Steve Jobs

Steve JobsOutside my window, the weather event which will [eventually] come to be known as The Blizzard of ’16 buries  the world in a thick white blanket. It strikes me, as I watch it accumulate, that the Human will to exchange the hours of one’s life for things is more easily stopped by clouds… than governments. It amazes me that a conspiracy of air currents can keep me from working more than 40 hours in a week when none of the votes I cast can. One might think that I am winding my way to a capitalistic connection between me and Steve Jobs—since the movie that bears his name is the subject of this review. I might be about to say something interesting about the idea that any person’s ideas could be worth billions of dollars. I have no such intention. I was simply happy that I got an extra day off this week; I used that extra day to watch a movie.

Poets are shameless with their experiences; they exploit them.

Although I have always believed Nietzsche’s epigram to be true [if poets can be an algebraic substitute for ANY artist], I had never stopped to consider WHY it was true. For sure each “poem” that you write is an “exchange of hours” just as sinister as that sanctioned by our governments. It is also true that this exchange has the pall of idea pornography attached to it. No one writes a poem [not even the mythological Emily Dickinson] without hoping that a whole lot of someones will read it. When you write, you are selling yourself.

In classic Joel Barish style, I have twice steered around my target without actually hitting it.

The movie I saw about Mr. Jobs relates to Nietzsche and Blizzards in this way: creation is a drug. As with all drugs, there are users, abusers, and abstainers. Mr. Jobs [the character in the movie that bears his name] was addicted to the act of creation. You see how there is no other act a human can engage in which is AS UNIQUE AS the act of creation. If, from the combinatorial soup of my mind, I make something which had not existed before me, then I have done something no other human can ever do.

This is why Einstein said his thought experiment revelation about freefall in an elevator was the “happiest moment of his life”. He had realized that there was no difference between gravitational and inertial mass, and he was the very first human in the history of the world to know this fact about the universe.

We, mere writers, can not stand that tall, but there are times when our pens are so inspired that the effect is the same. When you write something deeply resonant, you are as privileged as Einstein. The euphoria of creation is more exhilarating than all other feelings put together. If you don’t know this truth, implicitly, then you will never be an Artist.

Watching Mr. Fassbender as Mr. Jobs, I had a metafictive moment. It is a story about a man who wanted to turn technology into a tool that appealed to human psychology as much as human need. It was written by a man who lent it a theme [to be great is to be understood](1), that is very likely to resonate with [and only with] those infatuated by the process of creation. The part was then portrayed by a man who wanted to subsume the creative efforts of the first two “authors” to validate His expression of their intentions—which brings us to me—an arbiter of aesthetics.

You see how this process of creation is limitless. Each of us takes an idea and stakes a tiny fiefdom of uniqueness within that idea. To be a human person [with an Art compulsion] is to be a human person in search of A Kingdom of Your Own Ideas. The size of your fiefdom is dictated by the clarity of your message about your ideas.

If you want to rule the world [of ideas] then clarify your message.

I realized [in my metafictive moment] that my message is still blurry and this is why I have so little resonance. I know what I want to say:

Art is the only instrument of cultural change,

but I continue to say it in obscure ways. I hide behind this screenwriting blog because I know no one would read the aesthetic opinions of a Retail Store Manager. If I be a screenwriting critic, then I am harmless—to myself. It would take conviction to write my ideas in the proper format. It would take a belief in my right to express those ideas. I do not have that belief; I do not have that conviction—therefore I am not the Steve Jobs of Art as an instrument of cultural change.

If we are [this time] to believe the mythology, the thing that made Steve Jobs The Steve Jobs was his unfailing conviction… mixed with his belief in his right to express that conviction. He intuited that the measure of technology’s Genius was linked to the ease with which human’s chose to adopt it. In bumpersticker form Steve Jobs The Man is saying:

A tool is useful if [and only if] all humans want to use it.

This is actually a fantastic idea. Before Steve Jobs, a tool was useful if [and only if] it successfully achieved the aim of its design. If the tool made it possible for more “work” to be done by one person than could have been done by that person before the invention of the tool, then, by default, a quality tool had been built. Requiring that our tools be designed for ANYONE to use, is new. It is liberating. If we adopted this principle as a requirement of all future tool designs, the world would be a much more egalitarian place.

