By Fitzgerald’s standards, Mike Daisey has a first-rate intelligence—that is to say, “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.” In The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (at the Public Theater), he stands in awe of the Apple CEO’s business practices while vigorously denouncing them.
First, the reigning king of guy-at-a-table theater gushes his admiration for Jobs, whom he calls the “visionary asshole” of Apple, slathering on praise for the CEO’s willingness to discontinue Apple’s best ideas, or “knife the baby,” as Daisey puts it, and applauding Jobs’s sadism toward subordinates and colleagues alike. Then, spliced into the other half of this monologue, whose vocal style recalls the loud-soft-loud of other heavy dudes like Sam Kinison and Black Francis, Daisey recounts his pilgrimage to the headquarters of the electronics manufacturing behemoth Foxconn in Shenzhen, China. Here he discovers that—surprise!—the company founded by his favorite corporate despot has hired an outsourcing mega-giant that looks the other way at worker exploitation and child labor.
By themselves, these journalistic narratives are powerful and compelling, and the contrast between them thought-provoking. But Daisey takes the extra step of hectoring the audience, assuming our ignorance of the way capitalism and communism have always worked. “You need to understand,” he pleads. “People use censorship because it fucking works!” The problem isn’t that Apple customers don’t know that underpaid, underage laborers risked their health to assemble their touch-screens, it’s that they do know, but they love their iPhones too much to do anything about it.