Parody is a tricky medium. This book is made even trickier by not knowing for absolute sure who wrote it. If you want to make fun of someone or something, just do it. But why disguise your identity?
In this case, there is now agreement about who “Fake Steve Jobs” is, enough so to have been authenticated by Wikipedia. Dan Lyons, an editor for Forbes.com and a blogger extraordinaire, is the self-confessed masked man, though his name does not appear in my
galley proof edition of oPtion$ (the finished book does make his identity known). Lyons as Fake Steve Jobs blogged for more than a year before being outed, using a wealth of techno-talk and insider info in combination with sarcasm that cuts like a real fake Ginsu knife. He can, it seems, crawl into Apple CEO (Real) Steve Jobs’s genius-sized cranium and root around, bringing to the page a character that talks like a scarily egotistical, possibly realistic, Real Steve Jobs, inventor of some of modern civilization’s most exciting toys and some of its most essential tools. Or like he believes Real Steve Jobs talks.
Confused? You will still be by the time you finish oPtion$, a book which claims to be a diary of Real Steve Jobs as he navigates through his improbably luxurious life and battles an unseen enemy who seeks to destroy him with a stock option takedown. The events parodied in oPtion$ mirror the real-life stock option woes of Real Steve, and this is not the only believable aspect of the fake bio. The author allows reality and fantasy to melt into a big wavy blob, drawing from the facts about Jobs as they are known to the outside world and from the hyperbolic notions in his own twisted brain. What is Real Jobs like? What would we like to think he’s like? Steve, as portrayed by Lyons/Fake Steve, comes across as a mental prodigy of unknowably vast proportions, obsessed by form as well as function, a man who takes periodic photos of himself to make sure he is still perfect, who owns a desk made from the heartwood of a giant sequoia that exists solely to be looked at and “which has never, ever had anything placed on it.” And he is acute enough to note humorously that Silicon Valley is full of guys with Asperger’s Syndrome driving Ferraris.
This imaginary Jobs berates his engineers for not making the circuit board of the iPod aesthetically symmetrical and fires one of them for daring to suggest that they are engineers and they know what they’re doing. The real Jobs has been known for a capricious, purge-heavy leadership. This fake Jobs declares that “I have never found other people all that interesting. At least not enough to be worth putting that much effort into.” Despite the burdens of being a CEO, he manages to spend time meditating and getting seriously stoned, and his advice to young hopeful potential Steves is: “Forget trying to get a job at Google or trying to raise venture funding for some startup. Go down to the Mission and score some weed. Buy yourself a bong and fire it up. Then go think of an idea for a company.” As to his own management style, he scorns conventional approaches. Citing the standard advice, “Hold people to an impossibly high standard,” he amplifies: “Don’t tell them what the standard is. And fire them if they fall short.”
Fake Steve is a mega-jerk who really believes it is he who suffers most when the minions in China who manufacture his products are overworked and underpaid. “Frankly I don’t think this is my problem. We don’t own this plant. We just buy from them.” Is this funny? And why did real Dan invent Fake Steve, and why has Real Steve been said to smirk with apparent enjoyment at the exploits of his evil parody twin?
I’m not sure these questions have answers. Like the snake eating its own tail, parody has a way of curling back against itself. It can bring us a few laughs – and this book serves them on a platter – but if Fake Steve Jobs is laughing in the wilderness, who can hear it?