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Shuffling into the auditorium, vacantly, ritualistically, mindlessly, is a gray-uniformed cadre of devolved, slackjawed zombies. With their heads shaved and their mouths agape, they sit compliantly, staring straight ahead. They are like the Eloi, the addled, docile post-nuclear mutants of H.G. Wells' "Time Machine." On a giant telescreen before them, a diabolic, Orwellian Big Brother figure spouts off the faux-ideological litany of tyranny in a shrill and monotonous harangue.

And then the Republican convention ended.

Ha ha ha, just kidding. It's the setting for "1984," the commercial for Apple Computer from Chiat/Day and director Ridley Scott, and when it appeared during the Super Bowl a decade ago it created a sensation.

No wonder. When the babe-acious young athlete sprints past the thought police and down the aisle, swings her sledgehammer and shatters the telescreen, the sole line of copy is both intriguingly enigmatic and overtly confrontational.

"On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh," the narrator gravely intones. "And you'll see why 1984 won't be like `1984.'|"


The astonishing thing about this commercial is not Scott's virtuoso re-creation and expansion of George Orwell's haunting vision, though the cinema is literally spectacular.

What's astonishing is the message it conveys. For the better part of 100 million viewers, this minidrama about an Orwellian nightmare slyly suggested that the nightmare was nigh-that a vast, looming, sinister, information-dominating force threatened to enslave us.

And which monolithic corporate dark force would that be? IBM Corp., of course. To watch this commercial was to be warned that Big Brother and Big Blue were one and the same.

Nowadays, as the plod ding, endangered apatosau rus called IBM struggles to adapt, that characteriza tion may seem quaintly ex treme. But a decade ago, it was an extremely resonant subtext.

Thus was Chiat/Day able to introduce the hip, user- friendly new Macintosh as the choice of freedom, a sort of defensive weapon against mind control, a tool of liber ation for the heroically inde pendent thinker. Ten years later, we give the teaser spot 4 stars.

OK, granted, not everyone got it. But certainly everyone felt it, and the utter spectacle alone focused more attention for a new product than any commercial in memory.

The product has done pretty well, too, in the limited sense of revolutionizing personal computing and singularly transforming the production of graphics around the globe.

This is what happens when breakthrough technology is given the benefit of the greatest TV commercial ever made.M

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