The Aura and the Apple

Apple is a company that displays rather blatantly everything Benjamin says about “art” and its practical usage in the modern age, while simultaneously having this usage slipping under the radar of most consumers. In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin states that at this point in human history, with the advent of film and photography, all art is used for a political end which means it is essentailly ripped of its aura or pure artistic value. His arguments state that reproductability of these contemporary forms of art removes any authenticity that could be found in unique works, like the Venus de Milo, or ancient mosaics. It then follows, according to him, that this new sort of “art for the masses” will and is used for political ends, and he compares the two extreme ends of the political spectrum. Fascism seeks to use this “art” to give the masses some form of self-expression and artistic individuality without actually raising any of them to a higher level, while communism uses this art for propaganda and supposed informing of the proper ideology of the party and glorification of the worker.

Apple has become a very popular brand within the last few years. Look around and you’ll probably see at least one person with an iPhone in their hand or a MacBook in their lap. The designs are always sleek, shiny, and sexy. While others still choose to remain loyal to their other brands (behavior that is a whole other can of worms in its own right), it seems that the preferred product of a large demographic remains the same: people like Apple.

But why? If one examines the performance of these devices, they work no better than their PC or android counterparts. Sure the aesthetic is eye-catching, but does that really justify the huge price difference between devices? And while Apple certainly claims that each new update “changes everything” or is an absolute “technological innovation,” other than a few minor updates, a device that comes out a year prior to another is not at all noticeably inferior. Adding a letter to the name of something does not make its previous iteration irrelevant, for sure.

Yet we keep coming back to this brainchild of the late Steve Jobs. We throw our time and money to the smug employees of overcrowded Apple Stores (which to someone from about 30 years earlier is not at all what the name suggests). And for what?

The answer is fairly simple and two-pronged: 1) the company is exploiting the capitalist system and the ignorance of the masses (Marx would have a field day here) and 2) the aesthetic, artistic appeal or these products, largely used by people who consider themselves artists, or at least artistic, is used by not a government per se, but a corporation in order to further its agenda.

The first part of the answer to the Apple conundrum is straightforward and largely based in the principle of manufactured demand. Very briefly I will discuss my opinion on this company: I do not very much like Apple, but have immense respect for them as a company, the same way I do for Rockefeller, Carnegie, or anyone else who can successfully procure that much wealth for themselves through the capitalist system. While their goal is certainly not the most noble, their triumph in the execution of their plans is not an easy one. There is a market for a certain product i.e. Apple technology. The firm producing it uses advertising and misleading jargon in order to make the consumers think they need (demand) the product at a level higher than the real market equilibrium would suggest. This increase in demand, while artificial i.e. not based on actual preferences and the utility of the consuming agent, still has very real effects. Quantities consumed will rise, and so will prices. This explains why people seem to need every single new upgrade to their phones or laptops or tablets or giant robot pencils or what have you. But how is this demand manufactured? How is the system of true labor cost vis a vis Marx’s Capital exploited?

The answer to these questions lies in Benjamin’s work. Due to the lack of instantly recognizable fascist imagery, as well as Marx’s and Benjamin’s communist leanings, I chose to use to the hammer and sickle of the USSR in conjunction with the Apple logo, but let us be assured that for our purposes the company is very much fascist, according to Benjamin. Apple has a very large target audience: everyone. One could call this “everyone” the masses, or if Apple fell on the other side of the spectrum, the proletariat. What Apple markets most of its merchandise on is the creative potential that one can unlock through its devices. They are appealing to the mass’ sense of individuality and expression. But these devices are nothing special; they themsleves are no works of art that would inspire the wonder of other civilizations (other than through their technological merit). The scale on which they are produced is truly grand, and exploitation of labor aside, their widespread propagation, at least according to Benjamin, leaves these machines, however pretty to look at, devoid of any aura.We are then left with a political tool. Apple makes lots of cheap products, and sells them through deceptive marketing, displaying images of art and aestheticism, in order to make absurd levels of profit.

So while the services that Apple provides certainly serve a function (possibly another argument as to their lack of artistic merit), and do benefit some people, their value artistically as far as aura goes is negligible, and their usage of this quasi art is indicative of their fascist tendencies.

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One Comment

  1. Great Post! This was a very interesting read. It is interesting to see how you and Patrizio had very similar points. I agree that Apple is operating on a capitalist system, and that the mindless masses continuously buy into these over promoted products. However, I found interest in the statements of your two-pronged approach. Although these two observations are very relevant, there is also another element in the attraction to Apple products. Since its birth. Apple has been known as the latest and most innovative technology. This is definitely not true in all fields of production, but certainly in the markets for cell phones and tablets. Apple first perfected touchscreen technology with a glass display in their phones and tablets. This originality brings a sense of novelty and has an arbitrary added value, determined by the consumer. This may be one reason for the overpricing and over exaggerated demand that you mention. This should be a separate category beyond the capitalist and aesthetic argument you explain(which are both very true).

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