Will Smith Oscars slap shows why Apple should shake up its events

‘The Slap’ shows why Apple should shake up its events

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Will Smith slaps Chris Rock:
"The Slap" won the Oscars.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock during Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony shows why Apple should go back to doing live events.

No, not because we need to see deranged audience members assaulting Apple execs onstage. However, the mere possibility that something can go seriously sideways gives live events an undeniable advantage over the type of canned productions Apple began cranking out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m sure this goes against Cupertino’s deeply ingrained cultural bias toward controlling absolutely everything within its power. But if Apple doesn’t get back to putting on live events, its product launches will drift deeper into the uncanny territory of the overproduced infomercial. That’s boring — and it’s bad for both Apple and Apple fans.

Apple virtual events

Ever since 2020’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which went virtual for the first time due to the pandemic, Apple has eschewed in-person events. Over the course of several product launches (and a second virtual WWDC), Apple showed off its considerable marketing skills, its razor-honed messaging and its increasing Hollywood-style stagecraft.

These events produced many memorable bits — remember Tim Cook’s star turn as a spy breaking into Apple headquarters? We even argued at the time that Apple should never go back to live keynotes.

Still, the act is starting to get old. And last night’s Oscars ceremony reminded the world that live events offer something that taped productions simply can’t: the surprise of the totally unexpected and uncontrollable.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock

When Smith slapped Rock on live TV — apparently enraged over the comedian’s joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair — it generated the type of buzz the Academy Awards ceremony consistently failed to achieve in recent years.

The aggressive outburst, and Rock’s astonishingly composed reaction to being assaulted onstage, totally stole the spotlight. How many people realize that Smith went on to win the Oscar for best actor? Or know that Apple TV+ movie CODA won best picture?

Compared to the number of people enthralled and appalled by Smith’s slapdown, those numbers must be minuscule. ABC’s ham-handed bleeping of the live show naturally proved no match for Twitter’s capacity for delivering uncensored versions of the confrontation. (Both Will Smith and “The Slap” trended Monday.) And the resulting memes made browsing Twitter on Monday more than amusing.

Live events are worth the risk

I suppose you could argue that the incident’s notoriety, and the fact that it’s all anybody is talking about with regard to the Oscars, is a solid reason why Apple should not return to live-streaming its events. After all, who wants a weird screwup or a spectator’s rude outburst to steal the thunder of the next iPhone unveiling?

Steve Jobs’ infamous meltdown at WWDC 2010 over glitches during the keynote serves as a sober reminder that not all onstage excitement is magical. And 2014’s “largest album release of all time” for U2’s Songs of Innocence turned into its own kind of Apple debacle.

But really, live events are a gamble Apple should be willing to take. The company can still wow us with it’s incredibly well-produced video segments. And surprising new hardware like the Mac Studio and Studio Display, which made quite a splash during last month’s “Peek Performance” event, will always break through the noise. At least in the all-important tech media.

But if Apple wants it streaming events to remain vital, it needs to restore the live element as soon as public health concerns make that feasible.

Restore the human factor

Apple events are meant to be entertaining, after all, even as they inform us of the company’s next big thing(s). And what keeps things entertaining? The possibility of a little something an old TV show called Wide World of Sports used to call “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

It’s that tension between knowing exactly how things will work out, versus the unplanned excitement introduced by the foibles of the human factor.

It’s the difference between watching a live concert and streaming a taped performance. Between hearing a leader’s powerful unscripted comments delivered to a rapt crowd, or listening to a speech delivered alone on a soundstage. Between boring infomercials, and what can rightly be labeled an “event.”

We don’t need something outright crazy like The Slap to liven things up. Even if it’s just live shots of influencers, journalists and other VIPs reacting to whatever Tim Cook and Co. show off, a live presentation adds a certain spice that keeps things interesting.

At Cult of Mac, we’ll always be watching Apple events — it’s what we do. But if Apple wants the rest of world to keep tuning in, it needs to reinsert that human element. It needs to go back to producing live events, no matter how unpredictable they might be.

Just don’t invite Will Smith.