The Platform of My Expertise

May 21, 2007

There’s something frighteningly alluring about the “Get a Mac” campaign. You know the commercial: two disparate representations of the PC and the Mac stand side by side getting paid scale and mugging it up for the ad agency. It’s not particularly subtle—the white space background is a psychiatrist’s wet dream’s wet dream, and the dialogue is snarkily understated until you reach the end of the commercial and suddenly realize you’ve just witnessed the manufactured equivalent of the whitest dozens ever propagated by the computer industry. It seems to have been engineered down to the core demographics of home computer buyers—college graduates with sudden disposable money and parents of 13 year old future meth mules who think that purchasing their child a computer will make them smarter, when in fact they’ll spend 18 hours a day playing EverQuest and looking up donkey-on-donkey porn.

Yet these commercials are shrewdly constructed, pointing out the flaws of the PC without being asshatish about it, retaining a standoffish smugness to make sure it doesn’t fall into helpless melodrama. Humorist John Hodgman (for those who know the difference between a humorist and a comedian, life presents a flavor more sweet the criminally uninformed will never know) portrays the PC, a stodgy, lumbering bundle of projects and competing platforms, fending off backhanded compliments from the Mac. Mac is portrayed by the smooth and slightly self-satisfied Justin Long, who somehow manages to craft fiercely cranky repartee without coming off as a completely soulless douchebag. These character actors, therefore, manage to portray their personalities to match those of the operating system they represent.

That said, it’s probably not the most effective commercial in the world. Watching it has showed me that, yeah, all things considered, the Mac is probably a superior computing system. Many of the irritants of the PC are completely absent, or at least heavily arbitraged in exchange for an inability to be connected to any kind of reliable network and waiting eight to twelve months to be able to play any game that console players and PC players have already bought, won, replayed, bragged about uselessly to their girlfriends, and sold on eBay.

Yet it’s not just that easy. Just as the Long’s slick presentation replicates the ease of use and rampant utility of the Macintosh, Hodgman’s PC doesn’t just point out flaws; he has the unintended consequence of familiarity. It also reminds us of the friendliness of the PC. Not in the come-over-this-lazy-afternoon-and-drink-lemonade-and-play-Atari kind of friendliness, but more along the lines of a baleful friendship long since forgotten. It’s a comfort zone kind of friendship. Yeah, the Mac may be more powerful and easier to use, but we like PCs because we’re used to PCs. And Hodgman’s portrayal of the PC is dead on—yeah, he may freeze up once in a while, and he may not be the best at multimedia applications, but he helped us when we stayed up all night to write that term paper due the following morning back in the spring of ’97 when that cute blonde blew us off right before dinner, so we kind of owe him.

I really don’t like getting into the operating system wars, of course, because no one will ever be convinced. Actually, that’s not true. Most PC users are at least vaguely aware that Macs are probably more efficient machines, but it just isn’t better enough to bother switching; likewise, the simple tyranny of the PC’s hold on the home computer business make doing a lot of things for the Mac inconvenient. But no matter what I say, I’ll probably get an avalanche of emails and painful correspondence dedicated to my complete and utter inability to grasp the simple concepts of kindergarten engineering that would crack open like the dead sea scrolls to me the knowledge that Macs are the evolutionary answer to all of life’s problems from Middle East peace to QuarkXPress, or that PCs are the harkened messiah in silicon form assuming the pinnacle achievement of the messiah involved the ability to play Sheepshead with an Australian housewife at four o’clock in the morning while an irritating graphic advertising mortgage payments with a dancing cactus flashes off to the side. Most people can’t seem to accept that in some areas PCs are superior, while in others the Macintosh is superior. And some jacked rivethead will always bring up the eternally oppressed Linux, like a latter-day Liberal Party MP or an RC Cola diehard.

Still, one has to feel impressed with the Mac advertising campaign. Macs used to largely be the sole province of publishers and Computer Science professors, with the occasional science fiction writer thrown in for good measure. Now, with a rather heavily aired campaign, along with sister products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iWhateverthehellthenextoverblownconspicuousconsumptioniconisgoingtobe, perhaps Apple will finally be able to crack more than single digits in the market share.