Apple’s ‘Misunderstood’ Christmas ad is a sad commentary on culture and does Apple no favors

“Everyone else seems to love it,” Jennifer Rooney writes for Forbes. “It is being referred to as ‘endearing’ and ‘touching,’ eliciting a ‘merry little cry.’ It will ‘tug at heartstrings,’ even. It’s a new commercial for Apple’s iPhone 5s and its AirPlay technology.”

“I caught it on TV last night, and I couldn’t disagree more. It’s called ‘Misunderstood,’ as in misunderstood teenager,” Rooney writes. “I found it depressing, upsetting, and a sad commentary on our social-, video- and image-obsessed culture. The goal, of course, was to market the wonder of the iPhone using the element of surprise: show a seemingly slacker teen disengaged from the goings-on of family life, his eyeballs glued to his iPhone – save for very fleeting moments – suddenly reveals to stunned family members a touching video he’d made of their Christmas merriment. That he’d been creating all day.”

“The problem is that while he was creating, he wasn’t really living the day, he was a mere voyeur during it,” Rooney writes. “The message? Life is better through video. Don’t live life, tape it… Are we happy that this year’s Thanksgiving and Hanukkah was Instagram’s busiest ever? This commercial glorified that reality. And I don’t think it is a positive message.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We’re of two minds on this one:

“Misunderstood,” indeed.


Rooney does have a point worth thinking about. In fact, over the past year or so, we’ve taken to NOT recording our childrens’ dance recitals, skiing trips, concerts, and everything else precisely because we found that we couldn’t really remember very well what happened. There’s a time and a place to record video and shoot stills, but it’s definitely not all the time.

We’ve gone back to experiencing the moment with our organic hardware instead of holding an iPhone between our eyeballs and life.

You should, too.

The ad is an interesting spot, but there’s something flawed if it leaves some thinking, “But, he missed Christmas Day!”

(And, we only called it “touching” because it worked on multiple levels.)

Related article:
Apple debuts touching new ‘Happy Holidays’ TV ad (with video) – December 16, 2013


    1. It is genius.

      What Rooney fails to understand is that the teen being portrayed is creating something…. whether it be painting, photography or in this case video, he is not missing anything, an artist is truly “living” when they are creating their art. This ad captured that perfectly.

      1. Not only do we have the same name, we have the exact same take on this commercial. Recording events doesn’t remove you from them, it IMMERSES you in them.

        As a plus, as someone with a horrible memory for most things, recording stills and video is how I know I will remember events in the future.

        1. Interesting take; do you think that people recording live concerts are actually MORE immersed in them than audience members who are simply listening and watching? My experience has been that they are far less involved in the event, but I’m interested in hearing another slant on it.

          1. It all depends on the person, everyone relates to things in different ways.. A casual ‘non-artist’ may very well become distracted… However, a creative type with an artistic vision would likely be much more immersed in the creative process of capturing an event..

            1. Agreed. I’m willing to bet that the majority of concert-goers filming performances fit the “casual ‘non-artist'” category by an overwhelming degree, and I don’t think that’s a good thing; I really believe they are missing out. Just an opinion.

              This is only tangentially related to the commercial itself, which I think is fantastic and a return to form for Apple.

          2. I was the video person for all my step-son’s racing days (and then our “adopted” racing son’s year behind the wheel. I will say at first I felt a little “behind the lens” with it, but the treasures I created that lasts a lifetime was well worth it. We’ve relived those moments of victory (and occasional defeat) many times. Those video’s are like having forever gems in a box that you take out on occasion and admire and relive the moment.

            The commercial shows a kid creating a moment that his own children and grandchildren will get to share, seeing relatives they will never meet who will have passed away before these kids are born. I treasure the Christmas movies taken on our old 8mm projector with the “moose head horns” rack of flood lights it had! (You see all of us kids squinting in the video’s from the bright lights!) So many Christmas and Birthday memories there forever with us even if the people in them are not.

  1. MDN’s take is close but not on target. For anyone with kids, your heart aches seeing their awkwardness, self-esteem issues, their internalization of their isolation despite all well intended efforts to include them and bring them out. Particularly when it is clear that they are deep, brilliant, sensitive. I loved the ad, which is a metaphor for the brave efforts of this kid to gift his family with his movie, and a moving moment when he shyly shares his love for his family.

    1. “For anyone with kids, your heart aches seeing their awkwardness, self-esteem issues, their internalization of their isolation despite all well intended efforts to include them and bring them out.”

