I've got a much younger relative who is a - how can I phrase this with the elegance for which this column is known? - sullen little sh*t. To be in his presence is to have every fear about the generation straddling Generation Y and the Generation After Generation Y confirmed. He rarely speaks. He makes eye contact incidentally, if at all. And, of course, he is physically and psychically tethered to his phone. There are times he wanders into the room and nobody realizes he's there for a solid 45 minutes. Were it not for the soft chirp that heralds a just-arrived text, he might as well be a un-bulbed lighting fixture, or a ghost.
It's precisely this scenario, currently playing out in musty parlors across this great country of ours, that informs Apple's most recent overly-pleased-with-self spot, "Misunderstood." In it, a moon-faced teen who looks like Paul Dano's little brother can't be bothered to celebrate the holidays with his family. As relatives young and old frolic in the snow, exchange pleasantries and otherwise bask in their lack of dysfunction, the teen pecks away at his phone. He phone-pecks his way through a quick session at the local ice-skating rink and contributes little to the construction of the non-gender-specific snowperson, beyond handing over its carrot proboscis.
While he doesn't outright shun his family, Phoneboy remains at a cool distance. For heck's sake, Grandpa receives only the most half-hearted of hugs. Are you kidding me? It's Grandpa! He's the family patriarch! He has the graying temples that connote wisdom and hard-won respect! Shame on you, Junior.
But wait - the joke's on us and our cruel, hurtful stereotypes of today's techno-riffic teens. The next morning, as the be-pajama'd family assembles around the tree to open their Christmas booty, Phoneboy redeems himself via the non-festival debut of his "Harris Family Holiday" short film. See, all along he'd been stealthily filming the mirth and wonder in his midst. I guess he edited all 7,200 minutes of footage while everyone else was sleeping? Teenagers, man.
In general, Apple comes across far less well when it isn't wagging an awesome new supergizmo in our faces. It happened with recent ads in which the brand attempted to imbue the experiences of taking photos and making phone calls with great emotional and sociological import, and it happens again here. If the secret wasn't already out, it is now: when Apple doesn't have anything new and cool to show off, it descends into lowest-common-denominator mawkishness just as fast as your average mall jeweler does.
And even if it didn't, Apple's execution in "Misunderstood" is uncommonly, well, common. First and foremost, the clip doesn't give any real indication that the kid is misunderstood. Rather, he's indulged and accepted by his family: "You want to play with your cute little phone? Fine, we'll be over here enjoying each other and our upper-middle-class trappings." Similarly, the images it parades one after the next - snowballs, snow angels, stealth busses, bright-eyed schoolkids, button-nosed infants - have been beaten into the ground during the last two months. Apple waited until mid-December for this?
Even as Apple indulges these stereotypes, it still seems to believe it's presenting something novel. But really: A mini-movie filmed and edited entirely using Apple's suite of products isn't new and/or mind-boggling in the way that the company's usual commercial demonstrations are. Even I can play video ethnographer using my down-brand smartphone. I don't even require a precious, twinkly soundtrack.
We're supposed to be dazzled by the activities depicted in the clip because everything Apple does is dazzling, and we're supposed to feel joy and wonder because that's what Apple is telling us to feel. But if the scene and everything/everyone in it don't rise above the level of cliché, and the product features don't elicit the usual awed gasps, even the ethereal Apple brand aura isn't enough to elevate this clip from the realm of easy pap. In "Misunderstood," the emperor has no clothes.
Five-word reviews24 minutes? Really? You first.