I am writing this on a 12 inch Apple MacBook. Its sleek, light aluminum body and bright screen are the last word in cutting-edge product design, it responds to my every whim like some sort of genie and, if monologist Mike Daisey
is to be believed, it was likely assembled by a 15-year-old working a 16 hour shift
in an unthinkably massive factory in ShenZhen.
The writing of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
, the latest work by the prolific, universally praised performer (playing through tomorrow at PICA's TBA Festival
), took Daisey to the front gate of FoxConn, the Chinese company that makes all the iPhones, MacBooks, Nokia cell phones and Dell desktops that we use every day
. He interviewed the workers he met there during the factory's shift change. Some were as young as 11 years old. All worked far longer hours than the government-mandated 8 hour shift. They lived in cramped quarters, with a dozen workers sharing a 10-by-ten foot room. If they were injured, there was no compensation. If they complained, they were fired or even jailed. It was a display of capitalism run rampant, assisted by an authoritarian state interested only in protecting the interests of the state at the expense of the people.
Daisey intertwines his experiences in China, where he met with illegal labor unions and corporate executives alike, with a biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs and a history of his company. Because this is Daisey doing the telling, the story is at once outrageously funny and deeply disturbing—all the more so because Daisey, unlike many critics of Chinese manufacturing, admits that he has no intention of altering his techo-centric lifestyle just because he knows that children threw their lives away to make his gadgets. I left the theater convinced that I should keep my (perfectly functional) aging cell phone rather than upgrading, and wondering why the hell Portland Center Stage hasn't booked this performance for their fall season. Everyone who owns a computer, or buys anything whatsoever, should see it.
It is the most socially relevant piece of theater you'll see this year.
The Works at Washington High School, 531 SE 14th Ave. 6:30 pm Sunday-Monday, Sept. 12-13. $20 members, $25 general.