Friday, 21 October 2011

Why did Apple brand the death of Steve Jobs?

Thrift, thrift, Horatio, the funeral bak'd-meats

Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act I Scene II

I do not have a favourite brand. Whenever I find myself drawn into the shiny matrix of a brand’s ‘look’, I become sceptical, questioning the tactics that have led me there. Of how that brand has managed to add to, overwrite and extend the identity of a specific product beyond its unmarked ontology: whether it be an object such as a camera by Nikon, or a service, as with the bank Natwest. Of how brands covertly seize upon social spaces and inflect the praxis of user-consumers, dynamically reconfiguring one’s relations to local environments and distorting one’s perception of archetypal experiences we previously deemed ‘sacred’. More than any other brand I can think of, Apple’s marking of technology appears the most integrated, seamless and beguiling.

Steve Jobs died on October 5th. Walking along East Houston in downtown Manhattan two days later, on October 7th, I watched a taxi drive past, top-sign emblazoned with an icon of Steve Job’s face, and accompanied by the text: ‘You changed the world’. How are we supposed to take this? Is Apple transparently empathizing with the collective feelings of the General Public for the death of a ceo? No. By extending their funereal operations beyond the prescribed space of the website, products and stores, and into the territory of advertisement, Apple has discreetly subsumed, mythologized and redeployed the death of Steve Jobs as a virtual, illuminated and endlessly circulating tomb, conflating the process of memorializing the loss of a loved one, with the directives of market strategy… and all within the space of two days. This is branding par excellence.

We think of Apple’s future as being dependent upon Steve Jobs. This is what the shares tell us and this is the crux of his fame. By supplementing his presence so soon after his death with the performative epitaph ‘You changed the world’ – preternaturally (re)membering Jobs – Apple tactically enunciates a binding command through the lips of a dead man:

do not forget me, do not leave Apple

This colonization of public space is actualized by the arbitrary movements of a taxi cab, which operates as a mechanized substitute for Jobs’ lived body. Transgressing one of the central oppositional binaries of Western civilization – life : death :: presence : absence – Apple fascistically converts Jobs dismembered body into an iconographical engine whose imminent death rites demand the attention of the urban masses.

If Rupert Murdoch died tomorrow, News Corporation would not be so willing to transubstantiate their ceo for the sake of some quick publicity. What Apple has achieved, in this co-opting of the spatial boundaries between life and death, is to put into action an accelerated paradigmatic shift, whereby death – the epistemological end-stop – is reconceived as a digitally-mastered, photoshopped mechanism for the advancement of consumer sales and brand loyalty. This is an actor-network relational pitch with a mobile centre of techno-orchestrated absence; thus spelling the commercial enfranchisement of death.

- Thomas Hastings

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