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:

@anildash @pkafka fanboys are reacting to Apple with Beats as akin to their girlfriends being seen publicly on Instagram with Magic Johnson

— Nait Jones (@NaithanJones) May 9, 2014

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.

Dr. Dre could become the world’s first billionaire rapper If Apple buys Beats: http://t.co/WqUfobkkGA $APPL

— CNBC (@CNBC) May 9, 2014

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.)


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