One of the most fundamental abilities we have as humans is to whitewash the past. Whether it’s convincing ourselves that Reagan was actually a good president (read: conservative Christian and bona fide tax cutter) or that “Thundercats” was actually a good show (read: bearable to watch), we retrofit evidence to serve the narrative we have chosen for our Favorite Things.
We can do it privately as individuals or systematically as entire government bureaucracies, like with the Texas Board of Education and its textbooks. We’ve been doing it with youth culture since the beginning of time.
More recently though we saw it with Apple co-founder/savior-of-the-human race Steve Jobs. If aliens had touched down on Earth on October 6, they would have had no choice but to assume he was a deity. Sorry, we can’t take you to our leader. He died. But we can take you to the iTunes store, where thanks to this “free thinker,” you won’t find any porn.
It’s entirely understandable why there has been so much coverage of Jobs. There’s no doubt that he revolutionized multiple industries and simplified a complex digital landscape with consumers, not corporations, in mind. He gave us several of our most beloved electronic devices, which surely must have saved lives at one point. Right?
For quite a long time, the media bias in favor of Apple and Jobs has been worse than anything enjoyed by any political candidate or movement ever. When news of his death broke, media outlets, one after another, gushed and oozed about the “visionary.” It took an entire news cycle before someone, in this case, Gawker, pointed out that, hey, yeah, he was Great, but he wasn’t a great guy.
You’d kind of expect to see it from places like Saturday Night Live, but, surprisingly, even the New Yorker fell prey.
Of course, this cover is a joke, but James Surowiecki’s piece did nothing to bring the humor back down to earth. There was no mention of Jobs’ tyrannical management style or his volatile temper or his hatred of buttons. With more and more excerpts of the Walter Isaacson bio coming out, the coverage is now bending back towards reality.
To ignore the troubling aspects of Jobs’ personality does a disservice to the man himself. Let’s role with the whole god joke for a second. If Jesus had been a god, would his message have had the same impact? I’d expect a god to be able to make alcohol on command. It was the fact that he was human that made him resonate. Same with Jobs. He was an incredibly flawed human, and his accomplishments are made all the more remarkable considering that.
I really would hate to have had Perfectionist Steve as a father. Your science project volcano would never have been foamy enough, your summer vacation essay never quite revolutionary enough, or your sock drawer organization nowhere near elegant enough.
To use the term, since it’s a term that we do use (though perhaps shouldn’t), Jobs was a genius. And like many other geniuses, he was kind of an ass and didn’t do it all himself.
Somewhere I came across an op-ed piece from an Indian newspaper where a columnist had dared not to shed tears for Jobs (Unfortunately, I can’t find it.) In it, the writer drew a stark contrast with another genius, Jonas Salk. The scientist had developed one of the most revolutionary devices of the 20th century, and he gave it away for nothing. Jobs, on the other hand, was noticeably absent from the world of philanthropy (though it’s highly possible he gave immensely in private).
You see, you may love your iPhone or iPad. Don’t be ashamed. It’s beyond your control. You might love Jobs. (I’m writing this on a quite pleasing MacBook Pro.) But you shouldn’t Love your iPhone, iPad or Jobs.
[Image via the New Yorker]