Though I found out about the death of Steve Jobs via Twitter just minutes after Apple announced it, a more salient recognition of his impact hit me the next evening at dinner. I’m currently renting a room from a family in Fez’s old city, and as we watched Al-Jazeer over dinner, Yusuf (the father) turns to me and remarked, “Apple Steve is dead.” Yusuf’s English had never seemed more poignant. This sentence has flitted into my head at the oddest moments this past week, and it’s taken me until now to realize why.
This sentence is a remarkable result of transnational mediation. The phrase Apple Steve, though odd, is perfectly apt to describe the man in question. Just a few years ago, Steve Jobs was hardly a household name for most Americans. Obviously, a great number knew the man and his legend, but you wouldn’t be too hard pressed to find someone who didn’t. Yet, in the Fez of 2011, Apple Steve is just as natural a topic of conversation as the protests in Egypt that Al-Jazeer covered next. “Apple Steve” seems to be a familiar, colloquial term for the man, and somehow humanizes him in a way that the implacable “Steve Jobs” does not.
After this the sentence gets even more interesting. For the good portion of our Darija class last Thursday, our teacher tried to explain to us the use of the “kaan” in Darija. This verb basically means “to be,” but most sentences in Arabic function without it. Actually, if you add it into the present, it complicates the sentence to the point where you are forced to clarify if the subject of the sentence is always in this state, or if it is just a temporary condition. Instead of using this verb, most verbs in Arabic can be conjugation into a noun, gerund, or adjective form that precludes the use of “kaan.” As you can probably already tell, it’s a complicated verb. It can also be conjugated for the past and future as well, further added to the mystique of its use. Suffice to say I don’t think any of us left with a perfect understanding of its use. Most, if not all of us, had studied it previously in the context of Modern Standard Arabic, but somehow it just seemed a little bit more confusing in a dialectical language with such a mutable grammar.
Anyway, with such a different in the “to be” part of a speech, I often assume that I will mess it up in Arabic, and Arabic speakers will mess it up in English. As Yusuf proved, that’s not really the case. For whatever reason, I think it’s easy for us to forget the degree to which American television and movies have saturated the global market. Even programs that rarely air in the US, such as the show I watched tonight–The Most Shocking Octane Crashes–, show up in the most surprising of places. Furthermore, the amount of English, and often American English, in television advertisements seems immense. In the course of 15 minutes, I counted no less than 5 (actually, exactly 5) advertisements for products in English. While this may not be incredibly surprising, I was taken aback by the use of non-native English speakers for the ads. For instance, Dove soap ad, with Arabic words scrolling across the screen, featured accented English descriptions of the product. Surely Dove could have used a preexisting English language ad. Here, though, the intent seems different. Similarly, a Saudi channel advertised its TV special on the Arab Spring with a slideshow of various (former) Arab and North African leaders such as Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddafi paired with words such as: “hero, or villain,” “revolutionary, or despot,” and “reformer, or tyrant.”
My point here is that there is still significant cultural capital attached to English, and often American English, even in a “post Arab Spring” world. Accordingly, the amount of programs broadcast in English seems to have elucidated the use of “to be” in English for non-native speakers. Hence, “Apple Steve is.” Now here is where “to be” gets interesting. In English, we have no problem saying “he is dead.” “Dead” functions as an adjective describing a pronoun. No big deal. However, it’s just as common to say “he died,” or “Steve Jobs died.” Understanding this larger phrase in the context of Arabic grammar reveals the finality of the moment. It’s not “Apple Steve died,” or “Apple Steve has died” but “Apple Steve [in the present condition] is [no longer in the present condition].” It’s an oddly final statement that allows Steve Jobs a grip on the present.
By way of all of this, what I’m trying to say is that even mediated transatlantically and translated through very distinct grammars, Steve Jobs very clearly had an impact on the present. And that impact has been felt here too. There are no Apple Stores in Morocco, and only as of this June can you only buy Apple products legally here (there is an iPhone partnership with Meditel). Despite this, though, Apple has huge cultural cache among young people, the same is in the US, and middle aged business men pull out their iPhones at cafes the same way they do at restaurants in the US. Many new start up telecom stores here feature a stark, white, minimalist design that seems eerily familiar, in the same way that industrial design in the US seemed to get closer and closer to an Apple/IKEA crossbreed every year.
It’s too early to tell how what Apple’s legacy will be, and just how definitive Steve Jobs will actually have been, but there is one thing I can assert definitively: Apple Steve brought font choice to the world, and I will always, always, appreciate Apple Garamond.