aNewDomain — The news has run rampant over all media channels: Taylor Swift demanded that Apple pay musicians for the three-month trial of Apple Music. And Apple, in 24 hours, caved. Yes, the largest company in the world gave in without so much as a blink, and it did so to the Tumblr post of a pop artist.
For this, the media is celebrating Swift. That is unbelievable. I mean, Time Magazine said:
“The pop star has become a voice for young artists seeking fair compensation after her high-profile bout with Spotify.”
Whether Taylor Swift is a voice for starving artists — she is probably not — is really besides the point.
And the whole news run is reminiscent of a similar call-and-demand that took place last December: Sony’s hack and the pulling and release of its now infamous movie, “The Interview.”
There was confirmation that the hack had been performed by North Korea, whose leader the movie bashes, but no hard evidence has ever been presented for this. The effect of it all was this: First, North Korea threatened, then acted out its threats on Sony. Sony got scared and pulled “The Interview.” Then after public outcry, victimization, and the call for worldwide outrage, Sony pushes “The Interview” as far and as hard as it could into everyone’s face. Bet you saw it.
There are lots of similiarities between the Sony scandal and Taylor Swift’s open letter to Apple. But the most relevant and critical of all of them is the concept of shame.
Public shame. The Taylor Swift Apple brouhaha is all about shame.
Shame On You
We live in a hyper-sensitive, directly quotable society in which all voices are present, and therefore all types can be humiliated. Our correspondent David Michaelis wrote an article on the double-edged deadliness of shame — how it can push those who spew hate into a silent corner and how it can elicit the victims of that hate to commit suicide, even murder.
Gamersgate, online bullying and even former U.S. President George W. Bush — who couldn’t quite remember that one phrase on shame — all dealt in shame and ridicule from megaphoned sources too numerous to mention.
Video: Bush “Fool Me Once…”
Taylor Swift vs. Apple is being played out the same way. Swift did not request Apple pay her and other musicians for their music with a nice, quiet letter. She could have. But she didn’t. Rather, she placed it squarely on the front page of every news outlet in the world. It’s the digital age, and we broadcast all our thoughts digitally.
Remember, too, that Apple had received low-grade pushback for their policy for months. But it wasn’t until the public shame occurred that any change was made. And in this case, what was Apple supposed to do?
Of course the potential outcome of this situation is excellent. Musicians should be paid for their music, end of story.
But was it quite fair to back Apple into a corner? Shame is powerful, it is meaningful and as we can clearly see it delivers results.
Sony, meanwhile, was first victimized and then shamed. North Korea made a semi-physical threat to the company, which it then allegedly carried out. This was a violence-based tactic to victimize the company into backing away. And the country got what it wanted — at first.
But the visceral response of the American public, media and even the President of the United States drove a deeper spike into the heart of the hack. The over-reactive secondary response, driven now by shame instead of fear, launched Sony back into the good graces of mainstream culture.
It’s interesting to note that fear and violence, in the case above, were less powerful than shame.
The precedent of these two examples sets up a contentious future for public figures, private companies and governments worldwide. If this tactic works once, does it mean it can work again? Who will control the lever in the future, and what will the ramifications be?
In this case Taylor Swift won a blow for independent musicians, and we could naively assume future results will embolden the little guy, because this fight was a rehashed David vs. Goliath.
But that won’t always be the case. As a culture we play frequently and often irresponsibly with shame. If the guiding voices on the world’s stage are those of mainstream thinkers there will come a point of serious trouble and pain.