Cultural Demolition and the iPhone

Unpacking the Symbolism of “Crush!”

On Tuesday, Apple released an ad for their new iPad Pro. The commercial, titled “Crush!”, opened with a sanguine scene involving various products of human culture: a vinyl record, colorful paints, musical instruments, and various items of art, including a bust of a human being. Then a giant drill press comes and crushes all the objects to the music of Sonny and Cher’s “All I Ever Need Is You.”

It was hard to fathom what Apple hoped to achieve by this ad. Unlike their 1997-2002 “Think Different” campaign, which celebrated unique people doing a variety of creative things in the world, this new campaign seems to suggest that all creativity is being superseded by the same simple tool.

Apple’s messaging comes at a time of crucial cultural pivot, when there are enormous pressures to absorb more departments of life into the all-consuming monism of digitality. The subtext seems to be that the many things of material culture can be replaced by their electronic surrogates, as mediated by one thing, namely the digital interface. In Apple’s commercial, this antagonism to traditional practices burst into the open in a gruesome destruction of the physical fruits of human creativity.

While Apple’s ad incited enormous backlash from artists and musicians throughout the world, prompting a public apology, the true significance of the commercial was largely missed. Rod Dreher grasped the real import when he noted that this ad “makes gruesomely explicit what has only been implicit: that all of reality is being dissolved, and is being re-coagulated digitally.”

Dreher continued:

The basic point is that digitalization is not just an add-on to the way we see the world, but fundamentally alters it — and with it, the way we see ourselves.

This is all part of what the French postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard called “integral reality.” For Baudrillard, the concept of objective reality eventually gives way to integral reality, which the French philosopher called “the murder of the real.” In a state of integral reality, our sense of what is real is without limits. This happens when technology advances to the point at which it merges with human consciousness, redefining “reality” as whatever this new symbiosis produces….

All of this sounds like the kind of esoteric mumbo-jumbo that gives French philosophers a bad name. But the Apple ad makes their theorizing vividly clear. Apple wants you to see their ad as a tribute to the wonders of digital technology: We wizards at Apple have destroyed materiality, and brought it back to life in a magical way that is accessible to you through this device, the iPad. What you don’t see is that we are in a war for reality.

Apple is not alone in “the murder of the real.” In 2022, I discussed a number of commercials from Meta that also problematized the physical world, offering the realm of digitality as the solution. This antipathy to the physical world was taken to a gruesome extreme last week with Crush!, in which the cultural demolition is accompanied by the words

All the thiugs you do give me a reason to build my world around you
Some men follow rainbows, I am told
All I ever need is you.

Apple’s message couldn’t be clearer: we can build a world around the digital interface because that is all we need. This pop love song, which originally referenced human love, is now referencing our love of the machine. This is particularly troubling as it comes at a cultural moment when there is widespread pressure to bring  love relationships with machines into the open. 

Far be it from me to deny that the iPad is a wonderful tool. But it can never replace the artifacts of creativity, nor the richness of human culture.

has a Master’s in History from King’s College London and a Master’s in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is the blog and media managing editor for the Fellowship of St. James and a regular contributor to Touchstone and Salvo. He has worked as a ghost-writer, in addition to writing for a variety of publications, including the Colson Center, World Magazine, and The Symbolic World. Phillips is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches (Ancient Faith, 2020) and Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation (Ancient Faith, 2023) and co-author with Joshua Pauling of We're All Cyborgs Now (Basilian Media & Publishing, forthcoming). He operates the substack "The Epimethean" and blogs at

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