Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

Los Angeles audiences finally got the chance to the highly controversial The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which was adapted from the monologue by Mike Daisey and performed by Alex Lyras (and is now showing at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood until April 10).

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs examines the controversy of globalization through the rise and fall and resurrection of Apple, illuminating how Apple's former CEO and his obsessions shape our lives. It follows the trail all the way to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iPhones and iPads, shining a light on the very human price we pay for our high-tech toys.

Mike Daisey writes on his website, "When I started, people would lecture me that nothing could ever change and no one would ever notice or care about labor in China. But that changed. People did wake up, and for the first time in decades began to actually think about the web of relationships between their things and how they are made."

"Anyone with a cell phone and a moral center should see this show." ~ The New York Times

A Bite of the Apple (An excerpt from a critic's interesting review)

Kudos to this must-see expose of the hyper-exploitative labor practices Steve Jobs and his ilk have perpetuated under the veneer of being “geniuses” who are doing good and changing the world with their bigger and better high-tech mousetraps that, oh by the way, we really don’t need anyway.

Sometimes it seems that these capitalists’ greatest “genius” lies in conning us into spending our hard earned dough on their unnecessary gizmos that, as “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” reveals, are manufactured through the sweat of untold multitudes of mistreated, underpaid workers. Like them, we consumers are supposed to feel thankful for the largesse bestowed upon us mere mortals by these Silicon Valley demigods.

But we're left with too many questions: Who owns Foxconn? Is it the Fortune 500 company which the show tells us produces almost half of all of the world’s electronics? Apple? Americans? Mainland Chinese? Taiwanese? What exactly are the precise labor conditions at the Shenzhen factories that are driving workers to leap off of their buildings? How long are their shifts? How much are they paid? How many American workers lost jobs because of Jobs’ outsourcing?

Although some of the purported facts are described, others aren’t, so we are left with incomplete explanations for why some workers find suicide to be preferable to continuing to work at these apparently highly surveilled, hyper-intensive plants that make the speedup on the assembly line in Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 Modern Times seem like mere child’s play.

And China is not now nor has it ever been communist. For that matter, it is not now and never was “socialist.” It is true that after the 1949 revolution that the People’s Republic of China had attributes of socialism, but I do not know to what degree contemporary China still has any socialistic characteristics since the passing of Mao and the Gang of Four. I suspect that today’s China is somewhere between a “deformed workers’ state” and “state capitalism,” but is in no way, shape or form communist or socialist.

One of the early classics of socialist literature was Friedrich Engels’ The Conditions of the Working Class in England, a wretchedness which was documented by this industrialist’s son from 1842-1844. In it, Engels exposed the extreme misery the English masses lived under during the industrial revolution. If communism is anything, it is arguably first and foremost the alleviation and eradication of these dire circumstances and sufferings in favor of humane working — and living — conditions for the masses of common people.

It would also, arguably, be the creation of a system wherein, as Orwell pithily put it in his Spanish Civil War novel Homage to Catalonia: “the working class riding in the saddle.” Marx and Engels argued in favor of workers owning the means of production and for a “dictatorship of the proletariat” — not a dictatorship over the proletariat, as currently seems to be the case in a sweatshop labor China that is very far removed from the communist ideal indeed. Blaming Marx and Engels for crimes committed by Stalinists or China’s current leaders is like blaming pedophile priests on Jesus.

Steve Jobs may or may have been a brilliant technical innovator, but in an essential way he was the same old story of ownership of the means of production in order to maximize profit. Whatever his agonies and ecstasies, he was in the end no angel — or even a Michelangelo. With a bite of the Apple, these theatre artists expel viewers from the fool’s paradise of Jobs and tech worship.

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