Friday, May 9th, 2014
33

Let's Call It 'Apple Privilege'

Big huge tech acquisitions bring out the worst in people. I do not know exactly why: I assume that it has something to do with seemingly infinite sums of money being made to seem finite or even small in the presence of even larger infinities of money. Anyway, has anyone noticed that the loud and visceral reaction to Apple's multi-billion dollar acquisition of Beats, the headphone and music service company, is kind of racist?

I asked this question on Twitter and got a number of private responses immediately. One, from a well-known tech writer: "I did, but only in DM, because I can't deal with that shit today." Then some more! So furtive, so quick:

This is about right. The way that people are handling what they understand to be the Signifiers of Beats is not very helpful. For example, this news factoid, which everyone is running with.

The first billionaire _______ is an identity-focused construction. It's defensible but basically irrelevant; it's a type of headline that will be most interesting to people who don't know or care to know that Dr. Dre has primarily been an electronics entrepreneur since 2008. Anyway, that's not really the racist part.

The racist part is the emotionally defensive pose that Apple fans, or even just people who feel like they know a lot about Apple and the INDUSTRY, assumed within seconds of hearing rumors about this news. It's the utter defiance with which people refuse to see the parallels between Apple, a company that uses identity-based marketing to sell electronics at very high margins, and Beats, a company that uses identity-based marketing to sell electronics at very high margins. It's the inability to reconcile two companies that sell physical, electronic status symbols to different but widely overlapping demographics. (Apple Stores sell thousands of Beats headphones already, anyway; maybe it's helpful to think of this whole thing as simple vertical integration.) It seems like a serious problem here is that people can't imagine Justin Long and Dr. Dre in the same commercial; or that Apple's weepy family ads just wouldn't work with rap music in the background.

And then you read fretful passages like this:

This is what makes the reported Apple deal so troubling. Apple can easily afford it. From that viewpoint, it's not a terrible deal. But Apple has been emphasizing that high quality products and focus are its soul. This doesn't fit either of those.

Focus. Soul. If this doesn't already sound insane just switch industries: New Balance and Nike? But their marketing cohorts don't align, and what about New Balance's immortal essence?

And there's all the grousing about how Beats headphones aren't the best, how there's better stuff for the money, how only a dumb uninformed status-obsessed idiot mall teen (there's an age thing here, too) would choose to buy those instead of the VASTLY superior Grado Prestige Series SR-60i with non resonant air chambers and wider frequency response, because quality is an objective attribute and in a better world it would correlate exactly with desirability and sales. There are charts and forums that PROVE this and EXPLAIN this. Those idiots! Our pure Apple doesn't need THOSE idiots, no, they're diluting our brand. (See: The comments on this video of Dr. Dre and Tyrese celebrating last night. This one took one minute to find.)

dangfgggggggg

Mmhmm. This is all very latent and unintentional and I suppose really about privilege and unexamined biases, so how about this: Apple has $150 billion in cash just sitting around. What are you honestly worried about? What is at stake, for you?

Image via Charlie

33 Comments / Post A Comment

mmmark (#4,458)
John Herrman (#8,286)

@mmmark Identify as/get called

mmmark (#4,458)

@John Herrman "It's not a bad deal. It's arguably a great deal, it just doesn't capture our imaginations like drones, and home automation." Soulful.

NinetyNine (#98)

"Nothing from Beats looks like Apple. Not the brand, not the hardware."

Eh, I think it's be because every fanboi supplicates at the feet of King Troll.

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

But then isn't Apple's acquisition of Beats a form of Cultural Appropriation?

255549681@twitter (#273,191)

It's not racist to use cliched phrases and idioms in headlines. No more than it is in your lyrics anyway. Or are you making the assumption that the journalist is white therefore it's racist? What if s/he is black?

hockeymom (#143)

Until Apple can build an iPhone that isn't rendered useless once you drop it from a height of two feet, I don't really care what the fanboys think. Maybe they can take a lesson from the headphones and build a product that doesn't require you to treat it like a Faberge egg.

awlday (#273,195)

I'll file this under, "Making up accusations of racism to drive clicks to site." Really expected a little more from The Awl.

Smitros (#5,315)

People geeking out over rich people problems. It's just like the NFL Draft.

DNashty (#8,746)

Wait, so, if I think Beats are shitty headphones that makes me racist? Why should we assume people's opinions of the product have anything do to with Dr. Dre?

Matt Buchanan (#232,205)

@DNashty Yes.

313731690@twitter (#273,221)

@DNashty The inherent racism has almost nothing to do with the headphones and everything to do with the merger, which is what the article is about. Both brands use the same fundamental marketing mechanics (selling consumer grade electronics to people that purchase them thinking they're getting a superior product). Fact is you can get a better computer and better headphones for the money, no one can refute these claims for they are mathematical. The idea that Apple and Beats don't mix together doesn't make any sense. Is racism a valid reason for thinking a nonsensical thought such as this? Maybe.

general_dumas (#273,200)

Let's keep in mind Beats is run by a white guy, the headphones are designed by a white guy and it was previously owned by the Taiwanese. Dr. Dre is basically used as a mascot. If there are unsettling racial undertones lurking in this capitalist fairy tale of high margin branded commodities, they don't have anything to do with Apple.

"And there's all the grousing about how Beats headphones aren't the best, how there's better stuff for the money, how only a dumb uninformed status-obsessed idiot mall teen (there's an age thing here, too) would choose to buy those instead of the VASTLY superior Grado Prestige Series SR-60i with non resonant air chambers and wider frequency response, because quality is an objective attribute and in a better world it would correlate exactly with desirability and sales. There are charts and forums that PROVE this and EXPLAIN this. Those idiots!"

