Americans, when asking whether something might be too controversial for ‘mainstream’ America, will ask: ‘Will it play in Peoria?’
Nowadays, authors of both creative and historical works find themselves asking not whether the fruits of their labour will be acceptable in America’s heartland, but in Cupertino, California, the headquarters of the computer firm Apple.
That creative types should be concerned about Apple’s modesty is ironic. For its entire history, the company has demonstratively eschewed the corporate mentality of its rivals. Even more embarrassing, though, is that Apple is rooted in the same hippie movement that the Danish books it rejected sought to document in a sober, if occasionally graphic, manner.
It’s understandable that a company that orchestrates its corporate image as thoroughly as Apple would also seek to strictly regulate which products it accepts in its online stores. And, were a bricks and mortar bookseller to decide not to stock Peter Øvig Knudsen’s book because it contains semi-pornographic material, the decision would be accepted as the store’s right.
Apple is no simple bookseller however – neither in volume of sales nor in global reach. It is worrisome that a single company can use a set of pre-programmed instructions to filter out material that, by any measure, is a serious work. In Apple’s case, it’s also deeply hypocritical. Pick up any iPad, iPhone or any other piece of Apple hardware and search for a term even loosely related to sex, and you’re certain to be inundated with pictures and videos every bit as graphic as those in Knudsen’s book.
Danes – whether their products are as serious as Knudsen’s books or as lascivious as Ekstra Bladet with its page 9 girl – are, of course, not forced to put their content onto Apple’s retail outlets. Danish online booksellers exist; none though are as widely used as Apple platforms, none are as versatile and none are as readily available to consumers.
There are instances of Danes who’ve pulled their content from Apple platforms when they felt the company’s Puritanism went too far. Such was the case with Thomas Helmig, who felt Apple was just being too asinine when his song ‘Stupid Man’ was re-titled ‘S****d Man’.
It’s to Apple’s credit that it has managed to create an uncompromising global brand while, at the same time, keeping intact its image as an icon of counterculture. But with global power comes an obligation to respect global differences. Instead of content providers asking whether their creations will play in Cupertino, Apple should be asking whether content providers’ creations would play in Copenhagen or Kiev or Karachi.