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An unintended statement adds to the honesty

Forty years ago, Apple released a commercial that became instantly iconic.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the minute-long ad featured a dystopian world inspired by George Orwell.

Lines of hollow-eyed worker drones march in unison along a monitor-lined tunnel bathed in drab blue and grey tones.

Another group of workers sits mutely in front of a giant screen on which a Big Brother figure intones:

“Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology—where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory thoughts. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

However, hope is at hand – the scenes of monochromatic conformity are intercut with images of a young woman – a vibrant splash of colour dressed in red athletic shorts, running shoes, and a white tank top – being pursued by four security thugs in full riot gear. As Big Brother finishes his exhortations, she arrives in front of the giant screen and destroys it with a hurled hammer.

The ad ends with the words, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

The message was clear: the personal computer would be a force of human liberation, “giving individuals the kind of computer power once reserved for corporations”, as the abandoned print campaign that inspired the ad put it.

Four decades later, Apple has just released a new ad.

The commercial, called ‘Crush’ and featuring Cher singing ‘All I Ever Need Is You’, shows a platform that’s overflowing with examples of human creativity – artworks, musical instruments, books, a typewriter, a record player with a disc spinning on the turntable …

It quickly becomes evident that these objects are sitting on a massive hydraulic press, the top of which begins to descend.

The first casualty is a gleaming trumpet, which buckles and twists under the inexorable crushing weight.

Paint sprays from cans as they’re flattened; a piano is pancaked; a classical bust is distorted then collapses; camera lenses pop; a guitar explodes in shards; even a rubber emoji isn’t spared, its eyes being forced out of its sockets as the press slams shut … before it rises again to reveal the latest Apple product.

“Meet the new iPad Pro: the thinnest product we’ve ever created, the most advanced display we’ve ever produced, with the incredible power of the M4 chip,” enthused Apple chief executive Tim Cook when he debuted the ad on social media platform X. “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create.”

The commercial has certainly created something – a furore.

While it’s pretty obvious what the tech giant was going for – its product contains multitudes! – many have a quite different reading of the ad.

“It is the most honest metaphor,” producer, director, and writer Asif Kapadia has accurately observed, “for what tech companies do to the arts, to artists, musicians, creators, writers, filmmakers: squeeze them, use them, not pay well, take everything, then say it’s all created by them.”

And serve it to consumers – who exist only to have their data harvested – and convince them that the black mirror’s soulless simulacrum is really life itself.

It appears 1984 wasn’t averted, just delayed.

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