With the announcement that they were buying Beats, Apple once again made history, apparently without controversy. Acquiring the popular headphones manufacturing company seemed like a no-brainer for many. Especially since there is a lucrative music subscription service involved, but apparently there is a bit of social awkwardness over the entire deal: Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay and Dr Dre, the rapper and producer with his name attached to Beats, is a homophobe. This disparity has only been marginally commented on by the press, but already one comparison has been made between Dr Dre and Brendan Eich, the former Mozilla CEO who stepped down due to his oppositional stance on homosexuality. There is a problem with this comparison between Apple’s newest acquisition and Mozilla’s former executive, however: Dr Dre is not Brendan Eich.
First and foremost, the difference between Dr Dre and Brendan Eich lies in the role that both men play for their respective companies. Dr Dre is joining Apple as part of the $3 billion deal over the headphones and music subscription service. There is no indication about how much say he will have in the company’s policy, but since he is affiliated most closely with Beats, he will probably retain a role in that side of the business. Overall, the tech giant is still run by Tim Cook, the openly gay CEO who was once labeled as 2013’s most powerful gay man by Out Magazine. Unlike Eich who was actively in charge of company policy and was the face of an entire brand, Dr Dre is a marginal executive entity. He will probably not have the ability to make his homophobia a ruling order no matter what he continues to sing about. Brendan Eich probably would not have made a homophobic policy either (a debatable prospect in the minds of some employees, perhaps), but the outcry from those under him was enough to force his resignation.
Another difference is that Dr Dre is not part of Silicon Valley culture. He may have helped start a tech company with Beats, but he is not part of what makes tech companies really tick: geeks and nerds. Because he is something of an outsider in that culture, he can have little effect on it. Brendan Eich, however, is the creator of the programming language Java and was Mozilla’s chief technology officer. He was an integral part of Silicon Valley and its culture. Therefore, he was directly answerable to it and answer he did, but Apple’s new member Dr Dre is a new face and something of an outsider, and perhaps Silicon Valley’s lack of a response to the musician’s homophobia is just a further example that he is not Brendan Eich.
If Dr Dre is not answerable to the gay-friendly culture of Silicon Valley, who is he answerable to? As a hip hop artist, his ties are closest to that part of the music industry and, until recently, it has not been the most inclusive community regarding LGBT people. The history of hip hop music is rife with homophobes and homophobic lyrics. Even family friendly rapper Will Smith one told AIDS victims to “be quiet” in one of his songs during an era when the disease was killing people every day as an epidemic. Recently, however, hip hop has become more accepting of the gay community. Macklemore’s hit song “Same Love” was perhaps the first hip hop song to directly and positively address the issue of gay equality. Frank Ocean, a Grammy Award winner, also came out as part of the LGBT community. The relationship between hip hop and gay rights is in flux as changes move them towards mutual acceptance.
So what is the real issue with Dr Dre, the gay community, and this new deal with Apple? The media periphery’s outrage over the lack of outrage over Dr Dre’s homophobia is not so much a legitimate concern as an attempt to stir up trouble. Eich’s resignation was big news and Dr Dre’s response to a similar issue would also be headlines. Unfortunately, Apple dropping a cool $3 billion is big enough news that anything else is really just a sideshow. Besides that, the two men are simply not comparable. Dr Dre is not the CEO of the i-everything company, he does not have the final say on company policy, and he is a musician who is answerable to a completely different community than Eich. Simply put, Apple’s Dr Dre is not Brendan Eich and that is why his fate will not be the same.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury