Dir. Alex Gibney, USA, 2015, 128 minutes
It’s no coincidence that Steve Jobs was a Beatles fan. John Lennon had the nerve to say that the group was more popular than Jesus Christ. And Catholic priests (and a lot of other Christians) denounced Lennon from the pulpit.
Announcing that he was more popular than Jesus Christ was one of the few statements of arrogance that Steve Jobs is not remembered to have made. He didn’t need to. Think of American Catholics camping out to get a glimpse of the Pope next weekend. At least as many Americans will be keeping vigils to get a place on line for the new iPhone. Have you ever tried to get to the genius bar at the Apple Store in NY on Fifth Avenue on a Saturday night? What if you had to choose between the Pope’s mass and your iPhone? It’s a lot easier to get into a church. It helps explain why Jobs is worthy of another documentary, this one by Alex Gibney, and why there’s a feature about Jobs starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Danny Boyle in the next few weeks.
Like it or not, Jobs is a person that people carry around with them.
In Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, Alex Gibney helps us see that the man who gave consumers products that they love was a man who was hard to love.
Gibney’s reality check reminds us that Jobs cheated his friend and collaborator Steve Wozniak (the engineering co-founder who made Apple possible) on their first big job. Jobs also abandoned his high school girlfriend and the daughter whom they had together. He ensured that Apple avoided taxes in a major way and he wrestled with the media. Note Jobs’s battle with Gizmodo when a writer for that site finds a prototype of a new iPhone and writes about it. The press should not love this guy, but it tended to.
Given the stunning success of Apple, we often forget that Jobs created PIXAR, a triumph in the years that the movie business has been in decline. And the list of achievements goes on in Gibney’s elegantly constructed doc that is as fair to Jobs as one can be.
Still, there’s a hard-edged fist inside the designs that have seduced the generations that have fallen for Apple. (I’m part of that group, as I type on a MacBook.) No doubt the Jobs defenders will respond that it takes that kind of force to achieve the degree of creativity ad innovation that brought Apple where it is today. That’s hard to deny, especially since the ruthless productivity-optimizing methods of Amazon were exposed in a New York Times investigation that was the product of half a year of research. And the Times report only studied Amazon’s management, and not the underpaid staff that toils for pennies in its notorious distribution centers. Like Jobs, Jeff Bezos of Amazon took his side of the story to the media – except Bezos skipped the Washington Post, which he owns. New age business is still business. Remember hip and ecological Nike, which weathered a similar investigation by Michael Moore more than a decade ago?
Consider the nostrum that believing is seeing, that the ardent followers of a faith won’t let facts get in the way of their zealotry. Then consider how powerful belief can be when it also involves an object that you own. As more details emerge about Jobs and his indifferent or brutal mistreatment of others, is anyone giving up his or her iPhone or MacBook? Who will stop buying from Amazon after reading about the hellish Bezos workplace. (This, bear in mind, is Labor Day weekend.)
No surprise. Consumers who treasure their Apple objects and the man who marketed them aren’t abandoning them or him. Instead, they’re paying money for the new versions of those devices. Steve Jobs loved the Beatles and Bob Dylan, and sought inspiration from Buddhism. And he would wage war against anyone who challenged him. Gibney reminds us what consumers are buying into. It’s a crucial reality check, but by no means the last word.
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