Ellen's Unfortunate iApology

Host offers mea culpa for iPhone ad spoof. Seems like Apple is awfully thin-skinned these days...

By Jere Hester
|  Wednesday, May 5, 2010  |  Updated 11:43 PM PDT
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Inside Apple's Latest Gadgetfest

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Ellen DeGeneres probably is not the Apple of Steve Jobs' eye.

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Apple, which invoked images of George Orwell's "1984" in an iconic early ad, might want to start thinking different about its response to humor at its expense.

Ellen DeGeneres made the mistake this week of apologizing to Apple for an iPhone commercial parody that aired on her talk show – a mea culpa apparently spurred by the company's reaction to the piece.

The bit was amusing enough: a fumble-fingered DeGeneres can’t properly navigate the iPhone's touch screen, making her unable to fire off a simple text message to wife Portia de Rossi. The sketch could have been taken as a spoof of DeGeneres' weak tech skills or as a knock at supposed iPhone flaws.

Guess how Apple saw it.

"They thought I made it look like it's hard to use, and I just want to say that I'm sorry if I made it like the iPhone is hard to use. It's not hard to use. I have an iPhone. Portia has an iPhone. I just learned how to text on an iPhone. It's the only phone that I can text on, and I love it," DeGeneres told her TV audience.

She went on to declare, "I love my iPad. I love my iPod. I love IHOP, if you have anything to do with that" and apologized to "everybody at Apple – Steve Jobs, Mr. McIntosh."

Her quips aside, there's nothing funny about a comic apologizing for a tasteful – in this case, even benign – sketch. The more disturbing element is that Apple apparently played a part in DeGeneres’ turnaround.

Apple’s role also has come into question in the aftermath of a mess that spurred lots of jokes: the case of the engineer who lost a new iPhone prototype in a bar. The device eventually ended up with a tech blogger.

Gizmodo bought the phone for $5,000, and posted images before returning the prototype to an unamused Apple. Days later, cops raided the home of the editor behind the post and seized several computers, prompting an outcry from First Amendment advocates.

The case has raised questions about the relationship between authorities and powerful Silicon Valley companies (The Los Angeles Times outlines some of the major issues in here). CNET reports that it and other media organizations are headed to court this week to unseal the detective's affidavit used to obtain the search warrant.

The case also has sparked a debate on the limits California's Shield Law – and prompted a sharp, humor-laced rebuke last week from Jon Stewart, who recalled Apple’s early days.

"People believed in you. But now, are you becoming ‘The Man?’ Remember back in 1984, you had those awesome ads about overthrowing Big Brother? Look in the mirror, man!” the "Daily Show” host exclaimed.

We've seen evidence of a thin-skinned Apple before. Daniel Lyons, the tech journalist behind the satirical Fake Steve Jobs blog, suggested to CNN’s Howard Kurtz last month that Apple tried to stop Newsweek from hiring him and has squeezed the magazine’s access since.

“Apple actually made it clear to Newsweek before they hired me – or they got wind that I was going to get hired – that they didn’t want Newsweek to hire me, they weren’t going to like this,” Lyons said. (See the video here, the Lyons segment begins at about 27 minutes.)

Someone might want to tell Apple's crew in Cupertino that being lampooned is sign of success, and that having a good sense of humor plays well with the public. And DeGeneres needs a reminder that you lose your comic cred when you start apologizing for jokes.

Check out her parody commercial and mea culpa below. It's worth comparing to Stewart's take (also below) on the lost iPhone flap, in a segment unapologetically titled, "Appholes.”  

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Appholes
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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