I don’t think there is anybody around who is more of an Apple admirer than me. I’ve owned four of their computers, three iPods, one iPhone, Final Cut, Logic and lots more. I pressure everybody I know to make the Apple switch, because I think that would make their life better. When Bill Maher recently said on his show that what this country needs is “Jobs,” as in Steve Jobs, I called out “Yesss!” But then I thought about it. Really? Would our government be better if it was run by a genius like Steve Jobs? It sure would seem that way. But still, Steve Jobs? The man does have has a few pesky qualities, to say the least.
1. Secrecy: Guarding against industrial espionage is a high priority for all sorts of companies, as is controlling the timing of new product announcements until the most advantageous time. But I believe it is fair to say that no company protects its secrets more than Apple. Workers are forbidden to talk to outsiders about what happens at work, including relatives. In Cupertino, California (home to Apple headquarters) most Apple employees aren’t allowed to go to other areas where other projects are in development.
Today, North Korea is one of the most secretive countries in the world—it guards its borders tightly and no travel is allowed without a Soviet-style “escort.” People from South Korea are rarely given visas and no journalists are allowed in on tourist visas. Still, you’d have to score this one for Kim, because there are North Korea tours and no Apple office tours—even for the people who work there.
2. Antipathy to Journalism: When secrets are vital, then journalists must always be the enemy. There can be no other way. Within what is possible in your world, you must do everything to stymie them or stop them outright. The North Korean Constitution theoretically protects freedom of the press, but only if serves the interests of the government. Journalists aren’t allowed into North Korea with tourist visas. Despite this, some western journalists have managed to cover the country. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were only near North Korea when they were jailed, setting off an international incident. Kim was setting an example and discouraging others.
Nearly all requests for interviews with Jobs are refused, and it’s fair to say that the ones that are accepted aren’t particularly hard-hitting. Recently, Time Magazine sent a non-journalist, British actor/writer Stephen Fry to cover the iPad launch. Apple super-fan and 13-year-old Nicholas Ciarelli created a Website, “Think Secret,” dedicated to finding out about Apple’s hidden plans. Over the years, Ciarelli received numerous cease-and-desist letters from Apple, until they filed a lawsuit against him and he was forced to shut the site in 2005. As has been widely reported, Gizmodo.com recently ran a story revealing the new iPhone after an Apple employee left one in a bar. Days later, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered editor Jason Chen’s home without him present, seizing four computers and two servers. So what we have is a journalist who has presented all his information in a public way to the world, being treated in the same way as a hacker, a terrorist, a collector of child pornography—all people who are engaged in heinous illegal activities. The point is to make an example.
3. Cult of Personality: Per the current North Korean constitution, Kim is now the “Supreme Leader,” although he is also referred to as the “Dear Leader” and the “Great Leader.” He receives the standard totalitarian dictatorial goodie bag enjoyed by Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Hussein and so many others—giant posters, massive statuary, military parades, the whole shebang. His image is familiar the world over: Big glasses, Eraserhead haircut, and Mao-chic matching gray pants and shirts.
Jobs’ personal power comes first from being brilliant and creating some of the most wonderful products ever. He has an adoring following because he totally deserves it. As far as I’m concerned, anybody who disagrees with that is either uninformed, a moron, a jerk or all three. I am not joking. Bart Simpson deserves a spanking:
Secondly, you don’t see or hear from him much, and that adds to his mystery and our excitement when he does appear. There are very few photos of him for a man of his stature. We generally see him when he’s onstage presenting a new Apple product, which he does with such skill that you want to sign on to all the secrecy that enabled the show. His uniform is a black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers, which he wears at every Apple presentation, and legend has it, every day period. But I’m not trying to make cheap shot, comparing his outfit to totalitarian garb, as it is not an unusual thing for highly focused creative types—Stanley Kubrick did the same thing.
4. Affection for 1984 Iconography:
5. The Will to Go it Alone: Kim Jong-il created devastation, including a terrible famine by cutting off relationships with long-time trading partners like China and Russia (and obviously, South Korea).
Steve Jobs has a tendency to create his own standards rather than use the ones that have been established by others. Legal MP3 downloads from all other companies will play on an iPod or iPhone, but nothing that’s downloaded from the Apple store can be played on a non-Apple product. The iPhone only is available from AT&T, so if I talk really fast, five percent of my calls don’t cut out—but that’s okay, I love my apps. Anybody can have a phone that makes calls. Currently, he denies users of the iPad access to nearly all the video on the web, by making it unable to function with Flash. It has been reported that he is developing a Flash alternative called Gianduia. Unless he budges on Flash, iPad users will go to their graves without ever having access to the Web that every computer has. But if any of them want to call me to complain about it, they should make sure they use my land line.
6. Hard-Knuckled Management Style: Both are pretty tough cookies. Suffice to say, neither of them have seen much point for carrots when there are so many sticks lying around.
The Contrast: Despite the six points I have enumerate above, there is an important difference between the two of them. Kim is a psychopathic monster who has brought devastation on millions of people, and with his nuclear arsenal, is one of the biggest threats the world currently faces. On the other hand, Jobs is a super-talented guy who has brought much wonder and joy into the world.
Despite everything I’ve written in this post, I wish my life had gone differently and I had had the chance to work for Steve Jobs. He might have yelled at me, but that wouldn’t have bothered me one bit. I’m a big boy, and I’ve worked in the film business for 30 years, for Christ sakes. But all my best teachers in school and life have pushed me to do my utmost. They accepted nothing less. I know that he would be just like that. I’m sure I would be a much better man today if I had worked for him, and it would give me a lot of pleasure to know that I had played a role in Apple.
I started this post attempting to sort out in my mind whether it is better to have democracy, or to have an effective, superb leader—even if kind of autocratic. You can disagree with me, but I’d go with Jobs any day. Democracy, as it currently exists in this country is an abject failure. What is going on in Washington today bears the same relationship to what the founding fathers created as acts of child rape do to Jesus’ words. Every single one of these “politicians” is corrupted by their weaknesses—for power, for money, for the adulation of the crowd, for the childlike need to have their egos constantly buffed and, increasingly, to manipulate their staff members to have sex with their ugly-ass selves. That is to say, they are all too human, and it just makes everything worse to have a big f*cked-up porridge of them. But how about one benevolent king?
Imagine going into the House and Senate and throwing every single one of the bums out. Then let Steve Jobs come in with his crew. I bet that in no time at all he’d have cleaned up the BP oil spill, provided Health Care with a public option, provided real reform for Wall Street and eliminated global warming. Plus there would be apps! Maybe he would be mean sometimes and make inexplicable decisions, and probably it would be arduous for everybody, but at the end of the day you know what? He would be right most of the time. And our country would be in much better shape than it is today.
It sure as hell would look better.
Reid Rosefelt is a veteran film publicist based in New York City. He has promoted hundreds of films, for such diverse moviemakers as Jim Jarmusch, Pedro Almodóvar, Errol Morris, Ang Lee and Werner Herzog. His personal clients have included The Sundance Institute, IFC and HBO Films, as well as Harvey Keitel, Ally Sheedy and the late Adrienne Shelly. His production publicity credits include Desperately Seeking Susan, The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. His blog can be found at http://my-life-as-a-blog.com/.