As part of its free summer concert and performance series in downtown Los Angeles’ California Plaza, Grand Performances hosted “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” as part of the Music, Movement and Meaning program. The theatrical work, written and originally performed to rave reviews and controversy by Apple critic Mike Daisey, sheds light on issues like corporate responsibility, worker rights and an individual consumer’s role in a globalized marketplace. To emphasize the impact Jobs had across an industry that affects the entire world, the monologue was read by Chinese, Mexican, Korean and Japanese American performers.
Daisey wrote his monologue following a 2010 trip he made to China, where he claimed he witnessed underage workers, people poisoned by industrial chemicals and workers crippled by unsafe equipment, all a result of Taiwanese original equipment manufacturer Foxconn’s operations in Shenzhen, China. Foxconn is the world’s largest maker of electrical components and the largest exporter in Greater China – it is also Apple’s manufacturer. Although some of the claims Daisey made in his monologue were disputed and some even proven false, Foxconn has been under scrutiny for its poor working conditions for quite some time.
In 2007, Apple Inc. conducted an audit of Foxconn, finding it compliant in a majority of areas, though the audit did substantiate a few of the allegations regarding long working hours, discrimination against Mainland Chinese workers and a lack of working relationships at the company. Then in 2009 there was a high-profile suicide of a Foxconn worker who reported losing an iPhone 4 prototype, and in 2010 a series of suicides by jumping from buildings occurred. By May 2010, nets had been installed underneath the windows of the company’s compounds, and its program of remuneration for the families of the jumpers was canceled. Wired magazine reported on the suicides – 17 in total – in February last year, confirming some but not all of the claims made about Foxconn’s Shenzhen plant.
Following Daisey’s final New York performance in March of this year, he received a standing ovation despite his weakened credibility. Before the show he told the audience that he had revised his script to make it “more accurate.” According to a CBS News “TechTalk” piece, he also told the crowd that he “stood by his work as a whole and that Apple’s failure to provide adequate working conditions was verified by The New York Times and other new organization” – which CBS verified as true.
Attendees interviewed at the New York performance were elated, shocked and frustrated. Some enjoyed the performance and saw it as a work of art, others were astonished at what they were hearing about a brand they had come to love, and others yet were angry about being misled by Daisey. It’s reasonable to assume attendees at last night’s California Plaza performance also varied in their opinion. But as part of the MMM program, audience members were given an opportunity to discuss their thoughts on the performance. MMM acknowledges that “different people will see different things in any performance,” so it encourages and seeks to facilitate discussion of reactions, insights and opinions among the audience following specific events.