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Apple Crossed the Quantum Cringe Chasm

The Metamodernist Critique of Sustainability
September 13, 2023
Tim Cook: Welcome to lousy acting.

Hello, futurists. Let’s talk about that Apple ad.

My feed lit up this morning with a polarized read on Apple’s sustainability sketch. The opinions were wide-ranging: 

  • “That’s it, Apple’s done.”
  • “That was so cringe.”
  • “That was the most brilliant video ever.”
  • “10/10. No Notes.”

In my little filter bubble that is LinkedIn, I saw take-after-take about the brilliance — or the tone-deafness — of Apple’s “worse-than-SNL” comedic send-up of their progress towards a 2030 total carbon neutrality goal.

Why the cringe? We live in a metamodernist world, and Apple has forgotten that. 

Perhaps humor was the wrong approach? Media theorist Marshall McLuhan: 

“Humor as a system of communications and as a probe of our environment — of what’s really going on — affords us our most appealing anti-environmental tool. It does not deal in theory, but in immediate experience, and is often the best guide to changing perceptions… Today’s humor… is usually a compressed overlay of stories.” — Marshall McLuhan

Apple’s approach lacked the compressed overlay of story. Modern audiences are predisposed to look for irony. We’re looking for the wink, the nudge, the nod, that “I know that you know that we all know why we’re here.”

Layers of context is what was lacking in Apple’s five-minute-and-fourteen-second church youth drama about climate goals. As a result, Apple failed to hack our subconscious with a payload of positivity. 

Brian wrote in November of 2022 that comedian-critics like Nathan Fielder and Bo Burnam engage in hypercapitalism, while also participating in it, in order to form a critique. This new art form, like the Dadaist brands before them, speak on myriad levels to the consumer at once.

Without a subtext, Apple’s simpler, longer-form, approach meant that you brought your own perspective to the core message.

If you are in comms, or you understand the difficulty of the carbon challenge that Apple is undertaking — or perhaps you’re an Apple apologist — the video is read with generosity, and even praise.

If you see Apple as the modern Veblen-goods status symbol brand that they are, you read it as tone deaf and cringe. Perhaps you called it the “end of Apple.” 

This is a quantum behavior. In quantum mechanics, a particle can be entangled with another, such that they can be in many places at once. Observing particles appears to make them shift and move, swapping about vast distances of time and space seemingly with ease.

A critique of a brand can also be quantum. It can be at once be negative and postive; not only in perception, but in its very nature.

As I said in Insiders 148, we’re now in the age of metamodernist art, and the state of that art is changed by observation.

The video is just fine. It’s perfectly fine. But the video isn’t the message; the discourse about the video is the message. Our observation of the video created two camps — cringe or courage.

And the quantum state of this discourse is superpositioned to be a magnet for criticism.

— Phillip

P.S. What is a consumer Muse? For Five Below, it’s following the growth of its customer as they seek premium experiences in a discount retailer. Listen to our interview with Creative Director Daniel Hoffman wherever podcasts are found, or right over here.

Chat with your Cricut machine in a bridesmaid font. Microsoft is betting big on carbon-absorbing rocks. Roblox is launching a creator marketplace for digital goods. How to build a contribution margin spreadsheet from scratch.

Victoria’s Secret fashion show could have been an email. Hey Dude fined for suppressing bad reviews. TikTok shops arrives in the USA. PUMA and Fenty join the Fake-out-of-Home movement.

Bill Gates once bought out a Michelin-star restaurant just to enjoy a Diet Coke.

Ephemeral Tattoo is closing retail stores and pivoting to surgical tats. Roblox to launch dating service. eBay gets into GenAI. Pubs in the UK get Surge Pricing. A mockup hints at open-world eCommerce stores. A church in Texas will have a service created by generative AI. If capital isn’t the religion of Silicon Valley, maybe we can worship the AI instead?

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