The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

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Photograph: Kevin Berne
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

In The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mike Daisey takes a bite out of Apple, chews on it and spits it out as a two-hour monologue. If you've seen this master monologuist before, you know that he likes to mix things up---not just by weaving parallel stories in counterpoint, but also by shifting among various modes of discourse, from calm ratiocination to bursts of rage. But the latter mode seems to occupy a larger share of his latest piece than is usually the case: The disillusionment of this self-described "Apple fanboy" with his favorite tech company spurs him to profane fits of righteous apoplexy, in which the line between storytelling and story-yelling isn't always thick.

The double-helix structure of the show alternates between two main tales: that of Apple's public face, the late Steve Jobs, whom Daisey variously describes as a "techno-libertarian hippie," a "visionary asshole" and "my hero"; and the mass of unpublicized, faceless Chinese workers who manufacture the company's elegant machines. In the show's most compelling sequences, Daisey recounts his trip to the Chinese factory city of Shenzhen, home to the Foxconn complex where some 400,000 workers make Apple's products by hand in soul-killing assembly lines. These workers, Daisey reports, are underpaid and often underage; they work brutal hours in oppressive conditions. To some extent, this is something we know and endeavor to ignore, so that we can continue enjoying the fruits of their all-but-slave labor. But it is Daisey's project to treat them as individuals, and to make us squirm at this rot at Apple's core. He leaves his audience with the curse of clearer sight.

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