Apple's California Soul hits a sour note (video)

"Less a company, more a trillion-dollar California cult designed to brainwash us with pleasant high-tech visions and the comfort of a walled garden."

From Chris Taylor's "Apple just became more of a California cult than ever" posted Tuesday on Mashable:

It's been a tough year for committed Californians. Amidst a weirdly undemocratic gubernatorial recall effort, as smoke spewed from mega-fires, as our friends, choked out or priced out, headed for the exits, loudly proclaiming they'd never liked the place anyway, Golden State residents could be forgiven for wondering whether to abandon their own 1960s-style California dreamin'. It's 2021, isn't the West Coast over yet?

They'd also be forgiven for punching the air at the outset of Apple's iPhone 13 launch event. The tech/entertainment giant screened a banging cover of "California Soul," a 1969 hit for jazz legend Marlena Shaw, with a diverse group of musicians amidst the state's beauty spots (pink-dreadlocked violinist in the Mojave, singer in Muir Woods, sax at Joshua Tree).

This timely anthem was almost enough to make you forget that the Cupertino company gets huge local tax kickbacks from the city. Or that it skirts state taxes by funneling cash to its hedge fund subsidiary in Reno, Nevada. Or that the vast majority of its products are made in China. Or that just last year, Apple fought a California Supreme Court order that they pay retail employees for time spent waiting in line to have their bags searched.

That's Apple all over, though. Less a company, more a trillion-dollar California cult designed to brainwash us with pleasant high-tech visions and the comfort of a walled garden. Fellow Silicon Valley giants are taking tumbles in public perception, but Apple's image is stronger than ever — it's the most admired company in the world on Fortune's list for 14 years running, while Facebook has dropped out of sight — in part thanks to these slickly-produced multi-hour product ads.

My take: Taylor's cynicism goes down a little better in his British accent.


  1. David Emery said:
    Dear Mr Taylor: “Bugger off, mate!” (No one forces you to buy an iPhone. If you don’t like the walled garden, there’s a life outside.)

    September 15, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Not even good noise. The only cult I see is the legends of unthinking Apple haters.

      Me? I escaped California (had been home for 35 years) back in 1991. I just celebrated my 30th anniversary where I could breath without choking on the air and drive to work in under 30 minutes in the beauty of the inland northwest.

      September 15, 2021
      • Bart Yee said:
        @Gregg I’m happy for you, and I have relatives in Portland and friends in Spokane and Seattle. The PNW is a fabulous area.

        I agree that California went through huge growing pains and man-made air pollution problems from the 40’s to the 90’s, especially in the LA-Orange County and San Bernardino-Inland Empire area where you were based. I had problems with side aches after playing varsity tennis practice in the 70’s. But this is also a problem of geography and prevailing regional weather patterns. Thankfully, like in many other areas, California led the way in establishing tougher air quality regulations (especially automotive exhaust) which forced automakers to create catalytic converters, computer controlled ignition/fuel management, hybrid and yes, fully electric low, ultra-low and zero emissions vehicles. I can see the San Gabriel mountains the vast majority of days, smog is much much less than before, and I can cycle 25-50 miles any day of the week without any respiratory issues at all. Smog is not gone by a long shot but considering the huge vehicle population, we’ve made great progress, and now clearing out old coal and oil fired power plants for clean burning and more economical natural gas, California and SoCal continue to improve air quality.

        It’s not necessarily an enticement for ex-Californians but for those of us who choose and call California home, there’s hundreds of reasons why we stay and enjoy what California haas to offer.

        September 15, 2021
  2. Dan Scropos said:
    I have to agree. That video was empty. Apple’s greatest asset are her employees. I’d much rather see glimpses of engineers collaborating, retail folks with customers, supply chain partners, products being used in the wild and everything else that captures the essence of Apple. So while the video production, music and landscapes were beautifully done, they don’t capture any of Apple’s essence. If anything, it almost showcases a disconnect between the hungry rebel startup roots and the current perception of a global monopolist. While that’s not accurate, this video didn’t help that perception. Ending the video with Tim Cook was cringeworthy. That perception is everything Apple *doesn’t* want to be.

    September 15, 2021
  3. Greg Lippert said:
    And our fav Debbie downer (ts) who doesn’t get Apple or AAPL is again trotted out on CNBC as an authority. Guess what his take is?? ?

