Yesterday I saw the final D.C. performance of Mike Daisey's newest one man show , "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." Why mention it on this politics blog? I'll tell you why -- it's a smart, vibrant piece of political journalism masquerading as a funny monologue.
It's tough to explain this without spoiling things, so be warned. The show is bisected, like most Daisey shows, into two stories. He switches back and forth between them, letting them build together like vines. One story is a history of Apple computers and Daisey's own appreciation of the company and its products. His first computer was an Apple; he relaxes, sometimes, by disassembling his MacBook Pro, cleaning it, and reassembling it. "If you don't think about your choice of operating systems," he says, "you may be living the unexamined life."
The other story is an increasingly dark, increasingly painful retelling of Daisey's reporting in Shenzhen, China. He traveled there on a tourist visa, and conducted interviews pretending to be an American businessman. A journalist would have been denied access to the city's monstrous factories (the Foxconn factory employs 450,000 people) -- Daisey mentions a New York Times article about working conditions in the city which was written from Shanghai and based entirely on press releases. Working undercover, Daisey saw the nets that had been erected to catch suicidal workers who jumped off the building. He met workers whose spines had started to fuse together from 12-hour or 16-hour shifts. He met 12-year-olds who assembled iPhones and iPads. As he talks, the realization grabs you -- your beloved little phone was put together by a serf, and you didn't even care to find this out.
This is an unusually honest, un-cynical monologue. It is not propaganda; you don't leave it pumping your fist and calling for the end of capitalism. You leave it with a better and more honest understanding of capitalism, one that has no comfortable place in politics. If this comes to your city, see it.