Friday, June 17, 2005

Context Is A Curious Thing

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When I first heard Daft Punk's popular single, "Technologic," I assumed the French duo intended to satirize or critique our contemporary, wasteful attitudes. Over a straightforward marching guitar and bass line, a robotic voice fires commands at us relentlessly.
"Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, melt - upgrade it,
Charge it, pawn it, zoom it, press it,
Snap it, work it, quick - erase it,
Name it, rate it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax - rename it,
Touch it, bring it, obey it, watch it,
Turn it, leave it, stop - format it."
Intrigued by the simple, catchy track, I found the associated music video online. The video's concept confirms that Daft Punk intend "Technologic" as a condemnation of our consumptive ways. In the video, a skeletal robot with human gums and teeth watches itself on television. The televised robot delivers the track's "lyrics" from a pulpit-like position in a geometric world dominated by red skies and black mountains. The minimal treatment and the color choices call to mind fascist regimes, making explicit the critique.

Enter Apple. Once a relatively small company sustained by a devoted minority of computer users, Apple is now an industry Big Boy, thanks to the success of its iPod. The colorful iPod television commercials are by now familiar to most of us living in the United States or Europe. Currently, Apple is using Daft Punk's "Technologic" as the accompanying music for one of these television spots. Watching silhouettes of hip, urban youth dance to a song about disposability, the track no longer critiques; it now celebrates.

iPods are not known for their durability. Distressingly, most iPod owners of several years are working on their second or third unit. Sure, I'm holding on to my old, broken model until I can find a way to recycle its parts safely, but I have a feeling that many people just toss broken iPods into the trash. Not only is such a practice dangerous - iPods, like computers, are filled with toxins and metals that, once leaked, have been linked to environmental problems and human illness - but the very act itself represents a turn towards carelessness. Just as the slob who drops litter on the subway tracks or tosses an empty soda can out the car window accepts less responsibility with each such action, so too does the contemporary consumer of disposable technology. This is precisely the sort of irresponsible behavior Daft Punk highlights with "Technologic," but Apple turns the message on its head, making it a gleeful anthem for those who don't give a shit about anything except their entertainment. I can't help but think of the lyrics to another, more dated pop song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"With the lights out it’s less dangerous
Here we are now
Entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now."
Photo credit: Top, still from Daft Punk's "Technologic" video; Bottom, still from Apple iPod commercial


Mikhail Capone said...

I vaguely remember reading something about Apple starting a program to take back old iPods and recycle them (maybe while giving a credit toward an Apple purchase?)

Commander Worf said...

I think you get 15-20% off your next Apple purchase if you bring in your old ipod. (not incuding any songs from the itunes store.)

Let's not forget the itunes store will do away with CDs... less trash...

Hungry Hyaena said...


I'll look into that. I hope you're right.


(Love the name, by the way.) I agree with you that fewer CDs will result in less trash. In fact, I used to be a big proponent of iPods for that reason, among others. There are still things I like a lot about the devices, but in the long run electronic - particularly computer - "trash" is far worse than plastic wrapping or jewel cases.

Having said that, if Apple would a) improve the warranty and attempt to make units with a longer life-span, b) offer the discount you mention (perhaps with an even steeper discount if your purchase is a replacement iPod), and c) ensure us that the old, broken units are being recycled with care, I would feel more sanguine. Really, I don't think that's too much to ask. I've spend quite a tidy sum on Apple products over the years and they shoudln't forget that good customer service will only engender better consumer loyalty.

In any event, the commercial still disturbs me.

Recon said...

It's funny how corporate spin can change something and make it usable for selling a product. Apple must have given the French duo a huge check for them to let them use their song for that. I bet they did if for free ipods for life. Those things are like crack for music nerds.