“Religious” Varieties, Ideology and the Man in the Mirror

Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic has written a piece that uses the latest Apple iPhone problems as a jumping off point to examine the “religious experience” of being an Apple “fanboy.” In short, there are 4 myths surrounding the Apple “mystique”, according to Texas A&M’s Heidi Campbell:

1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment;
2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world;
3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists;
4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company…

As Madrigal explains, these are myths in the Joseph Campbell vein “that helps people make sense of their relationship with the world.” Madrigal wonders if “what happened during the [antenna failure] affair could undermine any of these key beliefs.” Conclusion = nope.

Heidi Campbell, for one, doesn’t think the company has much to worry about.
“This resurrection myth, and the belief in the infallibility of Mac technologies is going to keep people still invested,” Thompson said.
Recalling the pricing and availability problems following the launch of the original iPhone, she concluded, “Antennagate will make waves for a little while, but if what happened to Apple around the launch of the original iPhone and all that rigmarole didn’t shake people’s faith, I don’t think this will.”

Humor can point to some of these underlying “truths” held by the Apple fanboys:

[A]s illustrated in this (hilarious) video that’s garnered 5.5 million views on YouTube, it is hard to shake the faith of iPhone buyer that they are purchasing the world’s best device.
“What the hell entices you about the iPhone 4, if you don’t mind me asking?” an imaginary store clerk says. “It is an iPhone,” the cartoon customer response. “You do realize that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a brand,” the clerk responds, but to no avail.
But that’s just it: the iPhone does mean something, and it’s the type of meaning that transcends rational optimizing about features and raw performance. “Apple weathered the storm because there is such brand loyalty through the religious narrative,” Campbell maintained. “When you’re buying into Mac, you’re buying into an ideology. You’re buying into a community.”

We’ll believe in just about anything, won’t we? So we “buy into an ideology,” like a political one, or a movement, or a person or a company or its products. Once we’ve bought in, there are some very high hurdles that must be bounded over before we buy out. And, in many cases, it may not even be possible.
That’s why both political parties are always garner around 33% support. Or why, once people cast their vote for someone, they are willing to give the benefit of the doubt–often well-past the point that they elected official should continue to accrue such benefits–before changing our mind. It’s why sports fans cheer for a team, feel betrayed, but come back on the bandwagon when the franchise is “resurrected” (guilty). It’s why people can be let down by a company’s product–like a stupid phone–but still sing hosannahs when things get fixed (kinda)–because they’ve wrapped their identity up in being an “Apple person” and it would be an ego, perhaps even id-, crushing experience to lose that.
I’m not sure if they are components of this ideological/religious explanation for brand loyalty (no matter the “product”) or if they are distinct from it, but I think part of this loyalty can be ascribed to a couple, very human, tendencies–one having to do with the heart, and the other with the head. Once our hearts are given, we don’t want to deal with being betrayed. No one wants a break-up! We also like to think we’re intelligent people with good judgment: and when that judgment proves poor, we don’t want to admit we were w-w-w-w-wrong.
That’s why, I think, we so often witness people (including ourselves) who–once we’re proponents of a way of thinking or a product–are unable to admit when “mistakes were made” or we misjudged something; or that we’ve simply changed our minds or were convinced otherwise. Instead, too many of the newly unconverted say we were lied to or there was some sort of conspiracy going on that we didn’t know about.
We react kinda like a spurned lover and take self-righteous umbrage against our betrayers. Anything to keep the finger of culpability pointing away from us and our own judgment. Many of us are too fragile, I guess. But it’s not our fault…

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