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Newest Great American Novel rants at Apple

In Jonathan Franzen's much-hyped new novel, a main character gives a sarcastic interview in which he suggests the iPod is a symbol of Republicanism and that Apple is, well, kind of evil.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Let's get intellectual.

Every object, thought, movement, and person is, at heart, political. They might try to hide it. They might couch their purpose in some pretense of rationality. But in the end, everything that lives, breathes, or takes up space is trying to persuade you of something.

So, being deeply political myself, my head stubble stood on end when those who operate my dog collar at CNET told me about the new Great American Novel, "Freedom." This is the latest work by Jonathan Franzen, the man who experienced conniptive tendencies on learning that Oprah had given his book "The Corrections" her seal of approval.

Everyone who is anyone (and even some who are no one) has declared "Freedom" a vastly important work. But what might move you to read it is the part in which one of the main characters, middle-aged rock star Richard Katz, declares that Apple is rotten and the iPod is Republican.

Naturally, I have speed-read to this most important part. However, some might find that many of Katz's statements, all offered with dulled power of hindsight to a 19-year-old Mac-loving blogger, move them to tears, joy, violent twitching, or enlightenment.

In answer to the question "What do you think of the MP3 revolution?" Katz offers: "Ah, revolution, wow. It's great to hear the word 'revolution' again. It's great that a song now costs exactly the same as a pack of gum and lasts exactly the same amount of time before it loses its flavor and you have spend another buck."

Republican or what? Donald Bell/CNET

But Katz is merely stretching his mandible for a more targeted assault. Because he has Apple in his sights:

"Apple Computer must be way more committed to making the world a better place, because iPods are so much cooler-looking than other MP3 players, which is why they're so much more expensive and incompatible with other companies' software, because--well, actually, it's a little unclear why, in a better world, the very coolest products have to bring the very most obscene profits to a tiny number of residents of the better world."

It is but the smallest of hops, skips, and jumps for Katz to conclude: "The iPod is the true face of Republican politics."

Why might this be?

Well, Katz explains that the Republican Party is the true party of choice. So he finds it extremely hard to understand why it is in the hands of extremists, who want, as far as he is concerned, to inhibit and even prohibit choice.

Katz just wishes the modern commercial man of the music/technology axis (yes, he's thinking Apple) would just be honest and say:

"We're about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else. We're about ridiculing people who have the bad manners not to want to be cool like us. We're about giving ourselves a mindless feel-good treat every five minutes. We're about the relentless enforcement and exploitation of our intellectual-property rights. We're about persuading ten-year-old children to sped twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod case that it costs a licensed Apple Computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents to manufacture."

I have no idea whether this book has a happy ending, though I doubt it. However, just like Katz's heyday of rock 'n' roll, there is something amusingly human about things that once seemed revolutionary suddenly becoming the mainstream. And it's only when they enter that mainstream that their other, perhaps truer, essence becomes evident.

No one who created revolutionary music, or revolutionary technology, ever imagined all the consequences their creations would bring. How very difficult it is when we open our eyes and see that something we once believed in has changed into what, for some, seems to be its opposite. I know that some especially feel that way about their families.

That's enough philosophy for one day. Now, please go back to working for the man. Or, for you folks at Facebook, the boy Caesar.