The cliché: A week into the Occupy Wall Street protest, New York Times Big City columnist Ginia Bellafante gave the movement some of its first major, if withering, coverage on Sept. 25. She concluded her generally disparaging column with a quote from a stock trader. "Look at these kids, sitting here with their Apple computers," he said. "Apple, one of the biggest monopolies in the world. It trades at $400 a share. Do they even know that?" Since then, many journalists have commented on the protesters' use of brand name products, but one example rises above them all -- the ever-ubiquitous MacBook. "They sleep on air mattresses, use Mac laptops and play drums," wrote Colleen Long for the Associated Press. "Maybe it's not the disorganization that's rubbing folks the wrong way, but the silliness," wrote Alex Klein in The New Republic. "Now, in front of [a protester], sat a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, a soda, an apple pie, and a MacBook computer, open and charging." A headline in the British news site Anorak reads, "Occupy Wall Street: Fighting Greed And Global Warming With An Apple MacBook But Not Radiohead."
At some point, the MacBook hypocrisy became widely enough cited that one Occupy Wall Street protester responded. Writing on OccupyWallSt.org on Saturday, the offended protester wrote:
Was watching CNN as a woman interviewed a protestor using an Apple laptop and confronted her, asking if it wasn't a contradiction to participate while using the product of a major corporation. Was she not supporting the very thing she was protesting? This is a specious argument, that if taken to its conclusion would preclude the use of any product to those angered by the injustice of its producer... We do not have to sit naked under a tree to recognize injustice, or be a victim of it. We do not have to stop the product of a corporation, or the use of its product to be outraged by wrongdoing in the exploitation of that product. We can recognize the difference between the company and the corporation, the product and the profiteer without being a hypocrite.
Why it's catching on: Depicting protestors sitting on their MacBooks fits in with the broader narrative the media has settled on, one that depicts a disorganized group of well-educated college grads who can't figure out how to stay on message. The MacBook seems always to be used as a sort of tongue-in-cheek "stuff white people like" condemnation of the jobless, disenfranchised protestors who can somehow swing a $1,300 computer.
Why else? Presumably, occupiers are patrons of a lot of "corporations" since they have to feed and clothe themselves, but Apple has been a conspicuous user of product placement at least since Carrie Bradshaw wrote those sex columns. The bright Apple that lights up from the back of the MacBook screen makes it one of the harder corporate products to ignore, as we've been conditioned to see it for years. So it's no surprise a reporter's eye is drawn to it where might ignore a protestor's Reebok sneakers, or even their Dell laptop.