Mass Incident at the Apple Store: China Social Unrest Jumps the Shark

January 13, 2012

Social unrest in China is no joke. There are tens of thousands of protests/demonstrations/riots every year in response to major problems such as environmental degradation, local corruption, and land swindles. Since I’m a responsible long-term resident of the Middle Kingdom, I would never make light of the legitimate concerns of the masses.

Indeed, there are some mass incidents (that’s the official term, by the way) that, due to the petty grievance that inspired the action, sully the image of all the others.

Case in point, a whole lot of nutjobs waited overnight at the Beijing Apple store in hopes of getting their hands on a new iPhone 4S (which stands for “for shame”?).

Disclaimer: I own an Android smartphone running a Victorian-era operating system, so my judgment in these matters is suspect.

Eventually things got ugly:

We’re now reading reports of fights breaking out between competing gangs of scalpers in the country, each hoping to get their hands on large quantities of Cupertino’s latest smartphone. The conflicts have been significant enough to attract the attention of Chinese police, and we now hear that the Apple Store in Beijing is keeping its doors locked in attempt to make the crowds leave.

And then even uglier:

Enraged Chinese shoppers pelted Apple Inc’s flagship Beijing store with eggs and shoving matches with police broke out when customers were told the store would not begin sales of the popular iPhone 4S as scheduled.

OK, first of all, I should point out that these “enraged shoppers” were a mixed bunch. Some of them were your run-of-the-mill Mac geeks, but others were pros, as in professional scalpers there to get a jump on the competition.

I have little sympathy for either the mindless Mac drones or the working stiffs who were paid to wait in line. And I do mean “stiffs” — it was something like minus ten degrees last night. I can certainly understand their frustration at waiting in sub-zero temperatures for many hours, only to be told that their sacrifice was in vain, but at the same time, what the hell were they doing out there in the first place?

Some Reuters reporters were brave enough to actually talk to these poor schmucks and got these quotes:

“We’re suffering from cold and hunger,” a man in his 20s shouted to Reuters Television. “They said they’re not going to sell to us. Why? Why?”

“I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line the plaza was chock full with people,” said Huang Xiantong, 26, outside the store. “Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt,” said Huang, who wanted to buy a new iPhone for his girlfriend. “The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling.”

Cold and hunger? Next time, pack a goddamn sandwich and wear a hat, Einstein. Wanted to buy an iPhone for his girlfriend? Christ. If I was stupid enough to stand outside in freezing cold just for the chance to buy a phone for my wife, she’d divorce my ass on grounds of mental incapacity (or alternatively, put me in a facility for the occasionally coherent). I’ve never been accused of being a romantic.

So who’s at fault for this fiasco? There is plenty of blame to go around:

1. Apple – they screwed up the product launch. Someone at the genius bar needs to do some self-criticism.

2. Scalpers – I know you need to make some cash before the holidays, but can you go do it somewhere else please? You’ve already fucked up train travel in this country, now your’re messing with retail?

3. Mac Geeks – just go away and get a life. Unless you’re waiting in a queue outside a hospital, there’s no good reason to be standing outside in the cold overnight.

4. Cops – should never have allowed this thing to escalate. Let’s hope that the idiots throwing eggs are now having a nice cup of tea with their friendly neighborhood PSB official.

I’m not sure if this whole thing is good or bad publicity for Apple. Perhaps some of both.

“Hey, our customers are fighting for the chance to buy our shit” — sounds good.

“Hey, our customers are stupid enough to fight for the chance to buy our shit” — sounds even better.

“Because we screwed up and our stupid customers started fighting, attracting the attention of the (always nervous) government, we are now on the State-level shit list, slotted in between Google and Richard Gere” — sounds pretty bad.

Might I suggest a new procedure for the next product launch? First, a Real-ID system, maybe a DNA check. Second, institute a mandatory holding period. Anyone who purchases a new iPhone must wait a minimum of three months before the phone can be resold to a third party. Third, metal detectors and a cavity search at the entrance to the store. Anyone found with eggs on his person will be forced to hard boil and eat them in the grand tradition of Cool Hand Luke. Fourth, anyone moronic enough to queue up overnight in sub-zero temps will immediately be sent to a mental health facility for a minimum of 48 hours or until a competency hearing can be convened.

I bet all those environmental and anti-corruption activists out there who have literally risked their lives protesting societies’ injustices are not amused at all.