Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: I don’t care that The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is about the relatively shitty conditions under which all of our consumer electronics are made. The fact that the vast majority of every single product that could be seen as a target of your disposable income isn’t what’s being marketed on the marquee and it’s not the vehicle the one man show is using to hammer home your Western, consumerist guilt. It’s a singling out of Apple Inc. and Steve Jobs that gets people in the door.
The show focuses on one man’s trip to Shenzhen and the conditions he observed in some of the factories where Apple makes its products, taking tours that apparently aren’t even in the “Not for Tourists” guides. He meets with factory managers, workers and reps for underground organized labor movements at these companies. I have no intention of going, but from what I’ve gleaned from reviews, it seems appropriately awful and eye-opening. It’s also more than a little disingenuous.
First off, this is not a problem for which Apple is exclusively responsible, despite what all of the marketing for the performance would have you believe. A partial list of companies not named Apple that also have their devices manufactured in Shenzhen include Acer Inc., Amazon.com, Intel, Cisco, HP, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, MSI, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Vizio. Did I mention this list is from one factory? Chances are, anything you buy that has an electronic component will come from a factory in Shenzhen. That’s why its one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.
Conspicuous consumption is one of those things the West is made to feel horribly about. It harkens back to every parental chiding about finishing your dinner because of the millions of starving Ethopians. I’m not going to argue that consumption and waste aren’t a global problem, but making money off of the name of one party to it and its now-deceased co-founder and CEO has a very familiar stink to it.
Of course, I could have this all wrong. If it so happens that all the proceeds from the production (net expenses) go to the Shenzhen labor movement or some other worthy cause related to the issue, that’d be a pretty good indication that the person is more interested in helping solve the problem as opposed to cashing in off a big name and bitching about it, which is my suspicion. What can I say – I’m a pessimist. If I’m wrong, I’ll be happy to remove my post forthwith, apologize and buy a ticket to the show.