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Steve Jobs: Ruthless Enemy of Nostalgia

MBFBlog Review: An occasional series of reviews on exhibitions, books, films of interest to MailBigFile clients and readers. This one, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

To set the scene for this play, here is what I wrote as a review for the Eastern Daily Press, (8 May 2012):
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Mike Daisey at The Cut, Halesworth

The prestigious High Tide Festival attracted US performer Mike Daisey to Halesworth. It was a scoop. His one man, stand-up (sitting down) comedy monologue about Steve Jobs and Apple has been contentious everywhere.

The late Jobs was creator, inventor and cultural icon, genius behind Apple-Mac’s business and technology phenomenon. From garage inventions to mega-business power plays with anecdotes about the evolution of devices, this was a tale for our times.

A large Daisey sat at a desk for two hours wiping face sweat as he animated Jobs’ biography. Voices, faces and events flowed in this masterclass of agit-prop political humour appealing to Apple or Microsoft fans, technophobes or geeks. ‘Power-point presentations’ was side-splittingly funny.

The account of China’s Shenzhen Foxconn factory which makes Apples’ and others’ components where one exploited worker died after a 34-hour shift, was intensely moving.

Still fond of Apple gadgets, Daisey nonetheless paraphrased Steve Jobs as Big Brother – ‘if you control the metaphor through which people see their world, you control the world’.

He finished with a mind-virus image: ‘now you know how the laptops are made, you‘ll see blood welling between the keys’.

Piece of Theatre

A theatrical tour de force! And perfectly valid as subject matter for a piece of theatre, even if it is critical (and may yet incur the wrath of Apple’s litigation lawyers).

Jobs has become seen as and more so since he died last year, a quasi-religious leader of a kind of Cult of Apple, a Mac-worshipping cultural temple where believers can immerse themselves.

As Daisey said, ‘you can’t buy anything else to use on your Apple devices, only what you get from Apple’. A garden wall has been built around users, and ‘why would they want to go anywhere else?’

According to MIke Daisey, Jobs was a showman, a techno-libertarian hippy, (in 1974 he went to India seeking spiritual enlightenment). It was Steve Wozniak who was the brilliant geek.

To Jobs, the world was divided into two distinct groups, the geniuses (the few) and the bozos (the many). If it’s true, then it was a calculated insult to most people, which is par for the course for the handful of truly brilliant creative innovators each generation throws up. Jobs was not a micro-manager, but a nano-manger in his attention to (controlling) detail.

Jobs was passionate about design, ruthless in business. The saga of how he was ousted from Apple in a boardroom coup by John Scully from Pepsi because the Macintosh wasn’t compatible with IBM that was outselling it, only to return over 12 years later having developed businesses and technology that created NeXT computers and operating systems and Pixar Animation while Apple went into decline, would make a movie. And probably will one day.

It was also Jobs’ gift to not only invent, but to reinvent. To ‘knife the baby’ in Daisey’s phrase, meant he could remove their best selling product from every shelf and force the invention of new work. He was the ‘enemy of nostalgia’.

And on top of all that, Jobs succeeded in making innovative technology and stylish design, including a computer ‘so thin it could slice cake’, into a lifestyle/cultural requirement for millions. And then those same millions again with updates, and yet more millions too who saw, liked and wanted.

The result is that Apple is arguably the most successful company on earth at the present time. Since his death from pancreatic cancer in October 2011 aged 56, there are few indications that the position will change anytime soon, but time (and an insatiable public demand for ‘wow’ technology) will tell.

Exploitation Worries

But what of all that stuff about often young worker exploitation in massive shifts in poor conditions? Factories under armed guards blowing up with little or no health and safety? The toxic effects of hexane, the iPhone screen cleaner?

Mike Daisey wanted the audience to take up the cause, to be so concerned as consumers they would make a difference or dent in Apple finances. That’s how political theatre often works on stage or film. Indeed, since this show in the UK, Apple and Foxconn have announced joint sharing of costs in improving the conditions of workers at Shenzhen. If it’s a result of the impact of this play, nobody is saying so.

What actually happened on this occasion is that several people as they walked out reached straight for their smartphones to catch up the emails and news that had been held while they listened, laughed, were entertained and challenged inside the theatre auditorium.

So, politics and the arts met briefly, the point was made and then the world moved on. Is that always the way?

Read on:

Will Apple Make the Superbrands Look Like Small Beer?
Five Reasons to Love Steve Jobs.
Bio.True Story, Steve Jobs.

Image: matt buchanan