Steve Jobs, iPhones and Gay Propaganda in Russia

Is it possible to make official Russian homophobia even more laughable? There's an app for that.

After gay Apple CEO Tim Cook shocked the tech world by announcing something everyone already knew (i.e., that he's a gay Apple CEO), a St. Petersburg monument to Apple founder Steve Jobs was hastily taken down. This follows on the heels of a declaration by the country's most famous homophobe, legislator Vitaly Milonov, that Cook should be banned from Russia, because, among other things, "sodomites" spread Ebola.


If it weren't clear enough before, this latest expression of anti-gay hysteria demonstrates how far the attempts to whip up a moral panic have drifted from considerations of what actual LGBT community members are doing with their members. There's a certain logic here: man-on-man sex must be so vile as to be unthinkable (straight porn suggests that lesbian sex is more than thinkable, as long as it doesn't involve actual lesbians who know what they're doing). Instead, let's concentrate on everything else that may have to do with homosexuals.

Ironically, this means that Russia's anti-gay crusaders may succeed where LGBT activists have not: they are creating a gay identity in Russia. Now there can be an entire constellation of "gay" behaviors and attributes that don't have anything to do with sex. To mix American television tropes, it's like Will and Grace, but nobody is willing to say "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Which bring us back to the Steve Jobs monument: Steve Jobs' offense is not that he had sex with men (if he did, he never mentioned it to Walter Isaacson), but that he hired as his future replacement a man who does. The statue doesn't actually violate Russia's gay propaganda law, but its removal shows one of the law's worst consequences: it is an incitement to take every opportunity to affirm that LGBT people are anathema. The Jobs statue incident removes the last defense of the bigot: apparently, it is no longer ok to say "Some of my best friends are gay. " (OK, Jobs didn't really have friends, but the point is still the same).

Gay Icons

Yet dismantling the Jobs statue involves a much larger, more powerful minority in Russia than the LGBT community: owners of iPhones and iPads. Apple consumers are an unlikely target for the next wave of official demonization ("When they came for the gays, I did not speak out, because I wasn't gay. Then they came for my iPhone."). But the homophobic crusade has already extended to warnings about rainbows in children's books, so anything is possible.

By the time the world community rushed to the defense of Russian LGBT people, the damage was already done. So now we must act preemptively, to head off an anti-Apple campaign before innocent devices are made to suffer.

To that end, I must first lay my cards on the table, and come out as an Apple loyalist. I love my iPhone. I spent years waiting for Apple to make something like it. Every night, I used to place my iPod and my Treo next to each other, hoping they might mate in captivity. Only now do I understand why that didn't happen: even then, Apple was playing for the other team.

But just how gay is the iPhone? Certainly, it does have features that might set off a sophisticated gaydar (now equipped with WiFi). It's so thin, so, sleek, so stylish. Especially when compared with an old-fashioned BlackBerry. Now that is a straight phone. Coarse, unapologetically unattractive -- the Blackberry practically scratches its crotch and burps.

If the iPhone is to be defended from such nasty insinuations, we have to do it ourselves. Under the Tim Cook regime, it's unlikely that all Grindr downloads will be replaced with a new "No Homo" app.

Let us instead recall just how much Apple and Putin's Russia have in common. There are plenty of reasons to think that Apple and Putinism are a (straight!) marriage made in heaven.

First, let us talk about their most famous leaders: Steve Jobs and Vladimir Putin. Both have been the object of a serious cult of personality, and both are notoriously undemocratic in their leadership style. Both have a habit of resorting to foul, abusive language at inopportune moments. Both dated Joan Baez. Well, only one of them, but I leave it to my readers to guess which one.

Second, Apple and Putinism share a profoundly insular ideology. Where Putinists praise Russia's "spiritual underpinnings" while decrying attempts to import foreign "cultural values," Apple is famous for treating its technological ecosystem as a walled garden: only Apple decides what apps can run on its precious operating system, and only Apple can be trusted to protect its followers from infection by foreign viruses.

Russia bans gay propaganda. Apple shocked the tech world early on by preventing a foreign company from corrupting the iPhone's (moral) code when it refused to allow Adobe Flash. Most people don't know what Adobe Flash is, but it certainly sounds gay.

Apple's iTunes and iBooks have also repeatedly courted controversy for banning comics with explicit sexual imagery, particularly gay imagery.

So, all prejudice to contrary, Apple's most famous product is definitely not gay; it isn't even a bIphone. Russian lawmakers should turn their attention to the real danger: Android.

Instead of mounting a rear-guard defense against foreign product invasion, Android is promiscuous: it takes all comers. And what is all this talk about "Open Source?" That sounds dangerously close to liberalism and tolerance.

So I send this warning to Russia's hard-liners: don't mess with Apple. You can't win this fight -- just ask Dr. Dre. Don't let Russia become the next Beats Electronic. When it comes to swallowing up its competitors, the Russian Federation has nothing on Apple.