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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Steve Jobs, More G-dlike Than G-d?

Screenshots from around the Web demonstrating the pop culture equation of Jobs with Jesus

"Creative Genius or a Tyrant?" The two are not mutually exclusive, and though we worship creativity in America, it has nothing to do with goodness.

In fact, Steve Jobs was both: "the last great tyrant."

  • "Great," notes the New York Times, because "there was no one quite like him. He used his powers to make devices that are beloved by their owners in a way that very few American products manage to achieve."
  • "Tyrant," notes the Times, because he did not hesitate to be cruel in whiplashing staff when the product wasn't right - equating one engineer's work with "dog feces." Forbes notes that his business practices were equally ruthless.  

Yet everyone, it seems, forgave him, even apologized for him, because he gave the people what they wanted, with a triple acumen that most people lack:


  • Creative: He knew what customers wanted before they did.
  • Human capital: He knew how to get people to create those products. (Perhaps exploitively; he's been accused of stealing their ideas.)
  • Business: He was a slave to the brand and mercilessly demanded loyalty to it. (And raged at what he viewed as copycatting, as in the case of HTC Android.)
Americans believe in the separation of church and state, but oddly in the realm of business we seek to deify people who are all too human and prone to sins like greed and cruelty:
"The communicants of the Holy Church of Steve... mumble pardons and shrug their shoulders at all of his sinister doings....Who can justify the ways of Steve to mere mortals?"- Forbes, Sept. 8, 2011, criticizing Apple's business practices (emphasis added)
In a country where trust is at an all-time low, and where we demand that leaders meet an almost superhuman standard of corporate social responsibility, what is with the deification of brand tyrants like Job?

It would seem that grownup life is still a lot like high school. Trying to get into the clique of "mean girls" instead of hanging out with the nice kids who are a little less glamorous but more loyal by a lot. Woody Allen, quoting Groucho Marx in "Annie Hall: "I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member."

If we're going to undo some of the damage that brands have done to society, by making us buy things we don't want or need, and can't afford, we're going to have to go further than changing one at a time. We need to look at the brand ecosystem - at the society that tells us, in many and unsubtle ways, that we're not good enough unless we're some kind of superstars. Brands are the secular way of affirming that.

G-d is all powerful, but would never promise us perfection, then treat people so badly as did Steve Jobs.