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

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

This forum has been closed.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Justin Haywardi
|| 0:00:00
October 07, 2015 11:57 AM
The Moody Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Hayward sat down with Border Crossings host Larry London to talk about his career and perform songs from his solo CD, "Spirits from the Western Sky."

The Moody Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Hayward sat down with Border Crossings host Larry London to talk about his career and perform songs from his solo CD, "Spirits from the Western Sky."