Steve Jobs was a genius and showman. Apple products revolutionized the way we live, making the company and its co-founders legendary. As storyteller Mike Daisey notes in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: "If you control the metaphor, you control the world."
It's Daisey's mission to critique that world -- and he does so with passion and thoughtfulness at the Public Theater. A monologist (The Last Cargo Cult) who views storytelling as a form of social activism, Daisey embraces Apple technology -- the MacBook Air is "so thin you could slice a sandwich with it" -- and sends up the obsessions it spawns -- with comic glee.
But his love of Apple's creativity, which he happily extols, and Jobs' entrepreneurial ingenuity, which he salutes, don't inure him to its dark side. All devices -- iPod, iPad, iPhone -- use operating systems users can only download. Think you own your device? Think again. It may have been founded as an anarchic company, but today, Apple is more Big Brother.
Despite its title, Agony and Ecstasy is less about Steve Jobs and more a harrowing look at the cost of his dreams. Daisey travels to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iDevices, and his eye-opening journey exposes the human cost of creating them.
Jobs' quest for technical perfection begat a ruthlessness -- both in his micromanaging style at home and his disregard for human rights abroad, specifically, the hideous, dehumanizing working conditions at Foxconn in China, where 50% of all electronics are made.
Ten years ago, Apple computers were assembled in the U.S., now its in-demand wares are built in China under appalling labor conditions -- poor health care, an epidemic of suicides and children as young as 12 working 12-hour days in mind-numbing, physically damaging factories. Conditions that were condemned in the U.S. 90 years ago, leading to massive reforms and child-labor laws, are commonplace in China.
More disturbing is their genesis: Tim Cook, now Apple's new CEO, spearheaded the initiatives at Foxconn.
And that's Daisey's ultimate focus. It wasn't China that created such horrendous conditions; it was American corporations. He slams our naïveté (and the media's) and our willingness to ignore ugly realities. But his real rage -- and sorrow -- is directed at his fallen idol, Steve Jobs.
Jobs transformed the world with innovative devices. He had the power, influence and economic clout to transform the way they were made -- and did nothing.
Daisey's story telling is funny and illuminating; he doesn't preach, he's an artistic muckraker. But cutting 15 minutes would tighten his tale and heighten dramatic moments. Similarly, less profanity is more; used sparingly, it would better punctuate particular outrages -- and there are many.
Still, he should be applauded for telling the truth. We all revel in the glory of Apple; we rarely note the egregious practices its success sustains. While the media celebrates Jobs' vision, it should also note his blindness to human suffering. Behind Apple's pristine façade is a very dirty picture.
On a purer note, if Beckett wrote a children's play, it would be White, part of the New Victory's fall lineup at the New 42nd St. Studios. It features two whimsical characters -- Cotton (Andy Manley) and Wrinkle (Ian Cameron) -- who live together in a world of texture and hue, but limited to a single palette: white. Their mission -- and this could be interpreted in many philosophical ways -- is to reject all color.
A hint of green, a whisper of pink is quickly tossed in the trash, much to the delight of the toddler audience. But into this orderly, monochromatic environ, where birds sing and uniformity and routine are prized, comes a colorful surprise. And once it does, life for the two friends will never be the same.
White is created by Catherine Wheels, an award-winning Scottish children's theater company. Unlike the sentimental shows often staged for kids, White champions minimalist humor and gentle absurdity. The music and lighting perfectly compliment the performers. There is a sense of wonder wrapped in quiet charm.