Steve Jobs, Apple and Big Brother: Remembering a famous TV commercial

Founded in the afterglow of the hippie movement and nurtured in the easy-going ways of the American West Coast, Apple was once anarchic. It was then an underdog taking on the corporate behemoths led by IBM.

That early character was famously captured in the 1984 Superbowl TV commercial for the Apple Macintosh, broadcast on 22 January 1984. Directed by Ridley Scott of Blade Runner and Alien fame, the 60-second commercial depicted a grim futuristic world where total information and mind control prophesied by author George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 had become all too real. Big Brother, in this instance, was supposed to be Apple’s rival IBM whose tyranny is shattered by the daring Apple…

The commercial went ahead despite the rest of the Apple Board hating it. The story goes how co-founder Steve Wozniac offered to personally pay for air time if the company won’t pick up the tab. In the end, it was aired and became one of the most memorable TV commercials of all time.

It also came back to haunt Apple and Jobs decades later. Apple has always been fiercely protective of its products in development, but many felt the company over-reacted in April 2010 when the gadget website Gizmodo did a product tear-down of iPhone 4 that had been leaked weeks ahead of official release date. On Apple’s instigation, police seized computers used by the Gizmodo editor concerned: the watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized the raid as violating journalist source protection laws.

That week, Satire news host Jon Stewart – himself an Apple fan – asked if Apple had gone too far. On his Daily Show, he said: “Remember back in 1984, you had those awesome ads about overthrowing Big Brother? Look in the mirror, man!…It wasn’t supposed to be this way – Microsoft was supposed to be the evil one! But you guys are busting down doors in Palo Alto”

Invoking the other famous commercial, Stewart added: “You used to be the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the square pegs in the round holes, the ones who were never fond of the rules. Remember?”

Jobs, with his eyes firmly fixed on the future and his place in history already assured, chose not to remember, fondly or otherwise. Jobs disliked nostalgia, and would have shrugged off the torrent of it that followed his departure.

Read the full story behind Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl Ad

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

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