Hello and welcome to my TOP ONE LIST of the CRAZIEST CULTURAL EVENTS of 2014.
An insane amount of important, often awful things have happened this year, but for some reason the event that has lodged itself in my brain is this:
Apple’s decision to give me a free album by rock band U2.
Let me warn you right away: This TOP ONE LIST is going to be overflowing with ignorance.
Many of the statements I’m going to make about the free U2 album might be factually incorrect. I don’t even know or remember what the name of the free album is, so I’m just going to call it White Noise. That sounds vaguely U2-like and will fit my thematic needs later on.
I know it’s the easiest thing in the world to Google the real name of U2’s White Noise, but I don’t want to. I’m making an active, personal choice to not look it up.
My U2 ignorance is not limited to the free album, White Noise. I’ve never been a big fan of U2. I have nothing particularly against U2 or the kind of people who like their music enough to do a podcast about it.
If I had to write the Wikipedia entry for U2 it would be this:
“Rock band. Irish, right? At least Bono? He wears those wrap-around sunglasses. When they play concerts, they have a lot of televisions on stage or at least I think they did in the 1990s. The guitar player is called The Edge and I think he wears a little hat all the time, maybe? I like the theme song they wrote but did not perform for the James Bond film GoldenEye. Here are their albums: The Joshua Tree and Zoo-something. One of those albums might have a song called “Where The Streets Have No Name”, but I would not gamble even one bitcoin on it. I think they’ve done a lot of good charity things and a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with Bono like he is the Pumpkin Spice Latte of rock n’ roll. Oh hey, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is them, right? CITATIONS NEEDED.”
Obviously, I don’t have very strong feelings about U2. And yet when Apple CEO Tim Cook announced a free U2 album would be placed in my iTunes, I was instantly livid.
I was so angry, I felt I could flip a thousand tables. “Flip A Thousand Tables” could be a U2 song. I don’t know.
I didn’t bother to even research how the free album worked. Was it actually placed in my iTunes library? Did it auto-download? Would I have to update iTunes to get rid of it? I always avoid updating iTunes because the whole program seems like a social experiment Apple designed to see how awful they can make a product before I’ll stop using it.
It quickly became clear I was not alone in my absurd level of outrage. Somehow, in one day, the old adage “nothing in life is free” was replaced by the new aphorism “get this fucking U2 album away from me.”
The day of White Noise’s release, my wife Sara came home from work and said she saw on social media people were really pissed off about getting a free U2 album but she had missed the why.
I sputtered some ill-informed guesses about people’s feelings toward Bono. I mentioned the whole Apple presentation had been belligerently geared toward every stereotype of middle class white people. At one point in the presentation, Tim Cook proudly announced Apple Watch will allow you to listen to Coldplay while you’re walking to Whole Foods!
No wonder people were pissed Apple force-gifted an album that I’m ignorantly calling White Noise! The whole presentation had been White Noise! Loud, distracting, branded messaging about expensive shit no one really needs. And then, they close it out by giving us something we don’t want.
But thinking about it over the last few months, it’s obvious plenty of people must have wanted White Noise by U2.
They’re one of the most successful rock bands in history. Most of their albums have probably gone gold, double-platinum, or proto-adamantium. Who hasn’t raced down a suburban street in their Smartcar singing along to U2’s hit song “Justice Farmer” or “Liberty Shack” or a real U2 song that I don’t know the name of?
So why was I so pissed? For me, the answer is choice.
We, as individuals, are constantly being told we have a choice. It’s been one of the main marketing angles of giant corporations since Burger King, a fast food chain under the rule of a MONARCH, decreed the proles could have burgers their way.
The digital revolution has given us some amount of truth to the promise of choice. We get to curate our own digital libraries. We get to DVR television shows and watch them whenever we want. We can go up to one of those weird Coke machines that have 8 million different flavors of cloying death syrup and mix them anyway we want.
I am a human being in the 21st Century. I get to choose to watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on my iPad mini at 2 pm in the afternoon while drinking a Lime-Root Beer-Kale Diet Coke Zero.
In reality, the horrors of 2014 have been a constant reminder we don’t have a voice in many things. We’re fighting for net neutrality. We’re fighting not to have our private photos ripped out of our phones. We’re fighting for the idea that cops shouldn’t be allowed to kill unarmed people and then have the justice system react with a shrugging emoticon. We’re fighting for an endless string of basic human rights and equality.
We can’t even get stupid Facebook to show us posts in linear time.
But somehow I was still clinging to the fragile illusion that I had control over my dumb iTunes library. And then Apple took a giant U2-shaped crap on even that.
Apple did not give me a free album by one of history’s greatest rock bands. They gave me a clumsy reminder that corporations want to take our control away.
Obviously, the ability to curate our dumb digital libraries is nothing compared to the injustices we’re up against as a society. But to me, the common denominator in the fight for a U2-free iTunes library and, say, marriage equality is having a voice.
So, for better or worse, I raise my voice in the great chorus of 2014 and I say, “Get this fucking U2 album away from me.”
It’s the least I can do to fight for the future I would like to see — a future where the fragile illusion of control is just a little closer to a fragile reality.
“Fragile Reality” could be a U2 song. I don’t know. I could look it up, but I’m not going to because it’s my choice, dammit.
Anyway, that’s my TOP ONE LIST of THE CRAZIEST CULTURAL EVENTS in 2014.
It’s a stupid list, but it’s mine.