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Today is the Macintosh computer’s 25 birthday. My first computer was an Apple II Plus, and my love affair with the Mac is long running. As I got ready to head off to college, my parents gave me the choice of a car or a Mac Plus, and without blinking an eye, I chose the Mac. Apple’s “1984” ad serves as a mnemonic image for me, representing the dynamic relationship between literature and social memory. In the first chapter of my dissertation, I define four such mnemonic images, one for each of the four issues of memory I explore in depth. (The other three are mental, verbal, and graphic imagery as a process of meaning making; database practices as compositional tools; and the intersection of rhetoric and social memory.) Here’s the section from that first chapter in which I briefly discuss the ad:

And, finally, my last memory is that of the Apple Computer television ad which broadcast during the 1984 Super Bowl. This ad, set in an Orwellian world, begins with a group of mindless human drones shuffling into an auditorium. Projected onto a large screen is the close-up of a man’s face, who begins a speech with “Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives.” Interspersed with these images is that of a woman running down a hallway chased by soldiers. She runs into the auditorium, and before the soldiers can catch up with her, she hurls a hammer into the screen, which then blows up. The commercial ends with the message, both written and spoken, “On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’” (Macintosh).

Intentionally drawing upon George Orwell’s novel 1984, Apple’s commercial positions IBM in the role of Orwell’s Big Brother and positions themselves in the role of the resistance against Big Brother’s tyranny. This ad works because Orwell’s novel has become a commonplace in American culture. Even though the commercial was only ever broadcast once, the ad itself has become a commonplace for many in the advertising and technology industries and for Americans in general. As Kevin Manley explains in USA Today column marking the 20th anniversary of the commercial, few people remember that both Radio Shack and Atari ran commercials for their computers during that same Super Bowl. Moreover, he notes, a number of technology industry leaders identify Apple’s “1984” commercial as having had a profound influence on their choice of a career. Likewise, Ted Friedman, a Communications professor at Georgia State University, argues that for the rest of us the “1984” commercial was a “critical moment” in our “conception of the proper uses and cultural implications of personal computers.” In chapter six I explore the dynamic relationship between literature and social memory. Rather than argue that literature serves as a vehicle for social memory, I argue that literature and social memory exist within a dynamic relationship with each other. Not only does the creation and interpretation of literature involve an active engagement with social memory, social memory itself limits the interpretive space around a text even as literature itself can, as with 1984, define the interpretive space around personal experience and social and historical events.

While I return to “1984” and 1984 in chapter six, I focus on Ivanhoe, Starship Troopers, and, most completely, Beowulf. Or, actually, I did. This chapter is almost certainly being cut. While the earlier chapters are much more rhetorical and composition studies based, I do discuss medieval literature throughout the dissertation. After all, as anyone familiar with medieval rhetoric knows, the poetic was part of medieval rhetoric. And chapter two, “Towards a New Revived Canon of Memory,” begins with two quotes, one of which is from James J. Murphy’s “Poetry without Genre”:1

The so-called “Romantic Movement” in European literature at the end of the eighteenth century produced not only an emphasis on poetic individualism […] but also produced what can only be called a theory of non-theory. The radical shifts in Western views of human thought […] produced in English writers like Samuel Taylor Coledridge [sic] and William Wordsworth a theoretical justification for a view diametrically opposed to the metapoetics of the middle ages and Renaissance. But since we are all children of our own age no matter how much we try to escape it, we sometimes forget that what we call “modern” ideas about free poetic creation are very modern indeed—perhaps less than two centuries old. Our ancestors marched to quite a different drummer, and even if we ourselves understand this, we must be sure always to make our students understand it as well. A metapoetic of a rhetoric without genre that lasted for two thousand years must surely have some value today. (7-8)2

The Beowulf discussion is detailed enough to stand on its own, but I wanted to add the discussion of Ivanhoe and Starship Troopers to demonstrate that it’s not just oral tradition/folktale/epic/mythhistory that exists within a dynamic relationship with social memory. If it’s cut, and I understand why it probably will be, it will still work out into two articles.

Any way, today the Macintosh turns 25. Wish your Mac a happy birthday. (You do have a Mac, don’t you?)

  1. Murphy, James J. “Poetry without Genre: The Metapoetics of the Middle Ages.” Latin Rhetoric and Education in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Burlinton, VT: Ashgate/Variorum, 2005. VIII. 1-8. []
  2. The other is one of my all-time favorite memory quotes, take from Janet Coleman’s Ancient and Medieval Memory: “I have meant only to indicate that the modern world is, in some important ways, reformulating issues and some answers that were already at the heart of medieval discussions [of memory]. Most of us remain unaware that modern science, some modern history and modern philosophy have inherited from the Renaissance a trivialization of over 1,000 years of previous history” (xvii). []