    September 15, 2021
  4. Bart Yee said:
    I think folks should read through the entire article, which is why I sent it to Philip. Aside from the typical Apple bashing talking points, and the fact he writes stuff like this after every Apple event, there is some admiration from Mr. Taylor, a British ex-pat based in San Francisco, California for the last 25 years (per his LinkedIn profile). I guess his job is to be the John Dvorak of today, railing cynically against the world, or even some self-loathing at your adopted home state and region.

    Here’s the ending of the article:

    “But for all this universe-spanning grandiosity, the Apple event was oddly honest in a way that few are. Aligning the company so publicly with California values and style is a recognition of what’s deep in its DNA. After all, this is a cult founded by the quintessential California dropout. Steve Jobs, son of immigrants to the state, was an itinerant hippy profoundly inspired by trips to India, not to mention trips on LSD.

    Apple began life at the intersection of 1960s Bay Area counterculture and 1970s Silicon Valley technology. The company lost its way in the Reagan era, when New York suits John Sculley and Gil Amelio took the helm. Then Jobs, the prodigal messiah, guided Apple back towards the light, pushing colorful, clean design and media-making fantasies in the way it still does today. He celebrated the life blood of California’s economy — “the crazy ones” who “think different” — and the counterculture-style remixing of “rip, mix, burn.”

    Computers designed like sunflowers, phone screens you could touch, thousands of songs in your pocket: These were Jobs’ California dreams. Through Apple, they changed the world. If it is still true, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang, that everyone dreams of Californication, then these days they do so on an iPhone, an iPad or one of their many imitators. This doesn’t absolve Apple from the urgent ethical need to pay its fair share of local and state taxes. But Tim Cook’s company is definitely the most effective ambassador of California idealism to the world — and an important reminder of why you shouldn’t count the Golden State out yet.“

    September 15, 2021
  5. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    C’mon folks. Back off.

    It takes no great insight or talent to piss on what might be wrong about California, or any other place for that matter. Sorry Apple started their event with some refreshing home-state spirit. The spirit, beauty and vision that is The Golden State still holds true in my book. Had my umbilical cord cut here, love it and intend to stay.

    I can’t help but think of it as one of those old Walt Disney nature films spun with Apple’s Ted Lasso attitude.

    One comment on the value of spirit starring down the dread of reality. Here’s CBS News statesman Eric Sevareid commenting at the advent of Walt Disney’s death in 1966:

    “What Disney seemed to know was that while there is very little grown-up in every child, there is a lot of child in every grown-up. To a child, this weary world is brand-new, gift-wrapped. Disney tried to keep it that way for adults.”

    This California spirit actually had something to do with Disney starting his company here. He said so in a letter to his Kansas City animation buddy Ub Iwerks in a letter pleading him to come west to help start a studio.

    Never hurts to have the spirit of a child. Bravo Apple.

    September 15, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      @Kirk Agree! Important to remember Apple positions itself as aspirational, and an Apple product is a slice of the California dream and lifestyle. These events and particularly this opening are aimed a little at the US, but hugely aimed at the entire International market where the beauty and spirit of California (and in some senses, the US) is an exotic dream to most everyone else. Proud to be a Californian, especially today after the recall’s sound defeat. California gave every voter their opportunity to exercise their right to vote (despite the now playbook claim of fraud even before voting day ended) and those that voted did.

      See my talking points below about California.

      September 15, 2021
      • Robert Stack said:
        @Bart, Kirk: Upvoted both of your comments; I could not agree more. I could have retired anywhere I wanted, but I chose to return to Oakland (Oakland?! Yes – because I love it here!). There’s still plenty of magic in the Bay Area, and yes, there are plenty of serious problems that go along with that. But show me a place that doesn’t have its share of problems…

        “California bashing”, along with the cliches that go along with it, are so tired and boring. Live wherever works best for you, and if you are really troubled by one of your state’s problems, then consider doing something to help solve it. We’d all be better off, and so would our country!

        September 15, 2021
  6. I suspect the California theme was a subtle effort to re-interest all those Apple employees who took advantage of WFH to move hither & yon. Getting them back in the office in 2022 will be like herding programmers.
    I miss some aspects of my life in the redwoods of Ben Lomond but the traffic, COL and total absence of affordable housing still remain, 40 years later.

    September 15, 2021

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