      Attribute that mostly to inept, not ready for prime time parents, or their parents, who either have kids for the wrong reasons, or haven’t a clue about life, priorities and the responsibilities , commitments and sacrifices, that are needed to bring up and educate their children.

      Kids are born with a blank slate brain and personality, their personalities, foundation and everything they become (mostly) requires dedication and undivided attention in their up bringing from mature responsible and accountable parents. Culture, an open mind and some clue about the world and life and experience, would be a good requirement of all parents before they automatically have and bring kids into this crazy world.

      1. hey Breeze,
        a blog is rarely a place to paint using such a broad brush! My two girls are now grown, lovely healthy successful women. That didn’t spare them from the “growing pains” of adolescence, despite my and my wife of 32 years efforts to blunt some of the harshness of emergence into adulthood. We took parenthood very seriously, but the blank slate thing you refer to, while neurologically true, is influenced by myriad forces, particularly peer groups and the media. I accept your tempered reconsideration in advance.

        1. I did say mostly at leastvtwice and yes ut is a broad brush and as such does exclude anyone it does not apply for including obviously yourself.

          Becuase this is not the place to eleborate and explain the broad staement it obviously does not go into depth to explain or elaborate.

          The Crux of my opinion is that there are far too many immature and irresponsible parents and automatic kids .

          Obviously, this does not apply in your case. – Happy Holidays to you, your family and everyone else here.

      2. breeze, everyone has an opinion. There is a saying about opinions and sphincters, and I would have to characterize your current opinion as somewhat sphincter-like.

        There is no doubt that there are some bad parents. There are also absentee parents and parents on drugs. But there are also many loving and nurturing parents in single-parent and dual-parent households. They don’t always do things the “right” way (for some circumstances there is not a right way), but they try every day with varying degrees of success.

        Sometimes, despite the best circumstances and solid parenting, a child turns out bad. And, sometimes, despite having every excuse in the book to turn out bad, a child turns out good. You can talk tabula rasa all you want, but it simply is not true. It is far too simple of a theory to be true. I have read the results of recent animal studies demonstrating that the genetic transmission of learned responses and behaviors from parent to offspring without the parent interacting with the offspring.

        “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – Hamlet

        1. KingMel, please read the above response,

          though you certainly take the cake and the crown when it comes to sphincter-like opinions, the above reply may loosen your bowels somewhat…

          Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays! 😉

        2. You are so very correct, KingMel. My teenage step sons, and my adult daughters exhibit mannerisms, behaviors, and responses to various situations the tendency toward which could only have been inherited from a biological parent. There is a huge genetic component to “learned” behavior.

      3. I’ll agree with the others that the broad stroke you make is tenuous at best. My kids are 20, 18, 14, and especially my boy would identify very closely with the boy depicted in the ad: Working on a project like he has chosen he is unsure if his gift will be as well received as he intends it. Chronically underfunded he choses gifts that are self-created, that don’t impart additional cost on the recipient. And while you may choose not to believe this, my three kids are all turning out extremely well despite what we as parents have done to them considering they didn’t come with a manual.

        1. Jt,

          I accept many reasons for ‘weird’ social behavior. That includes, not exclusively, my above stated broad opinion and subsequent first response. Obviously it may not apply appropriately to you, nor was it meant to categorically fault all parents. Is that too hard to understand?

          Merry Christmas and may Apple continue to help reach the handicapped everywhere and make a difference where all others fail to see.

          1. Sure, you said “mostly,” as in “Attribute that mostly to inept, not ready for prime time parents, or their parents, who either have kids for the wrong reasons, or haven’t a clue about life, priorities and the responsibilities , commitments and sacrifices, that are needed to bring up and educate their children.”

            If you meaning differed from what you wrote, then write it differently! After all, the field for an MDN post is a “blank slate” until you type something into it.

    2. I liked the commercial a great deal. I was touched by it. I identified with the kid and his iPhone. Some people “see” more than others. Introverts often wind up as photographers. Some take up photography as a way to learn to talk to people. I did this. In Apple’s commercial I saw a shy but gifted person find a way to be part of the whole thing. Blabber mouths like Rooney probably have a difficult time understand this.

      1. I am with you TMac. The criticism offered by Jennifer Rooney is a travesty. What are the (fake) parents and family supposed to do, rip his iPhone away and force him to act “normal”?

        MDN has a point, but they get rather preachy and condescending with their conclusions, as usual. “You should, too.”

