By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 13, 2015)
“How big of an asshole do you have to be to be successful?”
I am so glad you asked that rhetorical question, Random Guy from the new documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, because it’s a conundrum I have often pondered myself (speaking as one of those “nice guys” who is doomed to “…always finish last”).
Maybe it depends on how you define “success”. Join me in welcoming our musical panel:
First you get that money, then you get that power
If you tune ya nose up, boy he on that powder
-from “Power” by Young Thug
Thanks, Y.T. You say money is the starter. But isn’t there a nicer way to get the money?
If you want to be rich
You’ve got to be a bitch
-from “White Horse” by Laid Back
I see. But what about the aesthetic? Money doesn’t speak for anything; as does, say…art.
Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole
Not like you
-from “Pablo Picasso” by the Modern Lovers
Jeez, no need to be insulting…but I think I hear what you’re saying. Back to the review…
So, was Steve Jobs an asshole? Was he a soulless capitalist? Or was he an aesthete, as he frequently positioned himself? Is it possible he was both soulless capitalist and aesthete?
Director Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) tackles the dichotomous nature of the Steve Jobs mystique head on in his latest film (in theaters and available on VOD). Gibney borrows a page from Citizen Kane; opening with the massive media coverage of Jobs’ passing and the (surprising) profundity of the grief around the world, then running the chalk backward from there in hopes of unearthing his “Rosebud”.
Good luck, right? Like Gibney, I was amazed by images of candlelight vigils and tearful consumers holding iPhones aloft like sacred talismans. Yes, it was sad, but it’s not like he was Gandhi; I don’t necessarily get misty-eyed over Alexander Graham Bell whenever my phone rings. It’s interesting that Gibney’s previous film was about Scientology, as there is an undercurrent to the Jobs/Apple success story that always struck me as cultish (ever received one of those “PC vs Mac” sermons from a Mac disciple? Jesus H. Christ!).
Gibney doesn’t expend much screen time on Jobs’ pre-Apple biography; a judicious choice considering it’s been retold ad nauseam in previous documentaries, feature films, books, print articles, blogs, and stories around the campfire (college dropout, trip to India, study of Buddhism, Steve and Woz in the garage, blah blah blah).
This is more the story of Apple, which ultimately is the story of Jobs anyway, because in essence he was the corporation (and the corporation was him). This is an unauthorized project, so Gibney lets all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out. Jobs was a marketing genius and major game changer, but (just like a corporation) he did also show a few sociopathic tendencies.
I’ve never owned an Apple product, nor hungered for further details regarding Steve Jobs’ rise to iconography than have already been chiseled into the stone tablets of Silicon Valley mythology. That said, I learned a few things about Jobs’ personal life that were new to me.
On a sliding scale, this is one of the more compelling documentaries about him. If you miss this one, don’t despair, because you shouldn’t have to wait too long for the next Steve Jobs biopic. Oh look, here comes one now! Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is due out on October 9th, with Michael Fassbender in the lead. Put that in your Blackberry.
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UPDATE: He has risen. There is a corollary linking the Jobs legacy to the current Syrian refugee crisis in the form of an internet meme that has been gaining momentum over the past week. As you may (or may not) be aware, Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian political refugee. It’s a hopeful reminder of what America is supposed to be about, and an immunization against the moronic, knee-jerk fear-mongering already being propagated about how ISIS operatives will surely embed themselves with U.S bound Syrian refugees.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me. Except for you. I didn’t mean you.