Apple has proclaimed an iPad "revolution," and has already picked the winners and losers. Banned in its cultural shift are literary illustrations of gay couples making, and of Ulysses. Allowed are heterosexual couples making out and swimsuit editions.
As our colleagues at Gizmodo report, Apple demanded the removal of some sketched nudity from the iPad/iPhone app Ulysses Seen just a few days before Bloomsday, the annual commemoration of the life of Ulysses author James Joyce. The company also demanded the deletion of large chunks of a gay make-out scene in a graphic novel of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Here's a before/after censorship shot of Ulysses Seen (click to enlarge):
And here's one of the graphical Earnest, pre/post deletion:
And here's some heterosexual make-out nudity Apple is totally cool with, from the graphic novel Kick Ass, again via Gizmodo:
Apple is now reconsidering its rejection of the original version of Ulysses Seen, no doubt aware of the negative PR blowback. Update: Apple has also reversed its graphical Earnest ban, calling it a "mistake."
But reversals shouldn't keep consumers from seeing a trend already well underway before these two apps came along, in which Apple tries to sanitize and Disney-ify culture in the name of decency and brand purity. In April, Apple rejected a gay travel guide because it contained a political caricature of Sarah Palin, a Renaissance-style painting of a penis, and a go-go boy in a gay bar with his shirt off. As app author Anthony Grant told us at the time, "I tried throughout to make things very PG-13... But how would I properly illustrate Ass Wednesdays at the Urge...with Etch-a-Sketch? This is all part of gay culture."
To Apple, though, the content was indecent. Also indecent were apps from at least three different political cartoonists, which violated Apple's rule against, in the company's own words, "content that ridicules a public figure." Two, including Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore, eventually had their apps reinstated, and Steve Jobs recently claimed he eliminated the rule against ridicule before clearing Fiore's app.
But that doesn't appear to be true: MSNBC cartoonist Mark Fiore's app of Tiger Woods cartoons is still banned after being rejected in late April, after Fiore's app was reinstated and after Apple supposedly changed the ridicule policy, which was cited by Apple in its rejection letter to Fiore.
Jobs has insisted he's valiantly defending the culture. He has said "we believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone," for the sake of children. In an email exchange with Valleywag, he told us he wanted to offer the world "freedom from porn," and said "our motives are pure."
Whether Apple's motives are pure, it's actions look increasing regrettable. The company already reversed itself on app-store rejections for Fiore, cartoonist Tom Richmond, Congressional candidate Ari David, political app maker Ray Griggs and the Kama Sutra.
That's an intriguingly contrarian take on America's most revered CEO. Like a cleric, Jobs does spend time preaching about purity, morality and his duty to protect children. But unlike his fellow spiritual leaders in Iran, Jobs does not appear homophobic: Apple contributed to the fight against California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage, and didn't seem to care about speculation its COO was gay.
No, Jobs' issue seems to be thinking Apple can and should write the moral code for the tens of millions of global iPhone and iPad customers, who hail from a hugely diverse array of backgrounds. To the extent those customers do share values, it's that they tend to pride themselves on their tolerance for how other people express themselves, and on how eclectic and unpredictable their own tastes are. Shackling them to a sadly homogenized digital marketplace built around Jobs' personal tastes — grossly violent movies are OK, line-drawings of breasts in the 17-years-and-older section are verboten — seems to fly in the face of the CEO's professional responsibilities. Both commercial and, yes, moral.