The Agony and the Ectasy of Steve Jobs

  • Our critic's rating:
    October 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (18 Oct 2011)

    You might think that the end of Steve Jobs time on this planet would affect the validity of this show. It doesn’t, with the exception that Daisey still refers to Jobs in the present. Part of this may be that, and this is Daisey’s main point – Jobs is still alive in every piece of equipment he has spawned.

    For Daisey, Steve Jobs is an oracle – and Oracles never really die.

    Daisey is a techno-geek. He freely admits this. He gobbles up the new before completely digesting the old. And somewhere in his feast he got the idea that maybe, just maybe, the place where these treasures on a techno-altar were made would be worth a look-see.

    I speak of Shenzhen, a city in China where the hundreds of thousands of workers live in a special city designed for them (bunks are too high to allow a person to sit up). This city within a city makes over 50% of all the techno treasures in the world. Over 50%! And Mike Daisey, being the curious sort of guy that he is, rented a car, and an interpreter and drove on out to the gates to talk to the workers as they exited. At first it was a little dodgy, but after a bit there was an entire line of people eager to talk to Mr. Daisey. They wanted to tell him about their 36 hour shifts, and the limbs they had lost. And of course the children wanted to talk. The 11-12 and 13-year-old children!

    And when Daisey produced his iPhone – these workers, who may have made this very iPhone, were astonished. They had never seen one completed.

    Soon this leads to Daisey questioning how we got to this. And in this show he takes it further in the “personal” department than I have seen before. Because Daisey is a techno-geek, he feels involved. And because he is performing in New York where there are maybe 10-12 people who don’t own a cell phone – he tells us we are involved as well.

    He then spins a tale of Steve Jobs that is at once brilliant and shameful. This is the man who told Steve Wozniak, his first partner, that if they upped the ante on one of their first programming projects there would be more money for them. What he didn’t tell Wozniak was that the money had already been paid. He just wanted his product faster and better.

    This is pretty much how Jobs ran his life. The world was divided into losers and geniuses, and he knew which side was preferable. So as he started swimming with the sharks, he began to steal from the best – the mouse and cursor came from IBM. Stealing was okay as long as the goal was clear. Daisey says that Jobs put up the Pirate Flag and was never afraid to knife the baby. (You may recall in his speech to Stamford that Jobs said death was the best part of life. It moved the old out to make room for the new. And it is a deterrent to complacency.) He was ruthless and committed. Guilty with an explanation, your Honor.

    Eventually, in an almost poignant resolution, Daisey merges Jobs the myth with the reality that is Apple’s Chinese workers. In his quest to make all things beautiful and connected in that special Apple Way, Steve Jobs wooed us with design and charm. He and Apple and the rest of the best of the West then joined the long line of capitalists who threw their workers to the lions and concentrated on pleasing the people they were turning into addicts. He delivered the ecstasy and outsourced the agony.

    Those worker bees are standing in the shadows next to Daisey. They are people he tells us. We are people. We may yearn to know everything that Google knows, but until you touch something, says Daisey, you don’t really know it. Until we look at these sleek gadgets as being made by hand, until we can feel the hands that made them, we are stopping up the mouths that have stories to tell.

    Stopping them means stopping us - and we wonder why the future isn’t working. This show is more than social commentary. It is a mirror, and Daisey is at the head of the line.

    (Tulis McCall)

    What the popular press said...

    "Smart, pointed and often very funny."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Piercingly provocative and stingingly funny piece."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "By the end of the overlong work, ..., we’re left with some piercing observations, as well as a big “And ... ?”
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Audience members laugh and clap as he slowly disillusions them about their favorite products."
    Suzy Evans for Back Stage

    "It’s terrific and, of course, it’s topical..."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Daisey is a compelling polemicist."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "Daisey's powerful, at times melodramatic call to arms is conditionally entertaining."
    Sam Thielman for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety