A little more than three years ago, a six-second scene emerged on the internet. It starred a lithe woman with a pixie cut, wearing the kind of colorful, breezy maxi dress that’s issued to kindergarten teachers on their first day of work. By all accounts, her appearance was that of normal human being. But the clip is notable because she’s doing exactly what it seems a grown woman wearing a Laura Ashley dress wouldn’t do: screaming loudly at an innocent employee about a minor inconvenience at an Apple Store.
“I was told by AppleCaa-aare that I could walk in the store and get the part!”
The footage is brief, but you learn a lot. The woman is overwhelmed. Her thin body stiffened with rage. One of of her hands clutches the handle of her baby’s tricked-out stroller, the other slams almost rhythmically on what looks to be a plastic juice bottle. Her high voice seems to break midrant, as if it were not made for such a pitch. She punctuates the end of her tortured soliloquy with a bulgy-eyed, tight-mouthed glare, seemingly realizing at that moment that her efforts are pointless, perhaps that life itself is pointless. The entire store is unable to look away from this embarrassing tantrum. And judging from the some 26 million loops generated by this Vine, neither was the rest of the world.
The internet is rarely a sympathetic place for such outward displays of entitlement. And she was dragged accordingly for embodying, as Intelligencer put it, “the first-world problem to end all first-world problems.” But she also struck a chord. Gawker suggested she was simply living out every one of our inner Apple Store monologues. BuzzFeed declared her an “American hero.”
To be clear, it’s never OK to treat a retail worker like a human stress ball, no matter how evil their employer’s appointment scheduling or return policies. And yet, clips of this genre stand as a kind of collective new battle cry in our modern, consumerist world. In most of their marketing, tech companies aspire to a kind of abstract weightlessness. Their quarterly keynote presentations are essentially hourlong promises that their products are antidotes to our burdened human existence, a theme that extends to everything from their indulgently simplistic advertising to their minimalist packaging.
So it’s natural that once you step into a company’s temple of marketing — i.e., an Apple Store — that you expect to immediately float on a soft cloud to an expert who fixes all your problems. After all, you bought into the pitch. You became unreasonably dependent on this device. You spent a lot of money. You want to think that the company’s got this. But that’s rarely what happens. And as you are forced to wait in an airy, hypermodern pen that was expertly designed to make you believe technology wasn’t going to be like this, a deep and very special rage sets in. After all, we were told by AppleCaa-aare that the future would be different.
I have seen many fits in person, but there are few Genius Bar cameos as burned in my memory as this woman’s cathartic, six-second rebellion. I think of her often, while on hold for the 20th minute with AT&T’s customer service, while standing at a subway turnstile behind someone who has never learned how to swipe an MTA pass, while waiting for a device to “discover” a Bluetooth speaker it’s right next to. I play her outrage through my head over and over again. It’s a calming mechanism, a comfort blanket that tells me that even if I’m not brave enough to express my baseline frustration with a company’s annoying customer service queue, someone out there in the history of mankind was.
This is why it comes as no surprise that recently the internet found another vigilante hero on whom to displace its deepest, darkest customer service fantasies. Last month, a Frenchman in sunglasses, disappointed by the retailer’s return policy, put on a single safety glove, whipped out a very chic metal bocce ball, and began calmly and methodically smashing one display iPhone after another. An alarm rang wistfully in the background as a herd of Apple employees gathered to watch, powerless. It was, to steal a simile from Amélie, as satisfying as watching someone crack through the perfect crust on a crème brûlée over and over again. I couldn’t help but think of that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer turns the tables on the cable guy, stiffing him over and over again to demonstrate — from human to human — how it really feels to be on the wrong end of a customer service relationship. “I see now how we made you feel when we made you sit home, waiting,” the cable guy says sorrowfully through Kramer’s apartment door after being repeatedly stood up.
The Apple Store meltdown is the real-life version of this customer service revenge: a moment when the power roles are reversed — even if it’s only for a fleeting and wondrous six seconds. It is hard to watch, even harder to do, and ultimately so easy to identify with.