Terms and Conditions: the bloviating cruft of the iTunes EULA combined with extraordinary comic book mashups
Back in 2015, cartoonist Robert Sikoryak started publishing single pages from his upcoming graphic novel Terms and Conditions, in which he would recount every word of the current Apple iTunes Terms and Conditions as a series of mashup pages from various comics old and new, in which Steve Jobsean characters stalked across the panels, declaiming the weird, stilted legalese that "everyone agrees to and no one reads."
Incredibly, impossibly, Sikoryak finished the project, and it is now available in book form from Drawn and Quarterly.
In his end-notes, Sikoryak notes that he didn't try to match the language to the action in the panels, drawing his pages first then shuffling them and flowing the text into them. What's interesting (and revealing) is how often there is some weird confluence between the text and the pictures, and this says something important about the Terms and Conditions Sikoryak is lampooning.
Terms and Conditions are weird legal constructs. We are meant to take them seriously -- the companies' lawyers would strenuously argue that just being in the vicinity of these documents constitutes comprehension and consent to their terms -- but everyone knows that no one ever reads them. A surprising number of times, it turns out that even the lawyers themselves haven't read them. The original Twitter T&Cs were sprinkled with references to Flickr -- references that hadn't been purged when the company lifted Flickr's agreement and search-and-replaced through it. Famously, no one had ever looked at the Myspace T&C's, so everyone was genuinely surprised when Billy Bragg pointed out that the company was claiming ownership of all the music its users uploaded to their bands' pages.
T&C prose is thus a kind of oracle, read by none, dreaded by all. The fact that its gibberish can be made to seem sensible when randomly juxtaposed with comics mashups tells you that it has no meaning of its own, but rather takes on all its meaning from the context around it.
To add to this, there is the figure of Steve Jobs, haunting every page of this book in his many guises. Jobs was a famous minimalist control freak, a man on a lifelong mission to eliminate fans, floppy drives and extra mouse-buttons. Yet, this control-freakery manifested itself in the sprawling, nonsensical T&Cs through which the Jobbsean will would be imposed upon Apple's customers, who were constrained by its fine print to act exactly as they were told.
The contradiction here is amazing, really, What could be less Jobbsean, more superfluous, than titanic legal documents that no one is ever, ever going to read? If the design aesthetic of iTunes -- and its hardware brethern, the iPods and iPhones and iPads -- is to eliminate ornamentation and streamline every corner to lickable curves, where does tens of thousands of words of crufty garbage-prose fit in? What could be a starker juxtaposition than the single, four-letter "iPod" wordmark etched into those original gadgets, and the word-salad generated by feeding a monopoly law seminar into a Markov chain that hung off the back of that gadget?
Terms and Conditions [R. Sikoryak/Drawn and Quarterly]
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