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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.