Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple as the face of Republican politics

September 14, 2010: 6:58 AM ET

America's No. 1 bestselling novel takes a ironic shot at the purveyor of 99-cent downloads

"OK. What do you think of the MP3 revolution?"

About half way through Jonathan Franzen's Freedom an adoring high school student puts that question to Richard Katz, a Khadafi-handsome rock musician and, we suspect, the author's alter ego.

What follows is a rant that touches on everything from the role of the Marseilles in mobilizing the French peasantry to Apple's (AAPL) commitment to making the world a better place.

Before he is done, Katz has called Bob Dylan a chewing gum maker and the iPods sold by Steve Jobs -- a long-time supporter of Democratic candidates who once dated Joan Baez and put Al Gore on his board of directors -- "the true face of Republican politics."

How does Franzen get there? Read on.

"Ah, revolution, wow," Katz answers. "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 to spend another buck. That era which finally ended whenever,  yesterday -- you know, that era when we pretended rock was the scourge of conformity and consumerism, instead of its anointed handmaid -- that era was really irritating to me. I think it's good for the honesty of rock and roll and good for the country in general that we can finally see Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop for what they really were: as manufacturers of wintergreen Chiclets."

Below: The rest of the Apple section of Franzen's mock-rock interview. (Note: These excerpts are for entertainment only and contain no information of value to investors.)

Q: So you're saying rock has lost its subversive edge?
A: I'm saying it never had any subversive edge. It was always wintergreen Chiclets, we just enjoyed pretending otherwise.
Q: What about when Dylan went electric?
A: If you're going to talk about ancient history, let's go back to the French revolution. Remember when, I forget his name, but that rocker who wrote 'Marseillaise,' Jean Jacques Whoever -- remember when his song started getting all that airplay in 1792, and suddenly the peasantry rose up and overthrew the aristocracy? There was a song that changed the world. Attitude was what the peasants were missing. They already had everything else -- humiliating servitude, grinding poverty, unpayable debts, horrific working conditions. But without a song, man, it added up to nothing. The sansculotte style was what really changed the world.
Q: So what's next for Richard Katz?
A: I'm getting involved in Republican politics.
Q: Ha ha.
A: … I've been given the opportunity to participate in the pop-music mainstream, and manufacture Chiclets, and help try to persuade fourteen-year-olds that the look and feel of Apple Computer products is an indication of Apple Computer's commitment to making the world a better place. Because making the world a better place is cool, right? And Apple Computer must be way more committed to a better world, 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. This may be a case where you have to step back and take the long view and see that getting to have your very own iPod is itself the very thing that makes the world a better place. And that's what I find so refreshing about the Republican Party. They leave it up to the individual to decide what a better world might be. It's the party of liberty, right? That's why I can't understand why those intolerant Christian moralists have so much influence on the party. Those people are very antichoice. Some of them are even opposed to the worship of money and material goods. I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics, and I'm in favor of the music industry … standing up proud and saying it out loud: We in the Chiclet-manufacturing business are not about social justice, …we're not about a coherent set of national ideals, we're not about wisdom. We're about choosing what WE want to listen to and ignoring everything else…. We're about giving ourselves a mindless feel-good treat every five minutes. …We're about persuading ten-year-old children to spend twenty-five dollars on a cool little silicone iPod case that costs a licensed Apple Computer subsidiary thirty-nine cents to manufacture.
Q: Seriously, though. … Do you think successful musicians have a responsibility to be role models?
A: Me me me, buy buy buy, party party party.  …What I've been trying to say is that we already are perfect Republican role models.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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