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Dear Tim Cook: Be a Decent Human Being and Delete this Revolting Apple Ad

During the Super Bowl broadcast of 1984, Apple debuted one of the most innovative and spectacular commercials ever made: Ridley Scott's ad for the then-brand new MacIntosh home computer. It showed an auditorium full of lifeless human drones staring at a dictator-like figure ranting on a giant screen, followed by an athletic blonde woman (the only splash of color in the scene) bursting through the doors and hurling a hammer into the screen, symbolically destroying the oppressor.

Forty years later, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to social media to debut an ad for "iPad Pro: the thinnest product we’ve ever created, the most advanced display we’ve ever produced, with the incredible power of the M4 chip. Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create." 

The tonal opposite of the company's most famous ad, it shows a stack of creative tools and imaginative objects being crushed in a giant press. 

Sonny and Cher sing "All I Ever Need is You" as the device destroys some of the most beautiful objects a creative person could ever hope to have, or see: a trumpet, camera lenses, an upright piano, paints, a metronome, a clay maquette, a wooden anatomical reference model, vinyl albums, a framed photo, and most disturbingly (because they suggest destructive violence against children's toys, and against the child in all of us) a ceramic Angry Birds figure and a stack of rubber emoji balls. 

You've heard the phrase "They said the quiet part out loud", right? Well, that's what this ad is doing. 

And it's not just speaking in room tones. It's practically crowing its happiness at the destruction of artists, their tools, and their process.  

Look at how the wooden figurine bends beneath the weight of the press, and how the paint cans explode and spray their contents against the lens like blood in a graphic horror film. Look at the grotesque way the destruction of the musical instruments and camera lenses is fetishized: wood and metal buckling, glass shattering. They even made sure to put one of the emoji toys right on the edge of the press so that when the pressure bears down on it, we see its eyes bulge, then pop out. 

This ad doesn't just show destruction. It delights in it. 

When the press has stopped crushing things, the music cuts out and is replaced by eerie silence. This is a technique that movies use to summon audience unease after a character has been violently killed. 

Then the press raises to reveal a thin computer pad that (one supposes) replaces all of the items that we just saw being pulverized. All we ever need, or something like that.

You can tell yourself that the items on that metal press are "only stuff "and their eradication doesn't mean anything. But if you do, it means you've never had a violent person destroy something you loved as a way of warning you "You're next," which in turn means you are a person who lacks imaginative empathy and should've kept your mouth shut. 

This is a disturbing, shocking ad, not just because of what it shows but because of its seeming obliviousness to the subtext that it turns into text, as well as the message it sends to every artist alive: the tech industry will crush you, destroy you; suddenly, violently, all at once.

The rebel warrior with the hammer smashing the old order has been superseded by another Big Brother. 

The ad arrives amid a continued furor over the ethical, moral and copyright implications of "Generative AI," which is a cool-sounding name for plagiarism software. This so-called "intelligence" is not intelligent but crudely imitative. Contrary to what its industry boosters (and their simps) keep trying to tell us, its relationship to the history of human creativity is not at all like the relationship between a flesh-and-blood art student studying a book of Rembrandt paintings or a budding trumpeter playing along with Miles Davis. It's more like the relationship between the tripods in Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" and the people that they suck up into their bellies, shred into gory paste, and spray onto their crops, as a kind of mulch. 

All of variants of Gen AI were "trained" over the course of many years by "scraping" of artwork by creative humans, past and present. Almost zero of the artists were consulted or asked to opt-in, much less compensated for their labor. Gen AI is theft of intellectual property as well as intellectual labor (and in some cases physical labor; it takes time and material to make a film, a TV show, an album, a painting, a sculpture, etc.) on a scale never dreamt of before. 

"Move fast and break things" was the motto of Facebook until ten years ago, and continues to drive the tech industry, as well as venture capitalists and hedge funders who have no morals, and don't care about anything but shareholder value and executive bonuses. These are people who look for ways to siphon off money from transactions that didn't need additional middlemen to function. These are people who acquire companies in order to saddle them with debt from their own acquiring and then cut staff and resources and financially bleed them to death. These are people who create services that shatter existing industries so quickly that the law can't catch up with regulations, and brag about being "disruptors" while the unemployment lines swell. 

