A good and bad apple

09.26.11
Mike Daisey
The Age (Australia)

By Jason Blake

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS

Sydney Opera House, September 24, until October 2

RAILING against exploitation is one thing. Railing against exploitation that makes the things we covetously desire affordable is another.

In this passionate and enlightening monologue, Mike Daisey weaves several strands. One is autobiographical, an account of his coming of age at the dawn of personal computing. He is, he confesses, the kind of guy who likes to retire to his hotel room, strip his laptop into its 43 components, clean them with compressed air and reassemble. This he finds soothing.

Another strand is looks at the career arc of Apple's co-founder Steve Jobs, whom Daisey gifts with the oracular traits of Obi Wan Kenobi and ruthlessness of Darth Vader.

Over three decades Daisey's devotion to Apple products has taken on a religious aspect. "I have been to the House of Steve Jobs," he intones from behind his glass-topped table. "I have walked the stations of his cross."

Cut into all this is the story of Daisey's guerilla journalism mission to China's special economic zone and the city of Shenzhen. Fifty-two per cent of the electronic goods we purchased last year originated from that city, he informs us. Most of those are assembled not by robots, as we like to imagine, but by hand, by workers as young as 12.

His description of his visit to the vast and secretive Foxconn factory (which hit the headlines last year after a spate of worker suicides) dovetails unnervingly with his treatise on the technological sealing of Apple's products. We've made a two-part deal with the devil, it seems; one that binds us to (and in no small way supports) a despotic regime, while cleaving us ever closer to corporations promising creative freedom and endless play, but only on their terms.

Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, Daisey's outrage and disappointment is expressed in a symphonic range of colours. But there's abundant humour, too. He holds his own weaknesses and obsessions up for ridicule. He writhes in what appears to be real embarrassment over his botched attempt to pass as an American businessman. But his feeling for those compelled to sell their labour so cheaply is palpably genuine.

Afterwards, I heard people joking about tossing their iPhones into the harbour. I didn't see anyone actually do it. But to even contemplate it suggests Daisey's monologue may have activated a hidden cache of shame.