Imagine if there were no more need for specialists in a field, then there would be no reason to pay some people more than others [based on skillsets]. People would no longer choose professions because of expected economic earnings; they would choose what appealed to them and suited their special abilities and unique motivations.

Unfortunately, people are anti-egalitarian by nature. We live to find the differences between us. So, the idea, while pleasing to look at when applied to computers, would fail if mass-produced. I wish this were not so. I try very hard to think of ways to negate this difference-seeking fact about humans. So far, it looks [to me] like every route which leads to the land of Utopia, must first make its way through, the impenetrable, Disaster City.

If Mr. Jobs’ idea has limited application, then what are we to make of our screenwriter’s theme:

To be Great is to be Understood.

What range of application does this idea have?  The first thing I’ll say is that [like any good screenwriter should do] Mr. Sorkin his distilled [his take] on Mr. Jobs’ life to an essence and then made that essence universal. What was true about the particular individual Steve Jobs CAN BE true of each of us… In other words, Mr. Sorkin has made an effective fiction out of real life.

Naturally, I am in agreement with Mr. Sorkin’s theme. The essay on resonance in Bowdlerizing Kant could be replaced with Mr. Sorkin’s theme, and you would know [in bumpersticker form] everything you need to know about what resonance looks like. You could identify it after the fact.

However, I’m sure that the rest of the model Mr. Sorkin provides [through his fictionalized Steve Jobs] is not worth emulation. The character in the movie is vicious to the one’s he loves regardless of whether or not they deserve this treatment. I believe Mr. Sorkin has adapted the Genius is best friends with madness meme that has been popular in our culture [also pointed out at the bottom of the page in the footnote] since Pindar. It seems that we, as a culture, are supposed to tolerate any behavior genius displays for the sake of being graced with the genius.

This meme is ridiculous. Geniuses are people too. They are subject to the same rules as the rest of us. Their minds may be better than ours [and in that sentiment you see why egalitarianism is doomed to failure] but their personalities are judged by their humanness, not their creativity.

It may be that Mr. Jobs the man is equivalent to Mr. Jobs the character in Mr. Sorkin’s script. That does not mean that Mr. Sorkin is off the hook for taking a prefabricated idea [genius is excused from norms because it is genius] and not refabricating it. Had Mr. Sorkin done this, he would have elevated his material. There is a story, somewhere in the actual details of Mr. Jobs’ life that would have granted Sorkin his theme:

To be Great is to be Understood,

and satisfied the requirements of taking the clay of our already-thought ideas and making something new. Mr. Sorkin did not do this, and so his script has limited efficacy. It defines how you judge genius to be Genius, but it does not tell us how to be a human genius.

Which brings us to Mr. Fassbender’s performance. He does make the words assigned to Mr. Jobs equal more than the sum of their meaning. The challenge of portraying someone like Steve Jobs could only be met by someone who understood the contradiction of being someone like Steve Jobs.

As Jobs you know that your vision is correct. What you do not know [if you are a man like Jobs] is that at the end of your life, you will care more about the people you loved than the validation of your ideas. The euphoria of creation is the best drug on earth, but it can not last, and single minded pursuit of the next creative fix will cause you to die all alone.

We mentioned earlier that Einstein found the equivalence principle to be the happiest moment of his life. There are no quotes [from him] to describe the last 30 years of his life, when he sought [in vain] to find a unified field theory. Can you imagine the trauma this must have been to him? To look for a single idea with three decades of purpose, and to never find that idea.

That is the definition of loneliness.

Fassbender either gets lucky, or he worked it out for himself. I say this because there is, in his portrayal, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Since I have not tried to make a science of acting, I have no criteria for justifying my opinion of his performance, I can only say that I see regret instead of triumph in the performance. I see knowledge of the idea that being a genius who self-ostracizes is not worth the cost.

Fassbender is, so far, the best of the quartet. [Jobs, Sorkin, Fassbender, and Barish]

Last [and assuredly least] we have my performance as critic. If you’ve read Bowdlerizing Kant, then you know that I don’t use critic in the way ordinary language uses critic. To me, a critic is any consumer of Art who attempts refabrication.