        Far too many people are harshly judgmental, even when they have no basis from which to draw a valid and supportable conclusion. There is absolutely nothing in this video that deserves the caustic appraisals that I am seeing.

      2. So very true. And anyway an iPhone is probably the least intrusive way of capturing these moments.

        If you have an introverted kid, isn’t it be better to have them documenting and sharing, than playing games alone in their room?

    3. Too many people are doing too much thinking and not enough feeling. Give the kid a break, and enjoy his creativity… Worry more about the football stars and cheer leaders who may look successful as kids but often end up as out of shape couch potatoes once the glory days pass.

  2. The sad fact is that Tim Cook is a gay misogynist who mentally typecasts himself as a typical loner who does not fit well within the boundaries of society.

    The hallmark of a loner is to try to break out of his shell to impose his vision once the controlling and perhaps overbearing hand is taken away from the controls and he is at last allowed to helm the great ship Apple.

    Hence, we see the flip side of skeuomorphism, the flat lifeless two dimensional icons that manifest themselves in iOS 7 which is symptomatic of a loner rebelling against the world and wanting to go back to the womb, back to the womb that held him fast in flat shades of grey.

    1. @sad fact
      put a little love in your heart, dude.
      In three paragraphs you telegraphed your deep self loathing and hopelessness.
      Talk things over with a friend or loved one right away.
      A phone is just a phone. Not a bully pulpit to froth away at things that will earn you momentary titillation and attention. They won’t.
      Merry Christmas

      1. Sorry, I think that is a shrink. Normal people think that way. However, lots of shrinks have shrinks. The person is going by “The sad fact”. May need to up his meds some.

      1. MDN removed a couple of posts the other day that referenced an article that THEY ended up posting a short time later; completely innocuous and innocent, but I guess they wanted it to appear as though they’d discovered the article independently. But the “sad fact” comment, and the recent, disgustingly racist commentary of “borismcguffin” regarding Nelson Mandela, gets a free pass.

        The people who run this site—whoever they are—are baffling.

    2. Yet another moronic, homophobic prick who knows nothing about design, or anything else. Tim Cook isn’t the industrial designer, you fuckwit; the designer responsible for iOS is hetero.
      Do I actually have to spell out what that means?

  3. What a bunch of negative Nancys. I’d like to say you’re better than that MDN, but I can’t. It was a great commercial. Have you ever met teenagers, tried to get them to do what you think they should be doing? I suspect not. There could be myriad reasons for why he was acting that way, but the point is that Apple wants to connect people and families, even if it’s a moody teenager. And btw, the iPhone happens to be a great way to connect socially, Facebook, tumbler, snapchat, iMessage, FaceTime… You should try it sometime. SMH.

  4. I am the (so called) “photographer” in our family. I love doing it and I NEVER feel I missed the day while I was photo/video taking.

    Is this “second guessing” kind of like when parents used to (still do) think that only young people could do computing? The truth is some people can walk and chew gum and some can’t.

    1. Be thankful anytime you see a young person get excited about something and put his heart into it.

      Be worried about those kids that don’t “get into” some sort of activity big time.

      1. Bravo!

        I once had the pleasure of knowing that my efforts to bring troubled youths out of the shell they defended themselves with saved a life.

        Kids often have no voice: “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.”

        Long after they no longer have the refrigerator to showcase their creative talents they go elsewhere.

        Garageband gave a young man a chance for adults to see what was in his heart and mind. And they were amazed. Their reaction and changed awareness held him back from the brink of a terrible choice.

        This is an advertisement, but the real message should be perceived as you have put it: Rejoice that a young person has something they are excited about and and put his heart into.

    2. I too will often be photographer or videographer for family events. It’s true that not everyone has either the aptitude or willingness to do these. I do, and I feel that sharing my talent is a gift to my family. Each time we pull up some old home movies on the TV, everyone just sits and smiles at the memories. I’m an introvert and my gift for gab is stunted. Capturing important images may dull my personal memories, I’ll give you that, but it’s a price I am gladly willing to pay to record special events. Let the kid do what brings him joy, which in the case of the commercial, was to present his family with a special gift of his creativity.

      1. Me too.

        A father back from two years serving in Iraq told me he watched his daughter “grow up” through the pictures I took and shared of the concerts his daughter participated in with mine.

        I don’t think my daughter remembers those concerts except through my pictures. She knew I was there, and that I was more involved in her life because of the “work” I was doing to capture the moment.

        This rubbish about putting down the camera and “live” in the moment is justification for some form of guilt or something which I can’t share looking back on how my kids grew up and have turned out.

  5. Wow. When a young person takes the time to create something for others in the family. One of which was his mother that was so happy with what he did that she had tears in her eyes, what better gift could a young person give than something they made with their own hands with a skill that they learned and with the tools supplied by Apple. You all missed it. It wasn’t about the young boy, it was about the gift he created for the family that was made possible by Apple!

  6. Give me a break!

    Here is an ad showing a teenage boy doing something really creative and some folks are complaining that he should instead be participating in the activities. Have any of you folks ever tried to get a teenage boy to participate in family activites?

    If this were my son I’d be overjoyed if he put his efforts into something like this rather than staring at his phone playing video games.

    1. Agree with the “Nailed it Comment” because I’ve been living that struggle with the Step-Son for years. Ah, graduation is a only 190 days, 17 hours, 24 minutes and 47 seconds away!

  7. There have been creative yet introverted kids since the first time one of our ancestors drew on a cave wall while everyone else was eating around a fire.

    The point of the ad is multiple, but I’ll latch onto a few points:
    • The iPhone (together with Apple TV) has every tool necessary to capture great video, stills and to edit them into something nearly professional. And then to blow it up on a big screen.
    • Some people are gifted in their perspective and their tech literacy.
    • In the past, that kid might have been reading a book or sulking in a corner somewhere . . . I was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s — you didn’t have to look far to find a kid at a family function “unengaged.” Bet it was the same in any decade.

    I think it’s a wonderful commercial because it demonstrates what the device can do and offers insight into the beauty of a mind that, perhaps without these tools, would have remained misunderstood (as the title implies).

    Instead he makes it a Christmas to remember for all involved that they can relive for decades.

    Sorry, I liked it.

    1. The best take. Thanks.
      You may have to be an introverted kid to understand, but having all of those well-meaning smiling folks trying to get you to slide down a hill when you’d be rather writing a song to play them after the turkey, is actually painful.

  8. I think it’s safe to say that Apple is just not the same without Jobs. Lucky for them, Jobs built an empire that Tim will take even higher. The foundation is so strong that it will afford Tim and the new Apple some leeway and degradation.

  9. @thesasfact

    While you do a terrible job of trying to describe Tim Cook with your ridiculous theories, you did a great job showing that you’re a complete nut job. Just a heads up, you are not nearly as intelligent as you seem to think you are (I’m being generous). Oh, and way to hide behind an anonymous name. Who woulda thought that statement came from a coward? Shocking!

  10. part of xmas past was my grandfather and father with their super8’s going and 35mm and Flash bulbs galore… remember the single serving flash bulbs good for like 8 flashes and others for 4 flashes.

    So STFU about family photography and video on xmas… it’s the only time of year we are all together… and for the people who are in the hospital or family members whose flights are cancelled, it brings us together.

  11. Interesting I rather liked the advert and the point it was making. And that comes from someone who hates the idea of people recording rather than living the event. Surely the message here was that it brings people together even when it seems the gap is unbridgeable

  12. LOL, whats even funnier is that the “AD” is to sell something, and you bitch about it? WTF.. its an AD, not a commentary about what is wrong with the American family and the ever needless debate of Christmas as a holy day or one of overindulgence! The ad made you think, which is good, but it made you think Apple, which is Awesome, for Apple that is 🙂

    1. I had a similar reaction, jaundiced by Samsung’s ads putting video on a TV and claiming the next big thing is here. Apple’s ad once again makes the Apple ecosystem the hero, but in a really emotionally touching way, not like Samsung using their device in a business setting.

  13. Gotta disagree with Ms. Rooney’s take on Apple’s brilliant holiday video. But first, let me agree that often photographing a moment dilutes it and renders the experience less powerful.

    But that’s not what’s happening here.

    What’s happening in the video (among other things) is an artistic adventure, a segment of creation that provides a gift from an artist to his family and friends. It’s his way of communicating with his family.

    The video harkens back to millennia of discussions of art and life, but more cogently to Steve Jobs’s insistence that Apple, Inc. be a marriage of technology and humanity (art!).

    The ad itself is a wonderful blending and caught the Coca-Cola Santa Norman Rockwell, teenage angst, state of the art art and technology in just a few non intrusive seconds.

    Want to study the power of art first hand? Pay attention during 2014 to the spin off versions of the ad from dullard copycats, manufacturing a sub genre that will persist until Apple shares a different insight later in the year.

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