News / Arts & Entertainment

Off-Broadway Play 'The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs' Hits a Nerve

Carolyn Weaver

Since the posting of this story, it has come to light that Mike Daisey fabricated many critical aspects of his show, including lying about actually talking to some of the people he references.  Daisey told the public radio program “This American Life” that his show should be seen as theater, not journalism. Read the Marketplace story about the new developments.

Few playwrights can claim social impact for their work, much less that it helped move one of the richest companies on Earth to investigate conditions at factories in China.  Writer-actor Mike Daisey, whose one-man Off-Broadway show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” about working conditions at Apple’s Chinese manufacturers, is an exception.

Daisey, a self-described computer geek, says he has long loved all things Apple, the computer company co-founded by the late Steve Jobs.

“I never knew I needed a laptop so thin I could slice a sandwich with it,” Daisey says at one point in the show. “But then I saw it, and I wanted it!  And now, some of you out there in the darkness, watching me, are thinking, ‘Mike, use a knife.’  But I say, in a better designed world, I would only need one tool -- the tool that Steve has given me!”

Although the two-hour monologue is often funny, it is motivated by moral indignation.  Daisey says he had always assumed that Apple computers and mobile phones were made in pristine factories, perhaps by robots.  But in 2010, he heard news reports of harsh working conditions and suicides at Foxconn, Apple’s main supplier in China.  So he went to Shenzhen, China and posed as a businessman to tour electronics factories.  And he interviewed Foxconn workers.

“What I found had been widely reported by human rights groups for almost a decade,” he said in an interview.  “Child labor, rampant; incredible hours, people working 14, 15, 16 hours a day.  People working so long that they drop from exhaustion, or die on the line.  A worker at Foxconn died after working a 34-hour shift while I was there.”

Foxconn factories in southern China produce many of the world's electronic goods - not only Apple products, but also Dell, Samsung, Sony and other brands.  Its plants are huge.  One has more than 400,000 workers, including many who live in crowded dormitories.  Two explosions at Apple suppliers last year, including one at a Foxconn factory, killed four workers and injured 74 others.  Both explosions reportedly were caused by aluminum dust in unventilated rooms.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.  But in a written statement, Foxconn said it is committed to ensuring the highest health and safety standards.  It said employees are not overworked, and that 95 percent of its employees work sitting down.  The company said it recently raised wages and that it was cutting overtime.

Finance expert Baizhu Chen of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business says Foxconn pays well for China, and that teenagers falsify their ages to be hired.

“And when they started opening the factory in Chengdu, people line up, because they offer a higher wage than other competitors.  In fact, Foxconn bid up the wages of the other manufacturers.”

Chen notes that although China has very strict labor laws, they often are not enforced.  Playwright Mike Daisey says that Apple, although a perfectionist about its products, chose to ignore how they were made, because it cared more for higher profits.

“Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?” Daisey asks near the end of his show.  “In a company obsessed with the details, with the aluminum being milled just-so, with the glass fitting perfectly into the case, do you really think it’s credible that they don’t know?  Or are they just doing what we’re all doing?  Do they just see what they want to see?”

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” has won rave reviews, and helped spur protests.  “We’re asking Apple for an ethical iPhone," said one demonstrator at a recent protest at an Apple store in New York.  Daisey says such raised awareness by American users of Apple products was his goal.

“When we empathize - when we actually believe that the people in those circumstances are real people - then we begin to actually think about what their labor circumstances are.  We actually begin to care,” he said.

Following a January 2012 New York Times series detailing problems at Apple’s China suppliers, Apple joined the Fair Labor Association - a manufacturers’ group that establishes workplace standards and monitors conditions at factories.  The FLA has begun an investigation of Apple suppliers in China.  Critics say the FLA is not tough or independent because Apple is paying for the investigation.  But others, like analyst Baizhu Chen, call it a good first step.

“Apple should ask its suppliers to follow the laws and the rules, and make sure they are constantly monitoring the investigation to make sure they follow Chinese laws and Chinese rules,” he said.

Mike Daisey agrees and says that Apple could set a new standard overnight in China that all the electronics industry would follow.

“People have an enormous respect for Apple, even now,” he said.  “And as this issue attaches itself to the brand, it will not take long before it is inseparable from it.  They could turn it around today.”

Daisey said he would be happy if reforms instituted by Apple rendered his play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” obsolete.  In the meantime, he recently made the monologue free for anyone to perform.  He said he has received requests from 500 groups in 11 countries, but none yet from China.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures