Monday, December 19, 2011

The Male Commenters You Meet On The Internet Regarding Feminism

The Men's Rights Activist

"Please. The feminist machine has made the male a species on the run, raising our boys to be self-hating, sissy DORKS! How can you say women get raped? That's a myth. We are in the dark age of misandry here, men. Not since Boudicca and the Amazons have we been so victimized and demonized in society."

The Moderate

"See, I don't understand why we can't just be equals, here. Feminism was good, but it's run its course and has accomplished its goals. This just feels like henpecking, to me."

The "Good Man"

"Hey, I'm not a rapist or abuser or anything, but I don't need to be a feminist to be a good man. See, women are such beautiful, nurturing creatures of grace and beauty, and it's wrong to do ANYTHING to them. That's why we men are gifted with strength and quiet resolve, to protect our women and make sure nothing ever hurts them."

The Troll

"Go back to the kitchen!!!!"

The Orator

"I believe, ma'am, that your criticism is very off-base and I will respectfully take the time to guide you by the hand on a wondrous discourse of logic and rhetoric so that you may learn, at the seat of pre-law undergrad genius, of where your worldview vis-a-vis gender is wrong and imperfect."

The Charmer

"I know where you live, and I am going to rape you."

The Rape Apologist

"Rape is just so over-used, these days. I hear some of these stories, and I don't think a lot of them are rape so much as they are 'sex-regret' stories. Okay, maybe 'gray rape' can apply, but I just think some of these girls use it to cover up their mistakes."

The Ex-Husband

"My ex-wife used to say this shit all the time, and she robbed me blind in the divorce, and turned my kids against me! Yeah women have it so hard, but all they gotta do is tell the judge I beat them and cry a bit to their lawyer, and they get the world! Bitches."

The Wounded Soul

"I just don't understand it! Why do feminists hate men so much? What have we done, as a collective sex, to engender such hatred?"

The PUA-Fodder

"Why do all women seem to think this way? I mean... I'm decently attractive, and can kind of dress myself, and no matter what you women tell me I can never seem to get you women to talk to me! What is so wrong with gender relations when a guy can't even get girls to talk to them no matter how hard he tries??"

The Contrarian, Feminism Expert Male

"Actually, honey, you seem to be getting this backwards. Here, let me explain what feminism REALLY says about this ..."

The Lukewarm Privilege Dude

"I really want to like feminism ... but then I read stuff like this, and I'm like, 'how could I ever be a feminist if all of you believe this kind of stuff?' It just seems so extreme to me..."

The Guy Who Obviously Doesn't Talk To A Lot of Women

"Hey, I know a LOT of girls, and none of them think like this. Why can't more of you feminists be like THAT?"

Republicans

"Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."*

The Evangelist

"God made men and women the way he did for a reason, and I think that stuff like this is just temptation to keep women from their divine duties as women."



*Direct quote from Pat Robertson

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitchens is Dead, Long Live Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens passed away last night at the age of 62. I was never exactly partial to him. Actually, I was largely troubled by him. It was somewhere around when he declared that women aren't funny, or when he defended the Iraq War well past the salad days of its efficacy and popularity.

Hitchens belonged to the largely repellent secular libertarian philosophy of stringent logic and reason. He believed in what he saw, and was able to make damning, thrilling sport of critically dissembling many of the backwards oddities he saw in society, most particularly religion. It was always clear that he was thinking. It was always true that he grew, and developed his opinions. This was one of his greatest strengths as an intellectual and as a writer: you could trace a trajectory of his thought, and his personal philosophy remained internally consistent.

However I disagree, very strongly, with a lot of his conclusions and his haughtiness. He cheered the war in Iraq as a way of extinguishing the flame of dreaded religion, and create a secular state of reason. Islam was the dreaded boogeyman rising over his perspective on our involvement in the Middle East, a never-ending war against a faith that allegedly seeks the murder and extermination of 'infidels.' It was the same propaganda as the conservative machine, the very same as he once professed disdain for, spread as a way of turning people onto imperialism, 21st century style.

Yet it was his piece, linked above, on why "women weren't funny" that sealed it. A cheeky piece of the faux-pro-women chauvinism where women can't be funny because they are attuned to a higher calling, or something. It's the same weird backwards sexism where putting a woman on a pedestal, on which is inscribed her essential duties and traits that, as a woman, have been inscribed to her by evolution (which could easily have been replaced with 'divine plan' in the Hitchens' article*). Of course, his general attitude of "I'm such a stinker!" it grating or ingratiating depending on how you view it.

Hitchens' flavor of secular libertarianism is generally a viewpoint that I take umbrage with frequently. It's a perspective that favors real, tactile events as opposed to the more covert and subtle operations of human interaction, like language and experience and narrative. Hitchens would have rolled his eyes and drolly dismissed anyone who suggested that, perhaps, evolutionary perspectives on gender are greatly influenced by the essentializing characteristics to men and women based on cultural heritage and - yes - sexism. He would have further chortled at the notion that maybe he, himself, is perpetuating structural sexism without really thinking about it. But, libertarians of that sort don't see themselves as beholden to such social factors, and don't suspect socialization has formed them one way or another. They're "individuals," and social structure has no bearing on who anyone is, period.

So, this is why I never got behind Hitchens fully. But I have to give him credit for two positives of his career. One, his facility with words was incomparable. He was a talented writer, and his logic at least had an internal consistency so that you knew that no matter how obnoxious his opinions, it was clear he had given it a major focus of his mind. His polemic was not from rank, unreflective bile, but rather a desire to stimulate conversation, and then to steamroll said conversation with his own self-righteousness.

But, that steamrolling is my second point, and that point is that Hitchens was a part of a dying breed, the public intellectual. Once, people clamored to see Albert Einstein think. Thomas Paine inspired a nation. Voltaire chilled with the political and social elite of his time. Compare that to today, where the government defunds NASA, shrugs at scientific innovation, and proudly claims ignorance on the Internet while seeking to pass specific regulation of it. People support the defunding of universities that promote humanities, social science, and other "unpractical" studies as Rick Scott would call them. The words of academics and great minds are assailed as words from on high, from the ivory tower. Yet we build this ivory tower, not as a lordship but as a prison.

We're in a wilderness of anti-intellectualism, and it's not just about proper respect given to those of intellectual stature. Rather, American society is rapidly devaluing critical insight and discourse. The Internet has made it simpler for us to gain information, yet we don't think critically about this information. The economy, further, is pushing fields of discourse and criticism out in favor of "practical" studies and "hard sciences." This promotes the incestuous nature of academia, as no one there has no desire to break out and into the mainstream as people once did.

That's why we chortle when we see a person's title as "sociologist" or "cultural linguist" or "philosopher" in a Washington Post article. The climate is tough on thought, these days. We don't want to hear it, and the intellectuals don't want to talk about it. Hitchens, although a big of a gloryhound, was motivated by that impulse to spread his thoughts and insight as far as he could. I may have disagreed with him, but I was comforted to know that he was taking himself public rather than shielding himself in jargon and journals.

We need more Hitchens', to the extent that we need more people taking the intellectual and making it accessible and, frankly, cool. We need more Gloria Steinems, and Neil DeGrasse Tysons. We need more (sigh, yes) Richard Dawkins' and Cornel Wests. We need younger people, too. We need to make it cool to be smart again, a gift that Hitchens had in spades.



*Just saying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

If I Were A Poor Black Kid

You know, I really wanted to lead this off with a hypothetical situation in response to Gene Marks's privileged and incredibly condescending article "If I Were A Poor Black Kid." I was going to illustrate structural racism through the situation of an actual poor black kid faced with that reality. Then, I remembered why the original article was pernicious and awful on its face: like Marks, I am not a poor black kid. Yeah, I grew up economically disadvantaged in some ways but my parents made alright money. Plus, I'm white, so I had that privilege going for me.

Much ballyhoo has been made over addressing the patent ignorance in this article. But, reading it, I imagined many of my white friends going, "I don't get what's wrong with this... these all sound like good points to me." The article is the same 'gumption and work ethic' snake oil that the rich/successful among us peddle when they've lost all perspective on their life and the world around them. It presupposes that rosy, Hanna Barbara idealism that we're all really equal anyways, and we're only put down by bigotry and poverty when we let ourselves be.

The article isn't really to black kids, no. Although Marks may have thought of himself as dispensing the sacred wisdom of the successful to those poor, unfortunate proles not seeing themselves as future Forbes writers, there's a deeper reason that articles like this are written. Poor black kids don't read Forbes. This article is the privileged, the financially successful, to remind them that they got to where they were purely on their own hard work and merit. This article is to swaddle the wealthier among us, to assuage them that they do not sit high within an economic system that constantly disenfranchises the poor.

It's telling that he admits a few times that he doesn't know what he's talking about. What's more telling is that he does not explore that. Has he talked to a poor black kid? Has he talked to a poor any kid? Why not Latino, or East Asian, or Indian, or even a poor white person? Has he explored how people of color are oppressed through differential law enforcement, and immigration law, and the myriad social institutions that white people take for granted? Has he gone into any of these difficult urban schools to talk to any actual kids?

No, of course not. Being blind to privilege means that you don't accept being underprivileged as a barrier, because you cannot conceive that society has given you opportunities based on something you cannot help. White privilege, male privilege, hetero/cis privilege, ableist privilege, all of them function so that those with privilege see themselves as inherently 'normal', 'baseline' people whose success shows that obviously, anyone who uses inequality as an explanation against success is just blaming the successful for their failure.

Let's talk about structural racism. A poor black kid is more likely to be suspended or arrested than white kids committing similar offenses. A poor black kid is more likely to access the internet via phone, than computer. Standardized tests, like the SAT, favor white people by use of white vernacular. Your schools are likely to be less funded, and closer to prisons than places of learning. The educational system is based on hammering the achievements of White America into you K-12, to further remind you that black people have only been passive in the construction of the nation, and that you're truly helpless to do anything about it.

Factor in the decades of practically non-existent social mobility, a welfare system that doesn't exist to really benefit you, and an indifferent world outside, and see that the faults are without, rather than within, you.

Of course, Forbes isn't the place for this critical writing. Forbes lists successful business people. Forbes is what people read to congratulate themselves on having won the privilege lottery. The audience for this article walked away from it with relief, having been reminded of the myth of American Meritocracy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Some Thoughts On Occupy Wall Street, and Finally a Plea

I'm trying to keep up the writing! Yet I have begun to come down with a cold so I apologize for the often rambling nature of this short piece.

It was a little reported development a few days ago when the Occupy Wall Street folks moved into a rented office space in NYC. This is an indication of planning for the future and entering into a new phase of ongoing political agitation, one that is frankly overdue for the Occupy camp. Let's all be honest: who really expected the movement to be approaching winter and still going strong in cities that haven't forcefully ejected protesters? It is the strongest statement of American progressivism since the seventies and has brought rhetoric of our staggeringly unequal society, and corrupt corporatist policies into everyday people's lives.

The strength of Occupy Wall Street is unfortunately its chief weakness. The movement is purposefully leaderless, as it seeks to model a new society of radical democracy and equality, rejecting the oligarchical leanings of our political and economic systems. This is great. However, it has also had its issues: how Zuccotti Park almost collapsed from an inability to leverage an end to the drum circles comes to mind (though it was resolved by the established process) but otherwise it has been a well-functioning, self-governing organization. However, this is where it ends.

There isn't a sense of organization between the different cities, outside of sympathy and base camaraderie, and this hampers further directions for political agitation.

They need to buckle down and organize. They need to take their power to the unions (not the dreaded SEIU, who has drank the partisan Kool-Aid and is now seeking to make OWS a voting drive for the Democrats), the women's groups, the LGBT groups, the race groups, the immigration and anti-war groups, farmer's associations, and religious institutions with the message that all of their struggles are connected. This isn't just about financial malfeasance anymore: this is now about a broken system, a hydra of corruption encompassing politics, the media, and big business.

It is a broken system that creates a Meta-Narrative (yes, engaging critical theory) that supercedes everything. The problem isn't an institutional failure to combat Wall Street corruption, it's the dreaded Iranians; we shouldn't concern ourselves with ending the war, because look at these awesome toys the Pentagon is blowing billions on; don't question the obvious con of the two-party system, because partisan sparring is just so entertaining. No need to discuss patriarchy, or the war machine, or racism. It doesn't suit those in charge for those challenges to be made. This is where OWS can step in, build coalitions, and agitate for a new American Left.

This is what it will take. You can only occupy for so long until you build a long-lasting structure that can organize and sustain a viral presence in the American consciousness. There needs not to be control, but direction. You do not have to sacrifice the spirit of the movement's rejection of hierarchy in order to do this. Read up on Parecon and other alternative methods of sustaining large organizations in egalitarian forms. There can be a national body of coordinated action and ideas, and we can create a truly grassroots swell of popular support. We need to organize and do outreach, educate, and empower people to truly act in their own interests.

--

Now, an open letter:

OWS: Don't forget that you represent the cops, even if they mace you. Police brutality and violence are structural problems born out of power, conflict, and the adaptation to roles (see: Stanford Prison Experiments). It will only benefit Wall Street/K Street/Congress/big Media to create an adversarial relationship with law enforcement by carving up your constituency. Do not play into this, as I fear you are, and make this about taking down the police. Acknowledge the role of institutional power and privilege, and how ultimately the rule of law is directed by those above and beyond the police.

The very nature of law enforcement, and our justice system in general, is based around three concepts.
  • One, heavily penalization of crimes committed most proportionally by poor people, which in turn leads to suspicion, deception, and occasionally violence by some impoverished communities against police officers, who react in kind with everything from ignoring crime in poor neighborhoods to treating all people of a certain stripe as potential criminals.
  • Two, a thriving and powerful prison lobby, who donates heavily to politicians that support long and strict incarceration policies. Here the incentive is to incarcerate even perpetrators of minor crimes, most often leading to high recidivism rates (usually for worse crimes!) among those released.
  • Three, a war on drugs founded on misconceptions and falsehoods that perpetuate a black market for narcotics, which leads to endemic violence and tangential criminality. Most violent crime is drug-related, and our nation's drug trade strongly influences social unrest in a variety of Latin American country's (Mexico and Colombia, to name two).
None of these problems are caused by police officers, yet they have to abide by these influences and operate within a system that heavily sanctions poorer people and in some ways encourage criminality. These create a strongly unequal society, and gives the police undue power over citizens. The incentive for an aloof and stern police force is high, and there is little to gain in reacting with acceptance of even support for disobedience of any sort, especially if it directly challenges those in power. When entities like J.P. Morgan can finance the NYPD at the drop of a hat, and the mayor of your city is a billionaire media tycoon with a flagrant disregard for the law (and does not-at-all-undemocratic-things like pushing through legislation to eliminate term limits) who has the ability to fire the police commissioner for whatever reason, police seem a lot less powerful.

Class war is a brutal thing because the power of those with capital and political connection to turn those beneath them against each other. Do not let this movement be a casualty of those manipulations.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Age of Innocence

The more urbane types hold the pat stereotype that professional sports - and by extension, college sports - are the domain of redneck idiots and go-nowhere inner-city youth playing ball for the enjoyment of an ugly and dull sect of the American character. It's easy to identify yourself by not just ignorance of sports but a pointed rejection of it, cutely remarking on sports culture's inherent absurdity while you go home and listen to your sensitive white-boy rock, kicking your feet up to the new Jeffrey Eugenides novel. These types of people have been judging the Penn State situation the harshest, calling for the elimination of college sports based on a perception of the institution's character, and displaying their own prejudices and classist annoyance.

The Penn State football program has been referred to by many as 'Camelot,' with varying tones of irony. If Penn State was Camelot, then Joe Paterno was its Arthur, and Jerry Sandusy was its Galahad or Bedivere. They were integral in creating a legendary team, the so-called "Linebacker U," known for producing a defensive line like none-other. Beyond this prowess was its reputation for honor, truth, and the good stuff only found in apple pies baked by a boy scout. Joe Paterno not only ran his football team, he was simply the most prominent person on Penn State's campus, and arguably its most powerful.

In a world rocked by shady, backdoor deals and the programs that allowed them Penn State was an exemplar of a school doing right.

It may be hard for my aforementioned urbanes to get the appeal of sports, but it's something that has existed since the dawn of civilization, when Greece had its Olympics and other feats of strength were recorded prior. Where states and cities have industrial might, the mercurial and vaguely imperial notions of cultural superiority (NYC I'm looking at you, here), and cultural squabbles, sports provide an identifiable measure of strength and skill that gives those who identify with a team bragging rights and pride. While the majority of sports fans are not on the team (har har), they can bond over the trivium of numbers and stats, the heritage of franchises and programs, have friendly debates over what and who specifically need replaced in order to finally gain a playoff berth (Browns fans represent), and have a generally unserious competition with other people.

It's identity. Sports creates a cultural flag that identifies you as part of a community and creates a built-in understanding, a bond, among people, and Penn State fans had an understanding: "We have something special going in Happy Valley."

What happens then when you find out that shining star in the franchise is rotting from within? Not with something relatively silly, like trading merchandise for free tattoos, but the top-to-bottom systemic concealment of a child rapist, a predator? What does it mean when your Galahad preyed on disadvantaged children, children groomed from the very charity he began, and nothing was done about it? The Grand Jury report - required reading for anyone interested in becoming engaged with this case - runs down the list of people who knew something was dreadfully wrong, and did nothing. Clinton Valley school district, the board of the Second Mile charity, the Penn State football program from a low-totem graduate assistant and up to the president of the university. Yes, that includes Joe Paterno.

There's been a lot of rigamarole and hoot-n-holler that Paterno did his legal obligation, and did not know about the extent to which Sandusky was abusing these children. This, however, is not a popular take. The Grand Jury report, a recent New York Times article, and a damning Deadspin interview with a former PSU Grad Assistant all suggest that this was not just an institutional failure, but a pointed cover-up, one that is not unprecedented.

You've got to be a Martian cave dweller or a vegetable to not have heard of the litany of accounts that members of the Catholic clergy have sexually abused young boys in their ward. What is most disheartening is the fervent desire among many to have this swept under the rug and ignored. The Church's overall stance remains a denial that any impropriety had occured, despite the sheer universality of accounts, and this has deeply divided the Catholic community. Many are willing to take the clergy at its word, and see accusations as sensational and manipulative. Others (largely atheists, agnostics, protestants, etc. ... the people predisposed to hate Catholics anyways) see this as a failure of the famously hierarchal and secretive faith. Religion, sports, not too far off from one another. Trade the football for a few lines of baptismal procedure and you've got the same damn pig.

However there is a nuance here that some will acknowledge. Those Penn State fans whose response to the scandal was a sober, muted introspection get it. The Catholics whom prayed for the heart of their faith, get it too. I suspect everyone who jammed to "Never Can Say Goodbye" and later spent hours learning to moonwalk, get the idea also. The terrible realization that our idols are often hollow, for easy carrying, and for us to pour our projected morality into. The fear that evil lurks in every locker room, every message board, and we won't always be able to save our children from it. The tragedy that there are some people who are untouchable, thanks to the efforts of powerful people in whose interest it is that some folks are never touched.

What happened in Penn State is not unprecedented. It is psychology; Kitty Genovese, Abu Ghraib, the Glen Ridge Rape, Phil Zimbardo's awful legacy: that a few sick people can eke by on the pliability of those weaker. That when Galahad comes around it's in your best interest to look away. Look at how people rioted when Joe Paterno was fired, you want THAT to be your legacy? Seen as the whistle-blowing idiot who ruined the kingdom? What if Mike McQueary, or Gary Schultz, or that poor bastard Graham Spanier went to the cops, tried to get Galahad put in child-rapist hell? You would be killed, cast out, your name cursed for the ages. That's why you do what you can, you pass the buck. This is why there are chains of command, after all, why should the man two notches up the pole take charge of a situation when in plain block letters, it says to report this up?

There is institutional failure all around, here, from the coaches to the university to the police, the district attorney, possibly even the attorney general, because who wants to expose a rot in the heart of Penn State? Would you want a legion of blood-thirsty college kids on your doorstep?

I was disheartened by the riots, like anyone with a moral compass and an appreciation for the color gray. I was annoyed by the ur-nationalistic fervor that people had in enshrining a man who was most likely complicit in child rape. I was flooded with fury that it took so long for Penn State students and alumni to show any solidarity for the victims (by way of a candelight vigil, the universal signal that 'we cannot figure out how to appropriately react to this tragedy, so here are some candles and be happy about it'), and that a ball-man was thrown out. But once my own tension receded I considered the heartbreak felt that Camelot is sick, that the world is sick, the remembrance that there is a world outside the valley full of deviants of all stripes, where culpability is a gray area, and that there are no replays and no stats to make sense of.

-

When the financial crisis hit in 2007 I felt as though people buried themselves in sports and entertainment. Maybe it was my own perspective, but cheering for a pass completion seemed that much louder, the integration of team apparel and everyday wardrobe seemed that closer, and people I'd have never taken for sports fans were there dutifully on Sundays cheering. It all seemed strange to me, but now I see that as a national yearning for an age of innocence, where the elite can debate about corporatism, mortgage-backed securities, and political corruption, but leave "us" our heroes and a world where things can be right. "We" want to be reminded that virtue and hard work can be rewarded, and that there are places free of the world's corruption and painful truths.

See you in Avalon, Joe.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Steve Jobs, Consumerism, and Public Mourning

“It’s like the end of the innovators,” said Scott Robbins, 34, who described himself as an Apple fan of 20 years and who rushed to an Apple Store in San Francisco when he heard the news.”

The AP ran a story on the passing of Steve Jobs with this quote, and it’s this sort of hyperbole that has long since soiled me on the Apple thing. Yes, I had an iMac for several years and I enjoyed it. I had an iPod that also lasted me for a long time - albeit as long as it was perpetually hooked up to a power source, but still - and we all (not just usability engineers [which are too real, damn it]) enjoy the advances Apple made in its technology.

Does Steve Jobs deserve credit, respect, and admiration? Certainly. He introduced the notion of personal technology as accessible, beginning the trend away from sheer utility to devices that were elegant to use and pretty to look at. I remember the first iPod I ever saw - my friend Todd bought one in the twelfth grade and even though it was effectively the artsy second cousin of the Gameboy it was really stunning. Stunning, in that prior to that MP3 players existed in sort of a cultural ghetto, shunned by people for being ugly and unwieldy, cheap to hold and look at.

It was the integration of technology and day to day life that Steve Jobs introduced, and it was that aim which transformed the last decade into one of an unprecedented shift in our society. Within a year, white headphones were everywhere, telling the world, “I’m listening to the John Mayer album … on myiPod!” It was with sadness that I never wore the white earbuds, alas my misshapen ear canals made the physical discomfort of wearing them only that much more painful than the memory that I once used to listen to Poison the Well. I felt like I was missing out.

Is it any surprise that MP3 players are ubiquitously known as iPods? Not to people who care about it, but the general consumer populace. Oh, the confused looks I received as a Best Buy salesperson when I pointed out that iPods were a brand name among the wide constellation of MP3 players. All those people just bought iPods anyways, because they stood out. They made an impression. They made a statement about lifestyle that technology only did before in the broadest of strokes.

Nowadays, information travels at blinding speeds because for many, it is inconceivable to be cut off in any way. Our phones must be smart, our computers smarter but smaller, and elegance and ergonomics is stressed above all. Really, though, who can complain about that?

Momentarily, I want to focus more on Steve Jobs, the public figure. He was emblematic of Apple the company - his appearance on stage, decked out in his black turtleneck and tapered dad jeans - filled a certain crowd with a rock star sort of reverence. His impact is indisputable, surely, his talent will be missed, absolutely, but there is the less seemly side of the Jobs mythology that I just cannot ignore. I can’t ignore his reputation for corporate ruthlessness - the public scuffle between Apple and Adobe over the use of Flash technology, the current legal battle with Samsung over their alleged appropriation of the iPad ‘look - and persistent rumors of Apple’s own unsavory dealings (the recent spate of suicides in their Chinese plant still ring true)

Now, lest anyone accuse me of blaming any of this squarely on him, recall that for many people he was the face of Apple, it’s spirit, it’s avatar and paladin for their motto of “Think Different.” It’s unfair to thank him for the generous gift of his genius-via-Apple and ignore some questionable practices made in his tenure. It dishonors the dead by ignoring their flaws, because it paints only part of a picture.

Yet it isn’t Steve Jobs himself that caused me annoyance. No, it was his fanchildren, and you know who I’m talking about. No, not people who enjoy Apples. No, not people who really, really dig the relative grace and beauty a program like Garageband or Final Cut has compared to something like Audacity, or Sony Vegas. Not even people who have iPhones.

