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>.
The relationship between media industries and their consumers has always been a rocky one. It’s become quite unclear whether said industries are there to give the people what they want or to force unwanted products down their throats. The media industries have the mentality that they and only they possess the right to create and innovate new things. This in itself hurts the companies because many of them are still stuck in the past instead of trying to adapt to the many facets of the modern world. This problem could be circumvented if they were to acknowledge that authorship is not a solo act, but should be treated as a collaboration between the industry and the consumer. What they fail to see is that such collaboration could actually aid their company’s success based on the fact that consumers are the ones utilizing these products, so why not let them have a say? Patry adds to this argument that “Innovation is the solution because innovation provides the means by which new content can be created and then distributed to consumers in a form and manner consumers desire” (Patry 22).
As a result of the industry’s current state, they seem to have taken absolute control over the consumer. This aspect of the industry/consumer relationship, albeit in an exaggerated manner, was depicted with a hint of accuracy in the “HUMANCENTiPAD” episode of South Park. Showing how owning a certain product, in this case the iPad, can “elevate someone’s status in society” and make them feel like part of an elite group truly speaks to how controlling today’s industries are. They have practically brainwashed the consumers into believing that if they don’t own their product, then they are outcasts. This exclusionary tactic is also a way that the companies sell more products because the people who already own them don’t ever want to be the outcasts, so they make a point to purchase the subsequent products. When Kyle accepts the Terms and Conditions of iTunes and thinks nothing of it, it struck me that majority of today’s society actually does this. “Who just agrees to something they don’t read?” recounted several of the characters in the episode (Parker “HUMANCENTiPAD”). What if we were actually signing ourselves over to a company for experimentation? We wouldn’t know it because we didn’t read it.
The confusing nature and loopholes is another major problem within the copyright system. The system’s confusing nature has led to people being thrown into a “digital guillotine” in which some customers of ISPs have been presumed guilty without any sort of due process (Patry 13). The Terms and Conditions of YouTube explicitly say that “YouTube reserves the right to remove Content without prior notice,” and it’s clauses like this one that get people in the end (“Terms of Service”). If more people saw this then there’d be much more fighting back instead of consumers just accepting what happens to them. Users of websites like YouTube shouldn’t be getting trampled over, they deserve to know the reason as to why their content has been taken down.
Unless consumers actively attempt to reform the current copyright system, the media industries will continue to take advantage of them in any possible way. The only way that the two sides will ever be able to coexist humanely is if the industries acknowledge the necessity of the consumers, whom create the difference between the industry’s failure and its success.
“HUMAN CENTiPAD.” South Park. Dir. Trey Parker. Comedy Central. 27 April 2011. Television. 8 September 2012.
Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2009. Print.
“Terms of Service.” YouTube. 9 June 2010. Web. 8 September 2012.