These are people who break other people.

This ad breaks things. By implication, it threatens to break people, or at least their livelihoods. 

But it doesn't move fast. It moves slowly, like the monsters in John Carpenter films, out of belief that the process is inevitable and no one can stop it. 

Is it true that no one can stop it? We'll see. There are currently many cases winding their way through the courts that aim to sue the makers of AI tech into bankruptcy as punishment for stealing from people who are actually creative, and offering the flimsiest justifications for why their theft isn't illegal and wrong. 

But it won't be easy. 

Most of the great tech fortunes of the last 25 years were built on crimes against artists and their work—specifically uncompensated yet monetized use, with profits flowing mainly to the company, its shareholders and its executives, not to the artists. It's all been a huckster's endless dream, from Napster to YouTube to Spotify to Netflix and other streaming video platforms. The latter flooded the market with TV programming that had been redefined as "digital content" so streamers could pay creative people less than union minimums, flood the marketplace, and pull eyeballs away from legacy broadcasters and cable; they now try to avoid paying creative people any royalties at all, even as they attempt to reinvent cable under a different name. In the years since Netflix committed entirely to streaming and every other company followed suit, the "move fast, break things" mantra has broken the industry, and along with it, the layers of upper-middle, middle- and working-class artists that used to be able to (barely) support families by doing what they loved, even though nobody in the general population would ever know their name. 

We now have a world in which actors or musicians go on social media and display the twenty or fifty dollar residuals checks they received for work that aired dozens or even hundreds of times on a streaming platform or got millions of plays on Spotify, and that, in the eras of broadcast networks and vinyl records, or cable TV and compact discs, could have paid for a child's braces, or a semester of college. On the Internet, artists are treated with indifference or open contempt even by people who have made their work integral to the formation of their identity. Anyone who complains about AI's theft of a lifetime of work so that people can play Mad Libs with prompts and make software barf up visual sludge is likely to instructed to quit whining and learn to code. Writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, and other creative workers are increasingly looking for other means of renumeration, because it is increasingly obvious that tech runs every part of the world, and what tech wants is slave labor, or as close to it as they can legally get, and sees the rest of the world in terms of "value extraction": another euphemism, this time for theft.

It's ugly of Apple to ally their latest device with the increasingly degraded environment that artists now toil in. 

But it's not surprising, because Apple has always been part of the tradition. They just have PR that has convinced people that they're more sensitive and attuned to beauty than Microsoft or Samsung. 

Considering how many smart people work at Apple, and the sheer number of names and titles that had to have been involved in the chain of decisions that results in an ad like this being unveiled, one has to assume not that nobody thought about this stuff, but that they did and were too smug to care.

You can tell from the ad. It's celebratory, in the worst way. 

It doesn't just say, reductively and falsely, "If you have this new device, which is really not too different from any other Apple iPad, just thinner, you'll never need anything else to be creative" (though I'm sure it's loaded with Gen AI plagiarism tools; everything is now). 

No. It says, "All these beautiful objects and materials and tools that allowed humans to make art, or that inspired art, are being destroyed, smashed, pulped, to feed the tech industry." 

Or, alternately, "If you have any of this stuff, take it to the dump, because we're gonna make sure there's no place for it in modern life anymore."

"Give me a reason to build my world around you," Cher sings, presumably to this iPad. Well, I guess one reason would be "we intentionally destroyed every other means of making art." But that's not a reason one should brag about.

This is one of the most depressing ads I've ever seen. 

And it was completely unnecessary. Just one day earlier, Apple released a different ad that pushes the same product in a positive, non-disturbing way

The metal press ad is, as they say, an "own goal."

Tim Cook, please prove you're a decent human being. Delete this monstrosity and announce an initiative to compensate artists for all the work that your company has used, and is using, to "train" its software and devices. 

Then apologize to all the creative people who have ever used Apple products to make art.

You wouldn't exist without them.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of RogerEbert.com, TV critic for New York Magazine and Vulture.com, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

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