Couldn't many of these same things be said about Apple computers?

John Herrman (#8,286)

@Reginal T. Squirge they certainly have been!

I once again made the mistake of following a link from Digg and as I tried to parse the logic of how buying overpriced products from apple and ohmygodisodonfuckinggiveashit..sdfjsldkfj

KarenUhOh (#19)

"We're proud of our commitment to diversity. Why, just last year, we integrated the cellphone."

Must be … a slow "news" day.

Of course, Beats *are* way overpriced. Anybody who *really* knows music, specs and fidelity already knows that.

[how many people would really argue (without feeling stupid), that Acer is a *better* laptop than a MacBook Air?]

MrEdofCourse (#273,313)

The difference between Beats and Apple, is that Apple sells a premium product… think BMW or Mercedes; Beats just sells over-priced products… think Bose or Monster Cable. Not only are Beats over-priced, but they're inferior. No recording professional or semi-serious audiophile uses them

Now one may have a preference for say Windows versus OS X, or Android over iOS, and one may assign a different value to the build quality and materials of a MacBook over say the specs of a PC, although one who looks at either of those objectively is not a fanboy.

With Beats, they (subjectively) look great, but are universally panned on quality by professionals and audiophiles… the very same people who would spend more money on quality product.

Hey, I applaud Dr Dre and Jimmy Lovine for their business acumen, as well as being incredibly talented individuals. This has nothing to do with race (I thought Lovine was white?), although really, the posted video and its comments aren't exactly helping race relations.

It would be one thing if Apple had a history of multi-billion dollar acquisitions, but Apple has let go of many opportunities that Apple fanboys were begging for in the past. Now here comes a $3.2 Billion purchase of "an overpriced, over-hyped headphone company. Sure it has a well-reviewed, but poorly subscribed music service, but really nothing that couldn't easily be evolved out of iTunes Radio.

The context of this is that when Apple makes large purchases, there's a history of things like $400 million for a next-generation OS that will be used for the Macintosh, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Apple TV; as well as bringing on a whole team of engineers and the Jesus Christ of CEOs.

There would be the same collective WTF‽ if Apple had vastly overspent on acquiring Bose, Monster Cable or any other similar company.

That said, this deal hasn't been officially announced. Even when it is, Apple may not reveal the real reasons why it was purchased. It may mean that there's a plan, but the execution will take a couple of years before we see the products/services that were made possible by this purchase.

In the meantime, it's worth noting that since the rumors started to emerge about the acquisition, the market cap of Apple has decreased by roughly $3.5 Billion contrary to Nasdaq (IOW the actual drop of Apple was greater).

Freddie DeBoer (#4,188)

Remember when discussions of racism were about more than white people competing with each other?

Those were the days.

23001519@twitter (#273,500)

Apple makes premium quality, innovative electronics goods that are recognized as top-in-class in basically every category they participate in by professionals and regular users alike. Even non-customers recognize that Apple makes top-notch products even if they disagree with the price or particular design compromises preclude them from buying them. Apple then markets these premium products using great marketing. I would characterize their marketing as empowerment marketing rather than identity marketing though. They never say you'll be cool just because you have their stuff; they show you what awesome stuff you could be doing if you have their stuff.

Beats makes mediocre quality (in construction level and technical sound quality) electronics whose innovation is mostly in the marketing and cosmetic design. There is little to no innovation on the inherent qualities of the products and the design does not focus on the functionality of the design but just the way it looks. The product's sound quality is not respected by professionals or educated consumers. The marketing has been successful at connecting the identity of Dre with the desire to be like Dre. (Even this innovation wasn't really theirs: Monster came up with the idea for high-end headphones endorsed by Dre and he took the idea and ran with it, cutting Monster out of the deal.)

None of this has anything to do with race. It's more of a corporate culture and style mismatch that has produced all these objections.

28736554@twitter (#276,804)

Yes!

Yes, I admit it, I do not like "Beats" and I will never buy a Beats branded product because Dr Dre is involved. I will not buy ANY product that benefits someone who has made a fortune off selling music that berates women, promotes prostitution, promotes crime and drugs, and killing cops. So you are right, John Herrman, I would have difficulty seeing Dr. Dre in a weepy family ad. Perhaps you should educate yourself on who Dr. Dre is before you spout off in a holier-than-thou rant.

Here you go, from the guy himself: “The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the motherf@cking West Coast.”
Yeah, I don't identify with people like that.

Kevin Knox (#4,475)

@Jack Gnasty@facebook How g-nasty can you be if you can't even bring yourself to type out the word fuck?

wardoel (#273,628)

benefits someone who has made a fortune off selling music that berates women, promotes prostitution, promotes crime and drugs, and killing cops

villashua (#273,643)

robot?

Methamphetadream (#235,611)

And here I thought the primary purchaser and target market of Beats™ brand headphones were "Cool Dads"…

"The racist part is the emotionally defensive pose that Apple fans, or even just people who feel like they know a lot about Apple and the INDUSTRY, assumed within seconds of hearing rumors about this news." You are a complete idiot. This isn't racism, and nowhere in your article did you coherently articulate how "Apple's multi-billion dollar acquisition of Beats, the headphone and music service company, is kind of racist". You should really try to get a better understanding of the words you use before regurgitating them onto the internet. At least you got a few clicks.

Twinslife85 (#281,048)

Excellent article. Very interesting to read. I really love to read such a nice article giochi flash. Thanks! keep rocking!

Makua (#285,738)

Nice work! I likeee it! izdelava spletne trgovine

Izaovinka (#286,506)

I love Apple:) najem spletne strani

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