Tuesday, February 06, 2007

There Aren't Any Respectful Ways to Say 'Your Computer Sucks'

Charlie Brooker's anti-Mac rant on the Guardian blog, inspired at least in part by the UK version of the 'I'm a Mac; I'm a PC' ad campaign, has been ruffling some feathers (on the other hand, it also inspired Alison to track down this Mac/PC slash site). I love my Mac dearly--even more so now that I'm working and forced to use a Windows machine most of the day--but Brooker's screed is so obviously calculated to enrage that I can't be bothered to react to it. It's the equivalent of a middle-schooler shouting 'poo!' at the top of his lungs, and Brooker's irate--not to say hysterical--anti-Mac and -Mac-users arguments are so absurd that the entire piece goes right through aggravating and out the other end into funny.

Where Brooker does have a point, however, is in his criticism of the ad campaign. I haven't seen the UK version, but even though I find the US originals quite funny (although their effect might have been lessened had I known that John Hodgman, who plays the fuddy-duddy PC, is a cast member on The Daily Show), there is something almost cringe-inducing about the smarminess with which the Mac and PC present their various strengths and weaknesses (PCs are good for work stuff, Macs are good for creative stuff is both a vast oversimplification and not actually true, and if I never hear the 'there are less computer viruses for Macs' argument again, it'll be too soon). Funny as it is, the campaign associates Mac use with condescension.

The only problem is that, much like Brooker's suggestion that a proper operating system should be cumbersome and hard to figure out, this is an argument from another decade. Mac ads have always been smarmy and condescending (and as for being simplistic: they're ads. They're trying to sell you something. Specifically, these ads are trying to get you to replace a cheap appliance with a more expensive one which will, in the short run, cause you some trouble as you scramble to track down equivalents to your existing software and deal with compatibility issues with the rest of the PC-using world. Simplistic is baked right in). Their basic gist is that the only reason to use a PC is not knowing any better (or, alternatively, being afraid), and since this is the thrust of the company's argument, it's hard to get away from a condescending tone. The best you can hope for is to cloak that condescension in the kind of humorous tone that the 'I'm a Mac; I'm a PC' campaign has been consistently hitting.

Not to mention that anything that follows up on this is almost automatically an improvement.

3 comments:

Dotan Dimet said...

Come now, how can you so casually dismiss such reasoned arguments as "Doctor Who definitely uses a PC"?

I watched the British Mac/PC ads last night, as well as a couple of the Japanese ones. The weakness of these ads as far as Mac-promotion goes is that the skits are all based on the PC character acting in a silly way, while the Mac dude looks on bemused, or makes due with a glib, snotty quip. The result of this setup is that the Mac comes across as a detached snob with PC is a lovable goof and so, paradoxically, a more fun character.

Abigail's Mom said...

Three things, darlin'

1. two of the links in your opening paragraph are broken -- too bad, reading a rank can sometimes be good entertainment.

2. As for the last paragraph: the 1984 Apple ad was a watershed event in the TV advertising world. It was shocking and exciting and changed the way all TV advertising has been designed ever since.

3. About the I'm a PC/I'm a Mac ads themselves: they are meant to annoy. An advertiser's main purpose is to get you to notice the product he's trying to sell, to mention it to others, and (if possible) to get it quoted elsewhere in the media. If you like the ad, that's a plus. If you don't like it, that may even be better.

stu willis said...

I'd rather a computer that's a snob, than a loveable goof. ("Oh look, Windows just crashed again! Isn't that cute?).

Then again, I am a computer snob. I chose to use OS X for a reason and I will promote the cause. I don't see computers as an appliance in the same way that I see a toaster as an appliance.

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