When Did Apple Become the Monolithic, Evil Voice it Fought in the Iconic 1984 Commercial?

I posed this question on Twitter last night, and based on the responses I think some had never heard of this idea before.

Back in 1984, Apple introduced the original Macintosh to the world with what is now one of the best known gadget commercials ever. Apple drew on the themes from the book 1984 to create the impression that the Macintosh  would shatter the gray, monolithic, controlling overmind and free the workers.

It was a great commercial, but it has also come back and bit Apple in the ass now that they are the monolith that they were fighting in the commercial. Admittedly, Apple’s products  aren’t as drab and gray as in the commercial (not anymore, at least), but they are no less uniform. And Apple does like to present the image of a monolith with but a single voice.

So when did that happen?

And more importantly, what is the chance that someone might free us from Apple?

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. CJJ4 February, 2012

    I remember when the Mac first came out you could take your system disk floppy’s in to the local dealer and exchange them for the latest operating system. That didn’t last long and after awhile their were no more dealers anyway. Then there was the steady decline until the ipod. The company is of course now, unrecognizable.

  2. fjtorres4 February, 2012

    When? 2001. With the iPod intro. That”s when their Hollywood mindset kicked in under Jobs 2.0.
    The whole counter-culture “heroes of the little people” thing is sooo last century, anyway.

    1. fjtorres4 February, 2012

      Oh, and free *us* from Apple?
      As one smart dude once said: “Who said we, paleface?” 😉
      Some of us don’t need saving; we never swallowed the bait to start with.

      1. Dennis6 February, 2012


  3. Juan Chulilla4 February, 2012

    Indeed. I was tempted by some aspects of OSX, but since iOS I cannot let myself buy an Apple product: I cannot support a company which denies their customers the capacity of installing the software they want from the sources they want, and breaks once and again records of the World Arbitrariety Championship. Like prohibition of Pr0n apps because “they offend our femenine public”.

    The problem is that there was never a Church of the PC, or a Microsoft Congregation. But now we have a relation with a brand that trascends loyalty and identity and goes directly into religion.

  4. Troy McConaghy4 February, 2012

    This reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media (and when he used the word media, he meant just about anything created by humans, including companies). One of those laws was:

    Reversal: Every form, pushed to the limit of its potential, reverses its characteristics.

  5. Dude from Slovakia4 February, 2012

    Now that I think about it, it is the New Apple that represents the Big Brother with their complete control over what you are allowed to do with your iDevice and what you aren’t.
    All those walled garden features look extremely ironic when viewed in context of the above add.
    Great observation Nate!

  6. just_jeepin4 February, 2012

    If Adobe would port the Creative Suite to Linux, I’d drop my Mac and switch to Ubuntu or LinuxMint. But as a graphic designer, the open source alternatives are horrible. And even though Apple has become evil, OSX is still better than Windows.

  7. Mike Cane4 February, 2012

    Steve Jobs. Computer as appliance. The Mac was the first all-Jobs creation. A sealed box, unlike the Wozniak created original Apple computer that could be opened and that had slots.

    Competitors are stupidly following the Jobs formula. They need to think like Wozniak. What if the heart of a tablet was on a board that could be swapped out to upgrade it? That’d cost far less than an entire tablet. Something someone should be thinking about.

    1. fjtorres5 February, 2012

      Planned obsolescence.
      Why do you think iPxxx devices have sealed batteries? And crappy ones good for barely 18 months, at that?
      Some folks are into their fifth or sixth iPod.
      That’s how you squeeze blood from a stone.

      1. Mike Cane5 February, 2012

        Jobs loved clean lines. Doors for replaceable batteries ruin that aesthetic. Why the MacBook Air began that trend too. Sometimes aesthetics needs to step back and let usability and longevity and flexibility triumph.

        What I don’t like is the creeping of sealed-boxism to the Macintosh. The Mac App Store is the first step in that.

    2. juan11 February, 2012

      always wondered about the differences between those two. thanks for the insight…..

  8. Adrian5 February, 2012

    Apple is tightly controlled, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to call them a “monolithic, evil voice” is simply crazy.

    I can understand the basic errors in logic that might seduce one into such an opinion;
    – feeling that entities that make one angry must be evil, and mistaking that feeling for substantive evidence;
    – baselessly presuming evil intent as motivation for actions that one doesn’t like (as the commenter did above, re: enclosed batteries);
    – the justifiable drive to focus one’s criticism on the most powerful offenders;
    …and more.

    A balanced consideration of the actual facts of the situation reveals a different situation. Apple’s iBook e-publishing terms, while annoying, are much better than comparable terms within the publishing industry, from other publishers. iBooks is not a word processing application; it is a publishing tool.

    I use Apple products, but I’m happy to also be a Linux user. Apple is a for-profit company that has produced tremendous gains for the computing public by promulgating their computer-as-an-appliance framework.

