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Posted
21 January 2008

Categories
cultcha verisimilitude

Tags
macworld keynote randy newman politics jon armstrong grey

5 Comments

Reality Distortion vs. Reality

Herewith, some comments apropos of the Macworld 08 Keynote, specifically Randy Newman's performance at the end.

Firstly, the Keynote as a whole seems to have moved from slick-but-reality-distorted marketing into the realms of straight-out entertainment. Apple are simply leading the pack, and I expect Microsoft and others to follow (e.g. Bill Gates's CES keynote). At the end of the Keynote, Randy Newman sang a couple of songs and rambled (fairly incoherently I thought). Part of the monologue was related to Apple as he said that "this company" wasn't like the others; although it was sufficiently vague that he could have been talking about Pixar instead. And aside from this one mention, Newman could have been playing a set on a late night chat show or something.

The convergence of entertainment with marketing is taken to an extreme in Jon Armstrong's excellent and hilarious novel Grey (available for free on audio podcast from his site). Without giving away too much, in the world of Grey, corporate marketing includes "publicity dates" between members of the respective CEOs families, the resulting courtship is eagerly devoured by a gossip-hungry public, and actual information about the products or the company is completely ignored. In a similar vein, future MacWorld Keynotes could easily include dance routines from Steve Jobs' offspring. OK maybe not, but you have to wonder where it will end.

My second point is that the flavour of entertainment on display at the Macworld 08 show was particularly inappropriate I thought. The message came through pretty loud and clear: Randy Newman doesn't like the Bush administration. The song A few words in defense of our country makes the case that the current US government is bad, but not as bad as it could have been, in comparison to the Roman Caesars for example (setting the bar rather low I would have thought).

Criticism of the Bush administration is something I obviously have a lot of time for. But is it suitable for a consumer product launch?

To those apparently many people at the launch who were pleased with Newman's performance; please ask yourself how you would have felt if the entertainment had taken a position contrary to your own. Mark Nottingham described this exact situation a few years back. I have been in a similar situation, albeit on a smaller scale; prior to the Iraq invasion I was at a business meeting where one of the attendees made his clear pro-Bush views known, much to my discomfort.

Mix politics with business and you take a risk with a relatively small upside but a big downside. If your politics match mine, we are no more likely to do business together than before we knew each other's positions. But if our politics disagree, this difference becomes a barrier that we each have to overcome in order to do business together.

I'm not arguing for censorship or anything. I'm just saying that the separation of politics and business is crucial for the success of both.

5 Comments

Posted by
Stilgherrian
2008-01-21 23:32:00 -0600
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Business is about making money, yes, but sometimes I think it's wrong to "leave politics at the door". In fact, I don't think it's even possible.

Deciding to continue doing business with someone even though you disagree with their political aims is a political decision: a decision to wimp out and fail to pursue your own political goals. A decision to support your political enemy because money is more important to you than your principles.

Mind you, I fail to live up to my own high-sounding rhetoric. :)

I faced an ethical dilemma. I discovered that one of my clients is run by members of Hillsong Church — an organisation which worries me. Did I stop working for them? No. Or at least I haven't yet. However I have turned down a project which would have been working directly with the Church's own business interests.

On the other hand, can I be accused of religious discrimination? Perhaps. How would it have sounded if I said "I don't work for Jews"?

It's presumably OK to say "I don't work for the baby-sacrificing Turnip Cult", though, so where does one draw the line?

I think Apple's greatest error in getting Randy Newman to perform is that Randy Newman is crap. Maybe it's all because Al Gore is on Apple's board.


Posted by
Alastair
2008-01-21 23:32:00 -0600
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Yes, but that just proves my point! (I always love using that line...)

The ethical dilemma you face is plainly an obstacle that you have to get over in order to do business. But the key thing is this is the result of mixing business with politics (or religion).

Put it another way. You, like I, probably had no ethical dilemma walking into a Gloria Jeans to buy coffee before you found out they were closely bound to the Hillsong Church. Now of course it's a different story (they worry me too). But the point is that ignorance is bliss, and in this case, conducive to doing business. The wonderful thing (yes I really think it is) about commerce is that in general you don't need to know the ownership of a company in order to do business with them.

But as soon as I know, it becomes impossible to leave that knowledge "at the door", as you put it.


Posted by
Stilgherrian
2008-01-21 23:32:00 -0600
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I understand that point entirely. But ignorance is why so many Bad Things are allowed to flourish. Perhaps I'm making the argument that we should (yes, that "should" word) be making more informed choices about who we do business with.

Obviously, though, all business involves compromise...

(I tended to avoid Gloria Jean's before that, but that's only because I like variety and will always choose the unknown corner café over the high-profile franchise.)


Posted by
Cassie ST
2008-01-21 23:32:00 -0600
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straight-out entertainment

Next thing you know, he'll be making self deprecating guest appearances on tribute videos designed as YouTube viral marketing, Oh hang on .... no ... wait ... I'm so confused ....

Well, what did you expect from I-Poddies? (Not to be confused with "Gladies & Poddies", who can been seen furtively disguising their IP addresses when downloading the latest offering from their favourite ABC commie.)

I was rather surprised at how unsubtle Randy Newman's effort was, but then, we in the other world have spent the last 8 years looking through the glass darkly. They are just awaking from their slumber. The alarm clock needs to be somewhat rauckus to cut through all the bling and whistles.

I tended to avoid Gloria Jean’s before that,

'LOL: I always wondered why I never (and I mean Never) was tempted in the slightest, to sup a Latte in a GJs. Now I know why!


Posted by
Alastair
2008-01-21 23:32:00 -0600
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Rules like "don't mix politics and business" were made to be broken, and Mac developer Daniel Jakult shows how to do exactly that. I liked it anyway.