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December 6, 2010

Apple’s The Beatles

What’s both brilliant and extraordinarily chilling is the degree to which corporate America has taken over and melded political, corporate, popular and public culture, using Madison Avenue to spin the interests of “the man” to convince “the man in the street” that what the boardroom wants — at the consistent expense of the citizen/consumer — is what’s right, just and cool.

This billboard, which has sprouted in LA, nearly stopped me in my tracks when I first saw it yesterday.  What larger cultural icon could the one on the left equate itself to, and in fact, successfully graft than the one the right?

As I see it, the billboard is doing two things. First, it’s drawing equivalence through comparison.  The message is: what The Beatles were as a cultural presence and an icon of cool the Apple corporation is now.

The billboard, as an announcement, also trumpets possession.  Here, its message (designed in a way that suggests, if slightly less minimally, Apple’s version of The White Album) serves as a big fat announcement that the Beatles, as one of the greatest cultural phenomenons of the past 100 years (the band pictured in their last days, adding to the sense that “that was then, and we’re it now”) has just been fully acquired by America’s Silicon Valley, three years after the Beatle’s Apple Corps. logo and brand were fully acquired by Apple, Inc. after an almost twenty year on-again, off-again trademark war.

While kids download away, I’d say we’ve lost a revolution.

(4:30 pm PST.  Last paragraph expanded.)

  • Enoch Root

    Of course the story is that The Beatles had their own company called Apple. Historically there has been more than a little contention between Apple (the label) and Apple (the computer guys). So we suppose they’ve finally worked it out. (As in: “We can work it out.”)

    Check out the Apple Records web site. Watch the promo video on that landing page. Hear John Lennon describe their Apple, which sounds a lot like Steve Jobs’ Apple.

  • http://www.mscottbrauer.com M. Scott Brauer

    The revolution was lost in 1987 with a Nike ad (http://www.pophistorydig.com/?p=702). Here’s George’s take at the time: “If it’s allowed to happen every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all. It’s one thing when you’re dead, but we’re still around! They don’t have any respect for the fact that we wrote and recorded those songs, and it was our lives.”

  • http://www.serr8d.blogspot.com serr8d

    Uggggh. While never more than a casual Beatles fan, I hate to see ‘em slide under the waves. I feel more of a gut punch every time I hear Ray Manzerak doing a “don’t drink and drive” commercial, knowing he is co-opting what is Jim Morrison’s property: The Doors. Unappreciated at best, Ray, whoever you are.

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com Stan B.

    Constantly amazed how strong that classic B&W looks amid the sea of color.

  • quincyscott

    Well, come on now. Whatever else they were, the Beatles were always part of the entertainment industry. Much more pretentious was Apple’s old Think Different print campaign where they associated themselves with actual revolutionaries like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. This is an ad for a music purchasing service with a bunch of famous musicians in it. The reason the Beatles have never been available as electronic downloads up to this point has to do with wrangling over ownership rights and royalties, etc., etc. I know we all like to think the Beatles, Dylan, and the rest belong to us, but it has always been something of an illusion.

    And frankly the Beatles themselves were always aware of this. John Lennon wrote that song about Revolution, but let’s not forget the sly lyrics. He is to some extent mocking people like himself who claim to want to change the world. Those guys all had a pretty rough time balancing art, commerce, and culture.

    Having said all that, I don’t really fully understand the Beatles on iTunes fuss, except that Steve Jobs has always wanted it to happen. I am a fan of Apple products, and I also am a Beatles fan. They are among a handful of popular musicians that have had an impact on my life. But I already own everything they ever recorded. Why would I spend another $150 on something I already own? But apparently people are buying the stuff. I don’t know if it’s old folks getting suckered in by the nostalgia, or kids discovering the band for the first time. If it’s the latter, then maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Kids getting turned on to thoughtful music while the musicians get a cut and corporations make a killing? Hey, same as it ever was.

  • thirdeye pushpin

    The Revolution will be commodified!

  • boomerangst

    I can’t decide who to look at first–Paul the babe, George the mysterious, or John the brilliant, even my least favorite, Ringo, looks fine. Love them and love their music.

    I could not care any less about the social, political, corporate, economic meanings of Apple [then and now], ITunes, and this billboard.

    I own their music and don’t/won’t need ITunes.

  • http://viz.dwrl.utexas.edu/ Noel Radley

    I drew in a breath when I walked past the Apple store and the Beatles were there behind the glass window (as full-length cardboard cutouts). I felt saddened. I have to disagree, Boomerangst, because I think the image matters. I don’t have any concise statement about the political or economic meaning. I’ll say this. It has to do with the feeling I get when I watch videos of John Lennon walking around Central Park with Yoko Ono, or when I listen to him singing ‘God.’ It’s hard stuff. Then, there’s feeling you get when you leave the Apple store in disgust not able to get service, or when you can’t watch a Flash video on your iPad. One of these things is not like the other. The (mis)alignment should disturb and bother us.

  • Ivyleaves

    Well, well. Nobody complains when Mozart’s music is used to sell anything. If this disturbs you, it’s only because you are deluded about how it all works, and always has worked. There is nothing sacred about the Beatle’s music.

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