    We need to preserve other forms of computing, but we should be rational about our assessment of Apple et al as we do so.

    1. Nate Hoffelder5 February, 2012

      Do you recall last yer when Apple decided that all of the media apps needed to pay them a cut? It started with the ebook apps but later expanded to include Netflix, Hulu, and other services. If that wasn’t evil, it was at least unethical. It also wouldn’t have been possible without their monolithic control of iOS.

      I’m sure my readers could cite other examples.

      1. fjtorres5 February, 2012

        Just scrolling down the page:

        A simple definition of evil: “doing unnecessary harm to others”.

        Apple is raking in the money at record pace.
        But they absolutely positively *had* to get their cut of every dollar spent on content inside their steel-walled garden. So they squeezed entire companies out of their domain, maybe even out of business, and forced others to degrade their apps into near-uselessness. The bad press alone probably out-weight the minimal financial gain.

        All unnecessary.
        And harmful. To their own customers, among others.

        Is that enough to call it evil?
        To each their own.

        1. fjtorres5 February, 2012

          How about the arrogance of their signature quote here:

          “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”


          And then there are the well-documened issues at their manufacturing facilities where they turn a blind eye to literally deadly facilities.


          Evil is in the eye of the beholder but they sure benefit from some despicable practices.
          Everybody gets to live with their own conscience. Or lack-thereof.

          1. Mike Cane5 February, 2012

            Let’s not forget Apple tried to dictate what tools developers could use. The firestorm surrounding that was epic.

          2. Sweetpea6 February, 2012

            Tools both in soft- and hardware… I can’t create Ios apps as I don’t have an Apple OS but rather use Windows…

          3. fjtorres6 February, 2012

            Well, now; the NeXT Box only allowed software created with one set of tools. That kind of control-freakishness really can’t be laid at the feet of *Apple*. 😉

      2. Dennis6 February, 2012

        One word: antennagate.

    2. juan11 February, 2012

      yeah, don’t think yuz get the gist of the question……

  9. Ravi6 February, 2012

    I’m not sure when Apple became evil, but I remember the moment when I was certain they had crossed over the line. It was when they introduced custom ringtones for the iPhone and we learned that people would have to, effectively, re-buy music they already owned in order to use it as a ringtone.

    There was no reasonable customer-oriented justification for this. The idea that you have to pay someone to be allowed to tell the computer in your pocket to play music it already had when there was an incoming phone call is laughable. It was a pure capitulation to the carriers and record labels and it was (and is) wrong.

  10. Dan6 February, 2012


  11. jorgen6 February, 2012

    Answer: 1984.

    Steve Jobs proved with the Mac with its closed secret system that he was a controlfreak, i.e. Apple had become a monster. Though I had two Apple II computers (Apple III and Lisa were not worth considering) and were a huge Apple fan up to 1984, I didn’t consider the Mac for long, but bought a Compaq. I have bought PCs ever since and never regrettet it.

  12. Mark2 May, 2012

    I think this was a great ad that served to position Apple as the underdog fighting the good fight against the entrenched power at the time–probably a theme that served Apple well when it was trying to appeal to the creative types that were once their bread and butter. However, let’s not forget that Apple is a company and its promotional efforts are subject to change as they and the industry changes, just as its strategy is subject to change. In short, Apple would probably just shrug and say that the ad was true then, but things are different today–and then go on selling millions of iDevices.

    The irony is that what makes Apple “monolithic” today–providing a tightly controlled environment in an effort to ensure a quality experience–is precisely what made IBM “monolithic” back in the day. So, another way to look at it is that Apple simply learned that how IBM did business back then kind of made some sense.

  13. […] Most blogs are posting the video simply because it is hilarious, but I see it a different way. Some time back I posted the classic 1984 Mac commercial with the question: When did Apple go from being the runner […]

  14. Rastafarian11 October, 2015

    The loyal Apple following does seem to have become more like a religion. Apple’s products are substandard, yet people wait in lines to pay $600 for the latest iPhone? Six months ago I got a Motorola Moto-X with Android OS. It is so superior in every way to my wife’s iPhone (she will be changing to an Android phone).

    Why bother with an IPad? The new Android phones like my Moto-X make pads or tablets unnecessary, obsolete. I can do everything I need to do on a mobile basis with my phone.

    So Ipad = obsolete, iPhone = overpriced junk with built-in planned obsolescence, and you have a company (Apple) that doesn’t need to exist any more. If it went away tomorrow nobody would care except it’s religious base.

  15. Rastafarian3 February, 2017

    Yes, Apple has become what it was supposedly against. Smarmy, proprietary, greedy, and has lost its edge. It is now another monolith, a Titanic steaming toward an inevitable iceberg.


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