I admit that I was absorbed by this movie. Its structure is contrived, its dialogue is even more contrived, and it BARELY qualifies as cinema. [It is a play; anyone who says differently is selling something]. And yet, I was absorbed.

Could there be an answer [in the collaboration between Jobs, Sorkin, and Fassbender] to the question which plagues me?

Why can’t I commit to doing what is necessary to be an Artist?

My confidence in my creativity, while being humble enough to resist being arrogant, feels sufficient. Am I afraid that the meme I have twice discredited is, in fact, correct? To be continuously Great, do you have to die alone?

Or is that sentiment, a feeling which would bring credit to me as the protagonist of my life, a blind for the camouflaging of a deeper fear? Is it possible that genius is not the cause of loneliness, but the effect? Is being all alone the reason the Steve Jobs’ of the world dedicate themselves to being Understood.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that if I am understood, then, by definition, I am not alone.



1 This inversion of Emerson is intended. One of the worst beliefs ever held by humans is that greatness is [on any level] unintelligible. [It is right up there beside the idea that mental illness is a necessary component of Great Art.] The truest measure of the Genius of a Human Person is the number of people that understood her.

Genius is Resonance.

Disagreement here is a sign of being a poor artist and an even worse thinker.



7 responses to “Steve Jobs

  1. I wish you got more days off too because this is a hell of a post! As always, your best critical work includes the material grappling around on the mat with your not-fictional “Joel Barish” character.

    I’d love to disagree but my feelings on Steve Jobs align with yours so I did a lot of heavy nodding while I read.

    • I watched this with a room full of people [a blizzard coincidence], and I was the only one absorbed. I do give Mr. Sorkin credit for getting 30 million dollars worth of people to go see a play.

      In a bit of irony, the unabsorbed in the room with me were all being unabsorbed… on their iphones.

  2. That’s the thing with Sorkin movies though, right? I mean he is a playwright, and he’s never really busted out of that mode (hence the walk-and-talk)

    It’s the directors job on some level not to fall too in love with the material in order that he/she may turn it into a move-ey. Boyle has made some awesome films but one could argue he failed on some level with this one. I noticed in interviews he was slavish in his love for this script…I think he was blinded by that a bit.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t take a Sorkin script and turn it into a movie though. Look at THE SOCIAL NETWORK. That’s a F’in movie.

    • This one feels blatantly like a play. There is no attempt to use the cinematic medium to its full potential. The structure is clever, but it is clearly the kind of clever structure that gives a play momentum.

      I haven’t read the script so I don’t know how literal Boyle was in his transcription, but it would have been hard to do much with the material because the central conceit of joining Jobs’ life minutes before a product launch is the engine of this script. Remove that, and you would need a whole new script.

      I liked the film, but I also understand why it only made 30 million. When people go to the movies they expect to see… a movie.

  3. I have read the script and the transcription was by-the-book. The script is, basically, 178 pages of straight dialogue. In fairness it reads wonderfully and quickly for such a length. And there was an attempt to make it more of a movie, but these attempts were, I think, too subtle?

    I also enjoyed it due to the high-level acting on display — Fassbender is pretty much hitting homerun after homerun with his performances, and the secondary characters were all wonderful.

    I don’t know what lessons their are to take from the script — the fact is, if one could write a 200 page script with this level of idiosyncratic linguistic skill, one could probably also sell that script. But that’s because, in my limited experience, the gatekeepers are not necessarily always looking for “a movie.” That’s fine, but I’ll stick to movies, purely for the sake of trying to make what I love.

    • Maybe the lesson to learn with Sorkin is: accept who you are. He’s a dialogue-smith. He should probably be writing plays but, for some reason, the Gatekeepers let him through.

      I am willing to bet that if he had changed who he was to better approximate the rest of the specs being written, Mr. Sorkin would still be an aspiring screenwriter.

      When you add to this the idea that most of the specs that get sold never get produced, you arrive at the Sorkin lesson stated in the first sentence by default.

      I am never going to know who you are as a screenwriter unless you bring me something I haven’t seen before.

      In this moment, I can’t even remember the name of the guy who wrote Bump. If he submitted a screenplay to me tomorrow [without mentioning that he wrote Bump] I wouldn’t open it unless I liked the title and the logline. Mr. Sorkin could send me a script with no title and no logline and I’d drop everything to read it.

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