Thursday, September 25, 2014

U Who?

I hadn’t intended to write about the recent U2/Apple manufactured controversy, but what the hell, it’s an interesting topic.

So, the day Apple stages its fall event to announce the release of the new iPhone, U2 makes a promotional appearance.  Afterwards, Tim Cook announces that U2’s new album will be available for free to all iTunes customers.

While I’ve been an iTunes user since buying my first 160 GB iPod more than a few years back, I’ve never used the iTunes store.  This goes ways back, to Apple’s initial practice of only selling DRM-protected files, which I shunned like the plague and never got over.  But that night, I logged into the iTunes store and saw that the U2 album was noted as already-purchased, so all I had to do was download the files, free of charge.

What a nice promotional gesture, I thought.  Even if U2 albums over the past two decades haven’t done all that much for me, usually a few tracks are keepers.  I downloaded them into my iTunes library, copied them to my laptop’s Desktop, then deleted the files from my library.  I’m this thorough since I have around 30,000 tracks in my library and have my own filing/tagging system to keep things in order.

As the week goes along, I become aware that there is a “massive outcry” over what Apple did, that some iTunes users immediately got onto Twitter and other social media, complaining about Apple violating their privacy and trust by forcing free music into their library.  I didn’t immediately understand, but later learned that some users have iTunes set-up so that purchased files drop straight into their iTunes library, and by extension their “cloud” and devices.  These people had about a dozen tracks dropped into their Apple devices from a band they either didn’t know or like.  But the only way to state that properly in the wonderfully literate syntax of internetese is to say they “hate U2.”

The “massive outcry” was the usual thing: overgrown babies turning a non-issue into their version of walking five miles in the snow to borrow a library book.    This is the kind of thing they will look back on as symbolic of the tribulations they suffered in the halcyon days of their youth, while lecturing grandchildren who have silicon chips that stream music and virtual-reality video embedded in their fucking skulls.  The grandkids will roll their eyes: “Man, grandpa’s going off again about the time Apple downloaded MP3 files onto his iPhone without his permission.  What’s an MP3 file?  What’s iTunes?  What’s an iPhone?”  They’ll vaguely remember Apple the same way I remember IBM Selectric typewriters.

Never mind that a vast majority of iTunes customers, hundreds of millions of them, either quietly downloaded or ignored the free tracks.  Massive outcry?  More like what happens these days: a few thousand people on Facebook and Twitter riling each other up about the same non-issue, and the media then picking up on this and turning it into a firestorm of bullshit.

Some of the utter nonsense I’ve been reading the past week has been unreal.  An internet buddy linked to a story on Salon calling U2 “America’s Most Hated Band” – not necessarily because of this recent situation with Apple, but that and a lot of issues concerning Bono’s pomposity over the years and the sort of myth-building that any massively successful rock band or artist cultivates.  (The article didn’t even mention one of their more glaring episodes, when U2’s record label sued the band Negativland for not getting permission to parody “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in their song "The Letter U And The Numeral 2.”)

“Hate” is one of those internet words that has lost its meaning.  Hate much?  How many times have I seen some catty millennial mutter that passive aggressive bon mot when disagreeing with someone venting?  Like “epic.”  Like “awesome.”  Like “like.”  Words that have lost their meaning and only underline inferior language skills, where a Youtube video of a dog making friends with a billy goat becomes “awesome.”

It’s not awesome.  It’s not epic. It’s not even, like, epic.  Most people using the word “hate” don’t have enough heart and soul to hate.  You only develop that sort of emotional depth by being engaged in the real world, not spending all day in the world of devices and the internet.  “Hate” has come to mean that you think something is bullshit.  It bothers you.  Real hatred is a profoundly negative and violent emotion that goes far beyond feeling irritated. It’s something that burns in your soul and may very well destroy you.

I know we’re all being facetious when we use the word “hate” to describe bands, or types of music, or movies, or any form of art that elicits an opinion.  Most bands, music or movies that I don’t like don’t inspire the emotional effort required for genuine hatred.  I don’t like them, don’t have time to waste on them, don’t even have time to give the right amount of attention to things I love.  I don’t like hiphop in general, but, dude, I really should take the time to listen to the cool underground stuff to really get it, man?  No, thank you.  No time.  Would I listen to it if it was dropped in my iTunes library for free?  Sure, why not, but I would delete it immediately if there was nothing there for me.  It’s fine not to like U2, or any band, or any type of music.  So while I see through the faux hatred, I’m slightly befuddled by legitimate publications calling a band like U2 “the most hated band in America.”

That was the surface issue.  The real issue?  I’m going to go out on a limb here … the complainers could have taken two minutes to click open their iTunes library and delete the files.  Notice that a few thousand people instead took that two minutes to vent on Twitter, which tells you everything about their priorities.  Oh, but my trust has been violated!  How dare Apple and U2 pull this fascist bullshit on me, man!  On us!  They did it to us, man!

(Sidenote: I’ve never read those long-winded user terms of agreements that appear every time I download a piece of software, but I suspect Apple addresses this issue in the agreement for use of iTunes products.  If not, there would surely be a case here for a class-action lawsuit, right?)

Here’s an idea.  If you’re that genuinely offended by what Apple (not U2) did, boycott Apple products.  Trade in your iPhone for an Android.  Stop using Apple products.  If I was that offended, I would dump Apple from my life.  (As it is, new iPhones are selling like hot cakes, and U2’s back catalog sales on iTunes have picked up considerably since this whole “crisis” … no such thing as bad publicity.)

The gist of what happened here: the device is much more important to these people than the music on it.  Noticed this four years ago and is even more true now.  The emphasis in this scenario was placed on the importance of the device and unwarranted (i.e., free) files suddenly appearing on it.  The sanctity of the device had been violated.  “Sanctity” is the perfect word here.  The device is sanctified in the lives of many of these people: holy.  It’s not just a physical extension of who they are, but a spiritual one, too.  It’s their best friend.  Much more important than music.  More important than the Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  The other week, I read about a 50-year-old woman in NYC getting crushed by a bus when she tried to rescue her dropped phone.  That’s what we’re talking about here … that level of devotion.

What’s really baffling to me about all this is that the “controversy” was stirred up by Facebook and Twitter viral messages.  Facebook and Twitter are far more intrusive and in violation of their users’ personal privacy than Apple and/or U2 could ever be.  The way they track and catalog users’ personal preferences, likes/dislikes, types of friends, age group, gender, race, geographical location … all for marketing purposes.  And these people are worried about a company dumping free music on their sacrosanct devices?  There are social-media companies using you, the personal details of your life and your friends’ lives as financially valuable marketing data for corporate entities that see all of us solely as dollar signs!

The last thing I saw this week was on Bob Lefsetz’s website.  Lefsetz is a shithead.  Everyone knows this.  He knows this, too, which is why I can stomach his routine.  He blurts out stupid black/white takes on issues that he will usually reverse himself on in another week or month.  He believes in absolutes in a world that’s a patchwork of all sort of compromises and different ways to do things … but he feels he must dictate his extreme terms to an ailing recording industry.  And I’d gather most of the idiots in the recording industry who follow him lap up his nonsense.  If Bob Lefsetz says something is “dead” (like MP3 files or CD’s), I can assure you, there are millions of dollars of revenue generated weekly for these “corpses” that keep the recording industry alive, and will do so for years to come.

But he linked to this site as a legitimate response to the Apple/U2 situation, posting social-media responses by people who weren’t happy to get those U2 files.  Leave it to Lefsetz to use something this innocuous to, in his mind, damn U2 to cultural irrelevancy, despite the fact that they’re one of the most popular bands in the world.  I gather this is not the whole picture – I’ve seen some people take the sophomoric “Apple is Orwellian” route of complaining, I gather because they’ve been to college.  Most of the people responding on this site seem like kids – if they’re older than teenagers, they missed a few boats.  I’m probably being generous, as there are surely people in the 30’s still acting like teenagers, and let’s not forget that 50-year-old who gave her life for her phone.

But just read some of the responses:  I have no idea who U2 is but I’m pretty sure I hate them.  Who is U2 and why are they on my iPod?  Like who even is U2.  My dad know who U2 is … ok.

Shit like that.  Here’s an idea.  If you don’t know who U2 is … maybe you should keep it to yourself.  (It’s all about the device, not the music on the device.)  I’m a fan of U2, not a major fan, but nearly all of what they did in the 80’s and early 90’s still rings true to me.  I can see why people don’t like them.  The new album is marred by the sort of windy self-seriousness that they’re notorious for.

We’re talking kids here, so they weren’t raised in that era?  OK.  I wasn’t raised in the era of Frank Sinatra.  I knew who he was when I was a kid.  Yo, nigga, these kids, maybe they aint white?  (Sorry for the yo-yo-yo vernacular ... just mimicking some of the responses on the above link.) I knew who Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and a few dozen other non-white recording artists were, too.  I aint black.  I knew dozens of recording artists from previous generations and decades without really knowing much or any of their music.  I wasn’t raised by musicologists – I was raised by a factory worker and stay-at-home Mom.  I didn’t own any Frank Sinatra 45’s or albums.  Our idea of culture was that month’s copy of Readers Digest on the bathroom radiator.  But kids today have so many other distractions, etc.?

No.  They usually have one massive distraction: smartphone with its self-contained world of social media outlets, or in other (teenage male) cases, online video games.  Everything else exists in a gray void outside that world.  It’s not this insane barrage of media that clueless adults picture kids as being bombarded with today: it’s usually one device with a few social-media facets attached that take up massive amounts of kids’ time.  Kids are geniuses at wasting time, with the internet being the colossal, be-all-to-end-all waste of time ever invented.

We’re talking about kids here.  They’re either purposely lying to appear cool to their friends … or what I suspect, they’re just idiots.  I’d be real curious to know what’s on their iPods that a highly-visible band like U2 is totally unknown to them.  (Probably the current Top 40 suspects, nothing more or less.)  U2 just performed live at an event heralding the newest version of the device they’re thumbing their “who is U2” messages on … covered by thousands of media outlets … and they don’t know who U2 is.  U2 has appeared in numerous TV commercials for Apple products.  They had an iPod branded especially for them by Steve Jobs.  Again, they’re either playing stupid to the rest of the world or are just plain stupid.  The way kids are and always have been.  The way we all could be at times as kids.  I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, nor as dumb as adults thought I was.

I know … what’s cool to a 14-year-old will not be cool to me.  And vice-versa.  But here’s what you learn about life as it goes on: no one is cool.  There is no cultural center anymore at any age.  Everything is so sub-divided and micro-marketed that the few things we can agree on in terms of popularity tend to have profoundly short shelf lives.  The private worlds of Facebook and Twitter create these cocoons for people to feel cool in with their friends, and I like that about these entities, but that’s about all I like about them.  I don’t need to tell those kids they’re cool or dicks for not knowing or caring who U2 is.  It has nothing to do with U2.  These people are not cool, nor am I, but let them hold the illusion as long as they need.  For as a wise man once said, change will come around real soon, make them women and men.  Of course, by the time they’re adults, the age of reason will probably be 48 years old.