The Americans’ obsession with stories about celebrity CEOs like Apple’s Steve Jobs has got more to do with their cultural fascination for romantic individualist story than the man himself, suggests a new study on the subject.
The author, Thomas Streeter, professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, said that Jobs’ story fits perfectly with the romantic individualist story that American culture can’t seem to get enough, despite being yet another romanticized story about a well-known business celebrity. “Jobs is an interesting character, but if we were choosing whose story to tell based on the importance of their inventions or business innovations, we would be telling stories about other people like computer scientist Dennis Ritchie,” Streeter said.
Ritchie was central to the development of the software and concepts that made the internet possible. “Or it could be Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the mouse and the windowing interface. Either of them could be said to have invented more important things than Steve Jobs,” he added. “But where are all the major Hollywood movies, documentaries, and best-selling biographies about Ritchie or Engelbart and the dozens of other key inventors whose contributions were as or more essential than Jobs?” Streeter wondered.
There has to be another reason that the Steve Jobs story has been told over and over again since the 1980s instead of about men like Ritchie or Engelbart, according to Streeter. “I think the reason is in our culture: we love the story of Jobs because we love the story of the guy who bucked convention, pursued his passions, and got rich doing so,” Streeter explained. “Jobs’ story nicely fits the romantic individualist story that American culture is in love with. We love the story, and the case of Steve Jobs gives us a chance to tell that story over and over,” he said. The study appeared in the International Journal of Communication.