Apple's big event today in San Francisco left many people wondering: What the heck was that was that all about? Normally, the great Steve Jobs uses his time on the podium to delight and surprise the masses. But today he gave little more than a preview of the new holiday line of iPods, and the TV ads that will accompany them.
You don't have to be as cynical as me to understand the real reason this event was staged: It was so the world could watch Jobs swim the Yangtze River.
Surely you remember that bit of masterful 20th-century propaganda? In 1966, Mao Zedong, the communist leader who united China and brought it back from the brink of ruin, famously swam the Yangtze. This stunt confounded the China hands and others who had believed that Mao was either dead — done in by his rivals — or dying of some illness, as had been rumored. (He was 73 after all.) But, no, the Leader was alive and astoundingly healthy: On a day in July, the Chairman appeared in his bathrobe on the riverbanks in Wuhan, accompanied by 5,000 young people. He was photographed smiling and waving; the Party-controlled press reported that he swam nearly nine miles downstream, in a little over an hour — which is doubtful.
But it's certainly true that he lived for another decade.
When Jobs, who battled pancreatic cancer four years ago and has been the subject of whispers of ill health since he appeared looking gaunt at the Macworld conference in June, took the stage today, it was in front of a giant slide that said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
I suppose some things are so obvious as to not need saying, but making the Jobs/Mao analogy without continuing to connect the dots to the concept of personality cults is a strange omission.