1984 and Essentially Contested Concepts

Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology. Where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

So reads the text of Apple Computer Corporation’s seminal Macintosh ad which was shown during the Superbowl in January of 1984. In an ad that, according to Apple Confidential 2.0 author Owen Linzmayer wasn’t created specifically for the Mac and almost never ran, Apple has staked its claim to one of the most ingrained concepts in the collective consciousness of the American baby boomer. The ads ends with the tag “On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.

1984 was required reading in our ‘boomer’ english classes and ‘Big Brother’, the image insinuated in the Ridley Scott directed Macintosh ad, represented our darkest fears of a communist-like future world. It is no wonder that the Apple board wanted to quash the ad. It was incendiary and over the top. And yet Apple pulled it off. I would suggest that there was no other time or place in which this ad could possibly had the type of impact it had. 1984, afterall, would only come around once and January’s Superbowl was advertising’s premier showplace.

Improbably, Apple had positioned itself and its new computer as champions of freedom and individual expression. It had done so by weaving the fictional 1984 into the actual 1984. Everyone knew that the actual 1984 bore little resemblance to Orwell’s vision and so Apple was able to stake their claim with little controversy. If the target audience felt that the ad had been political in nature it would have met with more resistance. As it was, the right message in the right time and the right place gave Apple an enduring position in the personal computer landscape.

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