Imagine: Why Steve Jobs’s death made me think of John Lennon’s

by Yule Heibel on October 5, 2011

“Just imagine what else he could have done, had he lived another ten, twenty years.”

Imagine is of course the name of a famous John Lennon song. That’s who came to mind when Steve Jobs died.

On December 8, 1980 (in the midst of young Apple’s “turbulent” years), John Lennon was gunned down in front of the Dakota Apartments in Manhattan, NY. By a deranged assassin.

…Perhaps cancer is a type of deranged assassin? Just wondering.

At the time, the spouse and I had recently arrived in Vancouver, and I was pumped full of every academic Marxist theory that Europe of the late-70s could inject into an impressionable and highly critical young mind. I had spent several months looking for work when we first got to Vancouver, but no one wanted me (the story of my life in Canada, it seems), and so I ended up at the University of British Columbia – because, if you can’t find employment/ paying gigs, why not go back to school? [#mistakealert]

Now, bear with me: I was well-versed in theory, and in Vancouver that meant I accrued like-minded critical friends.

…There is a HUGE subtext and underlying story here, but let’s not get into that at present.

On December 8, 1980, when I heard that John Lennon had been (excuse the trite word) senselessly gunned down, I was as sad as the bazillions who informed the public sphere (aka mainstream network TV news) of the day. I mean, it took an effort not to cry.

Learning of – and reading about – Steve Jobs’s death triggered similar emotions, which reminded me of Lennon’s death.

When John Lennon died, one of my Canadian NDP (and seriously communist sympathizing) friends blithely dismissed the huge global outpouring of grief as manufactured grief: as something that the culture industry and its stirrup-holding lackeys to capitalism need, because that emotion (an expression, presumably of false consciousness) validates the system’s “humanity.” In other words, any expression of emotion is simply fodder for the system. Emotion (in the dogmatic perspective, all of it “manufactured” emotion, for hardly any of us have actually met the luminous star whose death has saddened us, therefore how can it be personal or genuine, in which case it is manufactured by evil ideological forces) is merely an instrument to “humanize” an inherently inhuman system. Emotion is something “they” use to manipulate “us.”

To this day, I can recall the sense of being slapped across the face for a kind of soft-headedness (i.e., emotionalism) about the death of an icon.

What, I can’t be sad about the death of someone I don’t know? Someone I’ve never met?

Let’s chuck out the old broadcast model of grief for a sec – the one that does enmesh uncomprehending populations in illusory identification with culturally flattened (aka 1-dimensional) icons. Sure, there are “star” deaths that sadden millions for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think that was the case with John Lennon, though (which is probably why my dogmatist friend’s dogmatism rankles me to this day), and it’s not the case with Steve Jobs, either: there are simply too many people whose lives were UN-one-dimensionalized by the products he brought to market. And if you don’t get that, I apologize to your inner Stalinist for feeling sorry for you!

It’s a tricky problem to tease out, though, this business of mourning icons who’ve “touched” us, but whom we’ve never met. What about Princess Diana’s death? Did you cry about that? How about Susan Sontag’s? …Oh, you weren’t emotionally affected by Sontag’s death? Well, I was.

Maybe it’s relative. Or not.

Here’s what I think: Steve Jobs’s death is affective (duh, no shit Sherlock), and the affect is real (phew, ditto Sherlock, thanks for figuring that out for us), but the emotion will be manipulated (even if it’s not “manufactured” – although, maybe it will get a manufacturing boost here and there – I’m sure the networks are on it as I type).

Mediated emotion is affected by the change from broadcast (one-to-many) to interactive (peer-to-peer).  Even my die-hard communist friend from the Vancouver 80s should have second thoughts (I hope) about how to apply a Marxist analysis of grief, c. 2010 in the age of peer-to-peer media.

Meanwhile, we mourn also for with Apple, which has lost its guiding genius. There is no replacement for what Apple under Jobs’s leadership delivered to date – here’s hoping that spirit abides. RIP Steve Jobs.

Slight update:

For a juxtaposition of what else is going on today, see Keith Olbermann’s commentary on #occupyWallStreet


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lena October 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Among other things to think about I will also read about Susan Sontag

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