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MacUser (UK) 14 December 2001
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Place Macs
Charles Shaar Murray

Let's talk product placement and the contradictions and conundra embodied therein.

If my RAM serves me well, the pioneer of 'the metaphysics of branded goods' was Ian Fleming. In the James Bond novels, mostly written in the 1950s, he used the minutiae of his protagonist's patterns of consumption - his tastes in food, drink, cars, cigarettes and even marmalade - as an auxiliary means of defining the character. Like everything else in his novels, the movies take this to ridiculous extremes - whenever a new Bond flick is announced, the papers are almost as interested in the hero's latest car or watch as the fortunate thesps cast as the new Big Bad Guy or Main Babe.

Occasionally, this undermines the character: in Tomorrow Never Dies, a distressed Bond is shown, following the violent demise of his latest sex poodle, schlumpfed out in his hotel drinking Smirnoff Red neat and unchilled. No, no, a thousand times no! As any vodkaphile could tell you, Smirnoff Red is a cooking vodka that should only be used in strongly flavoured cocktails. The only Smirnoff fit to drink neat is the far superior Black. Bond's losin' it large - unless this was the film maker's way of telling us that 007 was sufficiently unsettled to allow his standards to slip.

Product placement has never been a problem for Apple. Remember Jeff Goldblum saving the world with a PowerBook in Independence Day? Indeed, if you knew absolutely nothing about the computer market, the depiction of computer use in movies and TV might give you the impression that at least half the world - the cool half, natch - uses a Mac. (Does 007? Nah, he doesn't use a computer. He leaves that key-tapping stuff to the Moneypennys of this world.)

Case in point: everybody's favourite TV computer-geek-turned-lesbian-witch. I refer, of course, to the sublime Willow, currently in her sixth year as a cornerstone of the magnificent Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Willow's digital mastery is truly impressive, and whenever she goes online, you know that the episode's plot will be materially advanced. A map of the town's sewer system, wherein lurk vampires and demons and all other manner of custom-made nasties? Apply fingers to keys: rattle-rattle-rattle. There it is. A quick hack into the Mayor's personal files? Rattle-rattle-rattle. A unique magical artefact to be hunted down and purchased from eBay? Rattle-rattle-rattle. Willow delivers once again. Naturally, she does it all on a Mac. To be precise, a rather nice Titanium PowerBook G4 complete with light-up white logo, which has - or so my spies inform me - been traded in, on the as-yet unseen-in-the-UK sixth season, for a brand-new iBook. The Sunnydale High School library, which serves as HQ for Buffy's posse in the first three seasons, uses a PC network, but Willow's just as adept on those and manages to hook her Mac into the library's system with enviable ease.

Translation: cool loveable geeks use Macs, boring institutional and corporate set-ups opt for PCs. Cue up Bowie's Rebel Rebel. Yeah! Wick-id! We're the young generation and we've got something to say! Think different!

With the global computer market in disarray, Apple needs some new megamaxicool product placement happening right away. All hands on deck! All Mac-using celebs report pronto to the promo wizards for photography, filming and soundbiting!

Now, who'd be good value? Stephen Fry? Forget it. His PowerBook probably features the custom 'tweed' finish, which sends entirely the wrong message for that wacky-but-thrusting übergeek vibe. And Goldblum is so over. Who else? Posh 'n' Becks? That could not only kill Apple, but all computing. Which leaves J-Lo, Mr and Mrs Ritchie (raspberry-coloured for the good lady, one presumes) and Harry Potter, though not even Apple's marketing whizzes could snare the latter into their corporate net.

For now, thank whichever deities to which you pray that it is not yet known that Osama bin Laden uses a Mac. If this changes, expect the daisy-cutter carpet-bombing of Cupertino any day. Happy New Year. As if.

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