July 31, 2010
Tonight is the last night to catch Mike Daisy’s monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” at the Cape Cod Theatre Project. The nonfiction play has already been performed Thursday and last night at Falmouth Academy, as part of CCTP’s play development process. (I saw it last night.) After each performance, the audience is invited to discuss the performance and ask questions of the playwright and director.
Daisy weaves together Steve Job’s life story, Daisy’s own obsession with Apple technology, and the price paid by the Chinese people who create our iPhones, iPods, iPads, computers, and the rest of the electronic bounty Apple (and other companies) has to offer. Daisy is a compelling storyteller, using his voice to change the mood, the time frame, the scene, as he moves from one thread of the story to another and back again.
From his opening description of his appreciation of the satisfying “whoosh-click” sound the well-designed drawers in his Hong Kong hotel room make when he opens and closes them (“the hand of man has been here”), Daisy creates wonderful, and often hilarious, visual images with words. He compares Steve Jobs to Willy Wonka, a great genius and visionary, but completely insane. Jobs is a controlling micromanager, he says; as described by one subordinate: “He would make an excellent King of France.”
He describes his purchase of an iPad as Zen consumerism: “I thought I would buy it and see what it wants to do.”
It is a very funny and entertaining evening with a serious message. The computer products we use and the iPhones we are so devoted to come at a price; a price paid, in this case, by the Chinese workers at Foxcomm Technology Group in Shenzhen, China, a city of 14 million people, surrounded by an industrial zone of 38 million people. Over 430,000 people work for Foxcomm, in a complex of buildings where they not only labor for 12 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week, but sleep in communal bunk beds so tightly stacked that they cannot easily sleep on their sides or they would touch the bottom of the bunk above.
These are good jobs in China, and the employees have college degrees, though their jobs consist of soddering the same connection over and over again as parts come down the assembly line.
Twelve Foxcomm employees have committed suicide recently, all by throwing themselves off the roofs of dormitory buildings. Why so many, wondered Daisy, and why now? His monologue turns chillingly serious as he answers that question, describing his investigations of labor conditions in Shenzhen, and connecting the suicides to Jobs’ obsessive, perfectionism, and the rush to get the newest iPhone out.
“But you know this,” Daisy says to the audience at one point. Yes, we do know that cheap labor in other countries helps makes possible American consumerism, but Daisy tells the story so effectively, so personally and universally, that maybe some of us hear it for the first time.
He concludes by asking us to write to Steve Jobs (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask him about what has been done in Shenzhen.
The last performance in Falmouth is tonight at 8 PM at Falmouth Academy. Call 508-457-4242 for tickets. After the Falmouth performances, Daisy takes the show on tour, to Seattle, then India and Canada.