Last night I saw the final performance in the TBA run of Mike Daisey's monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which is just as powerful as everyone said it was. It's a blatantly political work, but it's leavened by Daisey's fan-geek observations of his own relationship to Apple's products, resulting in a personal, approachable, and most importantly, funny piece. The show ran long last night—Daisey stretched it out to a full two and a half hours, testing the audience's comfort in the hard-backed school auditorium chairs even as he kept us riveted. (Except for one stinky old bozo behind me, who snored directly into my ear through the show's second half—in keeping with the unofficial theme of TBA this year, that old people ruin everything.) As has been said, the monologue's value comes from Daisey's firsthand account of factory conditions at Foxconn, a tech manufacturer in Shenzhen, China, a gargantuan city that was, in turn, manufactured to meet the demands of tech companies like Apple.
The conditions there, reportedly, are appalling. The workers (some as young as 11, some far beyond retirement age) are stuck working never-ending shifts and sleep in cramped bunks. Nets have been strung around the tops of buildings to prevent suicide jumpers. There's a fascinating, lengthy article about Foxconn and its CEO, Terry Gou, in this week's BusinessWeek, which I'd say is mandatory reading for anyone who's seen Daisey's monologue. There's also a little video interview with BusinessWeek's editor, which I'm posting here for its brief (and most likely sanitized) images of the inside of the Foxconn factory.
Matching others' reports, I found The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs to be, by and large, outstanding. Some of Daisey's proselytizing at the end seemed unnecessary to me—his point had already clearly and effectively made the previous 150 minutes—and his call to activism by emailing Steve Jobs' personal Apple.com email account seems a bit pie-eyed, if also insular and ineffective. It seems a better idea, to me, to spread word of the factory conditions through conversation and word of mouth; complaining to Jobs won't do as much good as letting everyone else you know in the world that the conditions of the electronics factories in Shenzhen are inhumane. In the meantime, Daisey left me a lot of food for thought, as well as being suitably impressed that he, solely, kept my attention for well over two hours. Daisey's next project is a 24-hour monologue. As good as he is, I don't think I can manage that.