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O Magazine

THX 1138 / APPLE

The present is the future of the past

by Joan Pons


If in the private screening of Star Wars that George Lucas organised before its premiere for some of his fellow golden boys directors (Scorsese, Milius, Coppola, De Palma, etc.), they laughed in his face for having made a, ahem, “puppet movie” (always according to Peter Birskind, of course) it’s because before that there was THX 1138.

DIALOGUE: THX 1138 / APPLE – O Production Company

What was George doing embracing that amusement park sci-fi when the future he had devised in his debut was an absolutely dystopian tomorrow? THX 1138 was a film that cleaned its aesthetics, with everything so white, so pristine, to force the contrast between its look and its contents. Everything in the film had a hyper-clean and not harmful look, precisely, because it was meant to mean the exact opposite.

DIALOGUE: THX 1138 / APPLE – O Production Company
DIALOGUE: THX 1138 / APPLE – O Production Company
DIALOGUE: THX 1138 / APPLE – O Production Company

This sterilization of a futurist imaginary was the hyper-stylised rendering of Aldous Huxley or Ray Bradbury’s nightmares. When scenery lacks any tracks, mistakes, or stains, it ceases to be personal. White light over white background… and human identity disappears (maybe even the human being itself as well). Goodbye, body and soul; hello, numbers and letters.
George Lucas was among the first to create this image of a future full of minimal sophistication. Before him, maybe only Stanley Kubrick had explored the design of these whitish scenarios in that room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, even though the hand of man was still visible there in the furniture and interior decoration. And after him… Well, there have been a million followers, from within and outside the cinema.
One of the most interesting cases of adopters of this immaculate aesthetics is Apple. Let’s remember that this IT company has always been an expert at changing prefixes: from the future dystopia to the present utopia. The legendary Ridley Scott commercial about George Orwell’s 1984, without going any further, has ended up being prophetic both for better and for worse: Apple has built customer loyalty to a point of a-critical sectarianism (to be honest, the fact that there are actual Apple fans is quite disturbing in itself), has promoted a cult towards the leader-big brother-martyr Steve Jobs that continues even beyond his physical disappearance, has encouraged its buyers’ addiction and meekness (they don’t question product prices or Apple’s position regarding emancipatory measures such as free software, for example) and has even created a sort of newspeak with the simple resource of placing a lower case “i” before the name of each new official product.

For that reason, the evolution in Apple’s design is a constant progress towards the visual depuration of a future that some, like George Lucas, imagined in the past. It’s more THX 1138 than 1984, thus. However, the dialogue between Apple and THX 1138 is just twaddle. Neatness for the latter meant precisely the exact opposite of what it has been meaning for the former in the last years.

The progressive evolution of Apple’s packaging towards absolute clarity, making everything become, supposedly, neat and more useful for the user (a strategy so winning from the beginning that it’s even been able to silence criticism on its possible aestheticism) is the brand’s trademark. It is too, of course, one of its main attractive features for the consumer: objects, apps and, in general, the Apple world is more beautiful, cleaner… and happier?

DIALOGUE: THX 1138 / APPLE – O Production Company

(Text written with a smile on my face on a precious MacBook pro)