As a consumer of media and technology I frequently come across Terms and Conditions or Terms of Services that I agree to in order to use these Services or technologies. Do I accept these Terms? Always. Do I actually read the Terms and Conditions that I’m agreeing to? Absolutely not. Trey Parker’s South Park episode “HUMANCENTiPAD” satirizes the average consumer’s actions regarding technology including not reading Terms and Conditions before agreeing to them as well as how consumers respond to companies such as Apple.
I watched “HUMANCENTiPAD” in the context of the first chapter of William Patry’s book Moral Panics and Copyright Wars titled “How the Copyright Wars Are Being Fought and Why.” While the observations and subsequent statements that Patry forms about the Copyright Wars are mostly in regard to companies as copyright owners, there are direct comparisons to be made to Apple’s business strategies.
Patry opens up his chapter with the concept that industries, such as the music industry, have “gone to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted” (Patry 1). The theme of the industry’s control of consumers is one that particularly interested me when considering themes of “HUMANCENTiPAD.” A premise “HUMANCENTiPAD” is the control that Apple gains by having customers agree to Terms and Conditions (which no one actually reads because it’s “like eight pages long and they send you a new one every three weeks” (Parker)). In this episode, characters blindly agree to the Terms and Conditions and subsequently turn into a rather vulgar new type of iPad which is part-human part-centipede part-iPad, a parody of the horror film Human Centipede.
I decided to peruse the 17 page-long Terms and Conditions of iTunes and, as of the version last updated May 23, 2012, Apple does not have acceptors of the agreement agree to become any sort of HUMANCENTiPAD. However, the Terms and Conditions does contain some language which put Apple in control of monitoring compliance with Terms and Conditions and “enforcement and/or verify compliance with any part of [the] Agreement” (Apple). The South Park episode doesn’t necessarily criticize or bring to light specific content of the Terms and Conditions of iTunes, however, questions the actual control Apple products and other similar technologies have over consumers. For instance, Cartman throws a complete fit in Best Buy because his mother does not want to buy him an iPad and he refuses to be seen with a less expensive Toshiba HandiBook. While Cartman’s response is extreme, it represents the loyalty consumers feel towards brand-name technology, specifically Apple.
Some critical questions to raise are how we got to the point where consumers would not be caught dead with an off-brand piece of technology and why we feel the need to have the latest-and-greatest even if it is, in the case of the South Park episode, a HUMANCENTiPAD? According to Patry’s interpretations of the definition, Apple uses what he describes as “push marketing” by creating what it wants then markets it to the consumer. Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple was quoted in BusinessWeek in May 25 1998, cited in Owen Linzmayer’s Wired article “Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever,” saying that “it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (qtd. in Linzmayer). This is precisely the kind of approach Patry detests and views as an attempt of control of consumers. Jobs even went one step further to say in a BusinessWeekOnline interview in October 12, 2004 that “I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do” (qtd. in Linzmayer). Patry criticizes businesses for creating “products or services based on what they want to sell to consumers and not based on what consumers want to buy, resulting in what Theodore Levitt called ‘marketing myopia’” (5). Unfortunately for Patry’s case against this marketing tool for being ineffective, Apple has been highly successful with push tactics and now has a large following of Apple users, myself included.
For whatever reason I feel a certain connection to my Apple products (of which there are eight being used regularly in my house at home with me and my parents) and while I would like to think that I make the decision to purchase Apple products based on my independent thoughts and decisions, I recognize that this is not the case. Like many other consumers I have allowed myself to be seduced by companies like Apple and in order to continue to use their products will blindly accept the Terms and Conditions presented to me “like every three weeks” (Parker).
Linzmayer, Owen. “Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 39 Mar. 2006. Web. 07 Sept. 2012. <http://www.wired.com/gadgets/mac/commentary/cultofmac/2006/03/70512?currentPage=all>.
Parker, Trey. HUMANCENTiPAD. South Park Studios. Viacom, Apr. 2011. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. <http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e01-humancentipad>.
Patry, William F. “How the Copyright Wars Are Being Fought and Why.” Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 1-41. Print.
“Terms and Conditions.” iTunes Store Terms and Conditions. Apple, 23 May 2012. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. <http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/terms.html>.