Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Soviet inspired imagery and the Apple 1984 Superbowl ad
In 1984, during Superbowl XVIII, Apple computer debuted their famous “1984” ad. This ad, directed by Ridely Scott and one of the most expensive ads ever made, featured a young woman, pursued by jack-booted riot police, throwing a hammer into a large tv screen that had been brain-washing masses of similarly dressed people. “On January 24” the ad tells us, “Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” While it was only ever shown once, Apple’s 1984 was enormously influential. It was named “Commercial of the Decade” for the 1980s by Advertising Age magazine, the “Greatest Commercial of all Time” by TV Guide, and has even spawned a LEGO playset.
The imagery in this commercial was based on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four: the masses of brain washed “proles”, the dark industrial aesthetic, the glowering Big Brother on the TV screen. For his part, Orwell based much of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the Stalinist Soviet Union, making it one of the major cultural texts of the Cold War, and certainly a central text that shaped how people in the West imagined life in the USSR. Indeed, as historian Daniel Johnson has written, “George Orwell seems to have coined the phrase ‘cold war’ in 1945, in a newspaper article written while he was at work on ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ the novel that defined the era more than any other.”
So Apple’s ad was loosely based on prevailing popular culture views of the Soviet Union. And 1984 was the perfect time to make such a comparison, given the extent to which Cold War tensions had heated up during the early 1980s.
Next post: how the 1980s “where’s the beef lady” actually was a metaphor for Margaret Thatcher’s relations with NATO…