It’s people like the ex-lover of a friend of mine who was, frankly, an Apple Evangelist. He tried to browbeat my friend into upgrading to an iPhone (she wanted an Android) for hours on end, seguing into browbeating her parents into replacing their practically eldritch IBM with an iMac, despite them not knowing what Apple even is (believe it or not!). It’s the people who buy the Macbook Air the day it releases, even if their computer is nay a year old. People who will ditch their phones for the iPhone 4S. The really diehard consumer freaks.

Yes, it comes down to consumerism, and how it drives me crazy. It isn’t being a consumer, which is what we all are, or even being an intelligent consumer who just likes nice things (believe me, I enjoy my moderately high-end workstation), it’s evangelizing on a product for the sheer sake of it, for unironically trumpeting the virtues of one brand, going so far as to tattoo the logo onto their damn skin (and I have seen this more than once, oddly). It is the people who identify themselves by their products. People, well, who would tell you, “I’m an Apple.”

What I think is Steve Jobs’ other biggest accomplishment was branding. The guy was a marketing genius. He took Apple, which if you all recall was a deteriorating brand in the mid 90’s, and within five years made it cosmopolitan and sleek. Think IKEA: it occupies a cozy space between the bargain-bin and the specialty shop, and it’s just idiosyncratic enough that you’ll want it badly, but not so unique that when you outgrow it (or a newer model arrives) you’ll be too terribly upset about ditching it. Certainly this does not apply for everyone, but it applies for the Apples of the world.

Take, for example, the iPad. It wasn’t so much derided upon its unveiling as it was… shrugged upon. People weren’t sure what to make of it - it was essentially a big iPod touch, could do all the things an iPhone could do, but not all the things a laptop could do, but was portable. The name elicited titters. Hell, the tablet format had already existed among smaller niche products (like the Archos tablets, of which the only one I ever sold as a Best Buy salesperson was to my techie friend). But, undaunted, when it was released it flew off the shelves. People took that chance of buying a silly piece of brick because, well, Steve Jobs read the news on it on stage.

So now look: the tablet is a big deal now. Every mobile company has gotten into the game (those Android ones do look nice…) and the doubters were forced to acknowledge there was a new player in town. Like the iPod taking a dagger to its fallen foe, the CD Player (and the Minidisc ran screaming for the hills), Apple forcibly birthed a new platform into existence based on the sheer marketing frenzy of Apple doing anything.This is the kind of marketing genius I refer to from Jobs.

Steve Jobs envisioned a brand that would go to be a major cultural signifier for many, many people. To do so is the dream of every marketer, every advertising department. It took decades for marketing teams to make certain breakfast foods integral to the American experience where it took Jobs a fraction of that to make personal computing and gadgetry - even in the adolescence of the personal computer, a consumer good usually identified with the filthiest of nerds - inextricable from people. It was now cool to have the newest phone, the newest MP3 player, the newest laptop. It became an intensely salient marker of a person who is in the know, linked into that collectively unconscious miasmic hoodoo that postmodernity draggles about.

This is nothing to dismiss so easily. We’re social creatures, of course, and our self-concept is greatly based on these sort of markers. To lightly tap into Sociological and Anthropological concepts, the uniformity of the Apple brand is an easy way into a feeling of larger cultural attuning, Apple stores can feel like havens where people go to feel a part of that frequency. I appreciate the silliness of the previous sentence, but even the silliest insights have truth to them, and the truth is that Steve Jobs represented a cultural consumerist force that had a very deep hold on a lot of people.

Where does this leave the people who openly cried at the death of a man they never knew, leaving roses at their local Apple store? I don’t know. The public spectacle of mourning is one of those contentious things that embiggens or diminishes us, depending on how we look. I remember being deeply hurt and saddened when people ragged on Michael Jackson after he died - cracks about him being a ‘weirdo child molestor’ - because I was raised on his music and I grew up idolizing him the way my mother did, and it’s with that reflection that I understand why some people don’t like my views on Jobs, his life, his product, and the way people take it all so damn seriously.

What I don’t deny is that a man of stature, who impacted my life in very demonstrable ways, has passed on, and should be given all due respect as becoming to the dead.