Steve Jobs Was No Countercultural Icon

by John R Guardiano on October 28, 2011

Steve Jobs epitomized middle-class values, not the counterculture.

Walter Issacson was on Morning Joe yesterday to promote his new biography of Steve Jobs.

As a big fan of Jobs, I look forward to reading Issacson’s book. But why does Issacson — as well as Morning Joe cohost Joe Scarobough — insist on clinging to the demonstrably false notion that Jobs was some sort of countercultural icon?

Jobs wasn’t any such thing. In fact, Jobs expressly and manifestly rejected the counterculture to embrace mainstream, middle-class values.

And that’s what made Jobs successful: Under his leadership and tutelage, Apple was committed to triumphing within the American capitalist system, and to addressing consumer needs better than any other company on the planet.

Indeed, Jobs was a proud captain of industry and an unabashed capitalist. Thus he had no desire to try and uproot the laws of supply and demand. He had no desire to foist up on the masses a “third way” between socialism and capitalism.

True, he was also a maverick. Jobs was unconventional and unorthodox. And, as a youth, he did experiment with drugs, while pilgrimaging to India. But a lot of middle-class youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s did the same or similar things.

What matters is that Jobs quickly put his misspent youth behind him to become one of America’s greatest and most successful entrepreneurs. He settled down. He married and had children. He applied himself. He came; he saw; and he conquered.

Jobs certainly had no starry-eyed illusions about the counterculture, drugs or the mysteries of the East.

In fact, in a February 1985 interview with Playboy magazine, Jobs was downright dismissive of a “bizarre Indian baba” who dragged him away and shaved his head:

I was walking around in the Himalayas and I stumbled onto this thing that turned out to be a religious festival. There was a baba (a holy man), who was the holy man of this particular festival, with his large group of followers.

I could smell good food. I hadn’t been fortunate enough to smell good food for a long time — so I wandered up to pay my respects and eat some lunch.

For some reason, this baba, upon seeing me sitting there eating, immediately walked over to me and sat down and burst out laughing. He didn’t speak much English (and I spoke a little Hindi), but he tried to carry on a conversation. And he was just rolling on the ground with laughter.

Then he grabbed my arm and took me up this mountain trail. It was a little funny: Because here were hundreds of Indians who had traveled for thousands of miles to hang out with this guy for 10 seconds; and I stumble in for something to eat; and he’s dragging me up this mountain path.

We get to the top of this mountain half an hour later and there’s this little well and pond at the top of this mountain. And he dunks my head in the water and pulls out a razor from his pocket and starts to shave my head.

I’m completely stunned. I’m 19 years old, in a foreign country, up in the Himalayas, and here is this bizarre Indian baba who has just dragged me away from the rest of the crowd, shaving my head atop this mountain peak. I’m still not sure why he did it.

And I’m not sure why Issacson, Scarborough, Andrew Sullivan and other media types insist on misconstruing Jobs’ real history, and instead, falsely portray him as a reflection of the counterculture, when, in fact, he wasn’t.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Ellen October 30, 2011 at 8:36 pm

John,

Could the word ‘counterculture’ refer to Jobs’ earlier years? For example: that now infamous photograph of him seated at home, on the floor, saying: “This was a very typical time. I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that’s what I had.”

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