Mother, Should I Build ‘The Wall’? | Brent Kaneft | 23 Min Read

May 9, 2023

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

During the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII in 1984 (the Raiders beat the Redskins 38-9), Apple released what is largely considered the greatest commercial of all time. The goal was simple and ambitious: shatter the fears people had about computers engineering compliance, conformity, and control through surveillance. Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, 1982), the commercial recreated a dystopian scene from George Orwell’s 1984, a novel that introduced “Big Brother,” what has become a cultural euphemism for the abuse of surveillance techniques by a powerful authority, traditionally a government. In the commercial, real skinheads hired in London—used to emphasize their lack of individual identity—march to their seats as the voice and face of “Big Brother,” projected by a large telescreen, compels their automatonic movements:

“Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on Earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!”

And just as “Big Brother” crescendos, a sledgehammer, thrown by a colorful, athletic young woman who is being chased by “thought police” throughout the one-minute commercial, smashes the screen and “boom.” The skinheads watch the explosion but don’t move. All that happens next is Apple makes a promise:

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

I used to show this commercial to my AP Language and Composition students. It is a perfect example of rhetorical manipulation, a play on emotions, not reason. Brent Thomas, the art director for the advertising agency Apple hired for the commercial, admitted they “set out to smash the old canard that the computer will enslave us. We did not say the computer will…

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Brent Kaneft

Brent Kaneft is Head of School at Wilson Hall School, a PK-12 independent school, in South Carolina. He holds a master’s in literature from James Madison University and earned his master’s degree in educational leadership from Indiana University (Bloomington) in May 2022. Since 2016, Brent has led teacher workshops on how to translate Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) research strategies into the classroom, and since 2020, he has focused on research-informed practices in the areas of social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and equity and inclusion. Brent’s recent publications include "The Belonging Apocalypse: Woke Bypassing, Contemplative Practices, and a Way Forward for DEI" (IntrepidEd News) and "The Problem with Nice: Moving from Congenial to Collegial Cultures" (Independent School Magazine).