gave me the appearance of a homeless loiterer, reading a free newspaper and lingering over somebody’s empty espresso. In fact once as I was figuring out my bill I was mistakenly chased off by my own waiter who thought I was stealing his tip.)

So what changed? Could it be Time Out New York was always crummy, but I've only recently recognized that crumminess because I've matured slightly over the years? That's pretty far-fetched—there's no plausible case to be made for me possessing any maturity, so I'd at least like to stand by my impeccable taste. More likely the magazine has inched its way down the slippery slope into the sea of crumminess over the past decade. Either way, these days “TONY” is pretty much unbearable. In order to get to any of the listings you have to possess an iron-clad intestinal tract, otherwise you may find it impossible to navigate past the cover stories without inciting a gastrointestinal uprising (potentially rendering the pages completely unreadable). You see, Time Out has become the “goings-on” equivalent of a fashion & beauty magazine: the sole creative objective of any article is to cook up an entirely meaningless trope on which to hang the addresses and prices of overpriced boutiques and the useless products found therein, much like you might procure a flimsy, silver-colored fake Christmas tree from a dollar store as a means to display the crappy holiday ornaments you’ve been collecting from Burger King Value Meals for the last 15years. (Honestly, what is your obsession with those things? Have some dignity.)

At this time, regrettably, I’m able to provide you with a summation of one such article: you see, I recently made the mistake of not just glancing at the cover of a current issue of Time Out, but additionally picking it up from the bathroom floor and flipping through it. (This was especially unfortunate as the bathroom wasn’t at my home, but at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.)

The current edition includes what they have puzzlingly called “walking tours,” a “tour” consisting of a write up of an arbitrary bunch of stores in some neighborhood that are tied together by a theme so thin that it wouldn’t even be allowed to work as a runway model.

One so-called tour suggests things to do in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the interminably long wait for your table at a trendy brunch place—like going to get coffee at a nearby cafĂ©.

I think a better thing to do in that hour would be to buy a different magazine.

Also there’s a “30 Rock” themed “tour,” which, apart from telling you that the building known as “30 Rock” is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, tells you to go to Penn Station and a Duane Reade store, along with a bunch of other mundane places that have absolutely nothing to do with the TV show, except that the article’s fabricators have surmised that certain “30 Rock” characters, due to their quirky predilections, maybe would “go to there”: a random jewelry store, a seedy strip club that’s sort of nearby, a comic book store that sort of isn't.

Now, if I had just arrived, hypothetically, by train in New York City for a few days’ vacation, and, being a big fan of Jack McBrayer (a.k.a. Kenneth the Page), who’s featured on the cover, paid the actual $4 for a copy of Time Out, with its promise of fun stuff to do and a huge banner sized proclamation of “GREAT WALKS,” and decided to embark upon the “30 Rock Walk,” and found myself led back to Penn Station—the notoriously bland rail terminal that I had just hypothetically crawled out of—and “Lace Gentlemen’s Club,” and a drug store that anyone who lives in NYC wishes to do their business in and get out of as quickly as humanly possible, well, first I would kick myself for not having read the article through ahead of time and booking a horse-drawn carriage to shuttle me around to all the stops (also TV themed, of course, with “Babbo” of Sex and the City fame as my personal chauffeur); and then, well, after that I would be really, really angry. Like so angry that I would want my four dollars back. So angry about my four dollars that I would write a letter to Time Out New York that was so concise and cleverly vitriolic that not only would it not require any editing for length and clarity, but it would be chosen as the Letter of the Week, resulting in me winning the Time Out guide of my choice, which I can only hope would include equally well thought out walking tours of some other city.

Ironically, as you can also see on the letters page, some reader was quite pleased with the quality of journalism that went into a previous article about companies that provide, of all things, walking tours, but unsurprisingly the rest of the missives go on to detail the typical failure of Time Out to present readers with anything new or insightful. Really, taking suggestions from Time Out about things to do in NYC is about as helpful as asking BMI-challenged runway models for advice on healthy eating.

If for some reason you want to know about the rest of the walking tours, you'll have to find your own copy of Time Out on a bathroom floor somewehere—I had to drop out halfway through the article. You see, the iron-clad lining in my small intestine was wearing through and needed re-cladding, and both my internal medicine specialist and my plumber were unavailable. In the meantime, I'll be back at my usual sidewalk table at Caffe Reggio (119 MacDougal St between Minetta Ln and W 3rd St), reading the Voice (free) and spending my weekly entertainment budget ($4) on espressos, which I'll sip leisurely, with my ink-stained pinky pointing contentedly skyward.