The Offensiveness of Style and Passion
Rodney O. Lain - 2001.06.29
Everything that emancipates the spirit without giving us
control over ourselves is harmful.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
You may not know it by looking at me, but I am a student of human nature. If there were universities granting degrees in human nature, I'd be a Ph.D. If there were honorary degrees for studying the subject, I'd be a professor emeritus. In my "postdoctoral" studies, I have discovered a universal truth: For some people, there is something they find unmistakably offensive about those who possess passion or style.
When you have style, you have to do one of two things: (1) tone down, so that you don't "show up" others, especially if they're someone who is petty and jealous, especially if they have some form of control over you - your boss, for example; or (2) you can ignore the peasants and be all that you can be.
I know whereof I speak.
I stay in trouble for my passion. I have been fired from at least one Mac web site over the expressed passion in my writings (a cheer goes up from the crowd); I quit another site over the same issue; and I'm sure that some of you have personally seen to it that your protest letters have spammed the inbox of at least one or three web editors. I wear your complaints as badges of honor, and I thank you for proving the aforementioned point; you know who you are.
Such venomous contempt makes me pause and think from time to time, for we use a computer that evokes similar reactions from the non-Mac-using public. Maybe you evoke similar reactions because of your "fanatical" and "slavish devotion" to things Macintosh. If so, you can feel what I'm saying.
What is it about people with passion that turns others off so? What is it about people with style that ignites the same disdain in others?
Segue: I had a few of my neighbors over a few weeks ago. I'm trying to shed my impulse to avoid my neighbors; I must admit that there is a part of me that feels they are a bunch of whitebread cheese eaters. But I had a minor epiphany while they were over here: I discovered that I am a snob.
I am a Mac snob, as well as an intellectual snob, in many respects. I'm not as bad as I used to be. I used to love arguing with the PC users in computer stores, as well as arguing with people about nearly any other topic extant. I loved to sniff in condescension whenever I was around anyone who complained about some problem they were having with their PC; ditto for anyone who complained about some ideology that I didn't subscribe to.
Why do I say I'm a snob? The epiphany occurred to me while my
neighbors were over. A few of us were downstairs talking about the
topics of the day, when someone from upstairs called to us. When we
got there, we saw what the commotion was about: One of the ladies was with my wife
in my study, when she saw my G4 Cube
(click the picture for a larger version). There were gushes of
praise. Of course, the Mac fan in me had to take them through a
guided tour of the hardware and the OS&
- ;X install that I had running.
That's when it hit me: I feel like I'm giving a tour through an art museum. ("To your left is the G4 Cube, the epitome of the artistic vision championed by the Bauhaus movement, a marvelous combination of form and function. Feel the curves; notice the texture; lose yourself in the illusion of art combined with the reality of technology. Dah-ling.")
And, you know what? I didn't feel self conscious about what I did.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not shy about showing off my Mac or my "library." I avoid taking people into my study, not because my Cube is in there, but mainly because I have a million books. I've learned that people are put off at times, because I love to talk about ideas - and it is usually some idea that I've developed after feeding my mind from a slew of books. I've learned that not everyone spends time enriching their mind, pondering grand and lofty thoughts. The pale of humanity shuns reading, much less thinking. Those of us who don't are wide brushed as bookish, geeky, or antisocial. Far from it. We are adept at synthesizing disparate ideas and focusing them through the lens of our experience and intellect, coming up with our unique perspective. But people don't like that.
The same is true about my Mac. Many of us who have used Macs extensively have taken a look at "the competition" and found it wanting. We see what is lacking in the PC. We often want to share this viewpoint with others, assuming that people want to be giving advice about the best technology, or at least to be aware of it. But people don't like that.
I've discovered that about other topics, too. If you are successful in making money, for example, and you try to pass this information on to others, not everyone is quick to thank you. I've found the same reactions when I tell people about my conclusions upon comparing and contrasting American conservatives and American liberals. Ditto for Christianity vis-à-vis other world religions. Wanna here my theories on race?
The long and short of my point is this: If you use a Mac, you have style. If you promote the Mac platform, you have passion. Internalizing and acting on either of those traits (style and passion), you will have enemies. There are people who will hate you.
One clear, dead-giveaway sign that you have style and/or passion is that sooner or later people will hate you. But that's good.
To have style, by definition, implies that others do not. To be told that you don't have style is patently offensive. If you have style, that is exactly what you are saying to others by your very presence, every time you open your mouth, every time you move. That is what the Macintosh computer screams at the PC world. That is what Apple Computer says to the rest of the industry. That explains Michael Dells obsession with Steve Jobs and Apple, doesn't it?
Ditto for passion.
Having passion and style comes at a price, though. You will always be in someone's crosshairs. To have style and/or passion means you will be relegated to walking a lonely road. It isn't for wimps. You will offend people, and sooner or later, you will offend someone who has power to hurt you. I should know (I speak of passion, here; it's up to you, gentle reader, to decide if I have style).
Apple's "loneliness" is translated into five percent market share. Sure it will grow, but it will always be small compared to the rest of the industry - because style and passion are offensive. Only a few dare embrace it. Those who don't have style and passion know not what it means to walk the lonely road. That is too harsh for them. It is a hard thing; who can understand it?
But they don't realize the big payoff of style and passion: satisfaction. Those with style and passion are satisfied souls, because their passion compels them to never settle for less, and their style makes them look good while they do it.
So the next time you meet a stylish person or a Mac user, try to understand their situation. They are doing the rest of the world a big service. Those with style are the vanguard. Their style and their passion inspires the rest of the world - the former inspires imitation; the latter, more passion.
Style and passion doesn't always come into being by fiat. Usually they come about because they were catalyzed by someone else's style or passion. If you look around you, you see that there is neither an abundance of style nor passion, so we have our work cut out for us.
That may be Apple Computer's real task: To keep reminding the rest of the industry of style and passion, regardless of how bad it makes the rest of them look or how angry it gets them. The same can be said for you and me.
Rodney O. Lain (1968-2002) called himself a fashion victim: He liked wearing socks with his sandals. When he wasn't dispensing fashion advice, Rodney wrote for Low End Mac, The Mac Observer, Applelinks, and many other websites. Rodney lived in Minnesota. His own website was iBrotha.com, and we have collected as much of his writing that has since disappeared from the Web as possible in The Rodney O. Lain Archive.
The most widely read Things Macintosh columns:
- Apple is a company, 10/4/1999
- The main difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, 1/17/2000
- The $600 iMac, 12/24/1999
- Apple will rule the computer world, 11/17/1999
- I'm not paying $20 for my OS X upgrade, 2001.07.25.
- A Mac is like Prozac, 10/13/1999
- I'm a drop the funk bomb on ya: Milking the Macintosh for all it's worth, 2001.03.20.
- More links and links to memorial articles in the Things Macintosh index.
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