Corporations Don’t Have Souls

In covering Apple's expensive new watch, journalists unwittingly reveal their susceptibility to corporate propaganda.

By Nathan Pippenger

This item from The Atlantic merits a brief note, especially since this is the magazine of Emerson, who wrote: “The philosophy of six thousand years has not searched the chambers and magazines of the soul.” Today we get this headline: “With Its $10,000 Watch, Apple Has Lost Its Soul.”

Yes, this is a real headline, of an article that hails “the incredible arc” of Apple, “the most famous company in American business,” before fretting over the fragile state of its immortal being after the unveiling of a new 18-karat gold $10,000 smartwatch. It’s all too easy to imagine readers nodding along, lamenting with forlorn earnestness what amounts to a change in brand identity. The story goes as follows: Apple used to be the company of “Think Different.” Of course, that was just an ad, and as the article notes, “ads are just propaganda with a profit motive and rarely to be taken at their word.” The passage could have stopped right here. But it goes on:

And yet. With ‘Think different,’ Apple was at the very least addressing itself to people who were not incumbent. (That status quo, unnamed in the ads, was of course Microsoft—which made serious machines preferred by people of business.) Apple made technology for people who wanted to change the world, not the people who ran it […] Buy an Apple phone/laptop/music player, and you didn’t get an amalgam of specifications, software, and capacity. You got an experience.

This is not ad copy, although it’s pretty close. And yet it turns out there is something even more depressing than the naked cynicism of advertisers selling a personal identity bound up in consumer products: the consumer who actually buys the pitch. How else is one brought to palpable sadness by this realization: “I know too which kind of consumer pays $10,000 just to have a nice watch which will be obsolete in a year. They are not a misfit or a rebel.”

The thought that Apple, which builds expensive consumer products under terrible labor conditions in poor countries to sell them to people in rich countries, and which steadfastly avoids paying taxes while doing so, is an entity that will be corrupted by selling an expensive watch is the absurd apotheosis of consumer culture. Journalists fawn over Apple because Apple is cool, but it’s striking to see belief in advertising so genuine as to generate actual disillusionment.

It’s important to be very clear about something: Corporations do not have souls. And if Apple did have a soul, its fate would be determined at the Pearly Gates with a single word: “Foxconn,” followed by a prompt tumble downward. Buy an iPod, or don’t; use a MacBook Pro, or don’t; drop ten grand on an Apple watch, or don’t. For consumers in wealthy countries, the choice doesn’t matter very much. There are other ways to listen to music, other laptops, and other ways to tell time. But whatever else Apple sells you, avoid the tempting lie that they are selling an identity too.

Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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