Global Times 10-16-2012
Apple's ugly core exposed
October 5 marked the first anniversary of the death of Apple's legendary co-founder Steve Jobs. While his worshippers across the globe continue to cherish gadgets the tech revolutionist helped pioneer, Chinese theater director Wang Chong is taking a critical look at the price of living in the "iAge." Ignoring the hype Apple products generate, the director and self-confessed Apple fan has reignited heated discussion about working conditions of those who manufacture the company's devices in South China.
Translated and adapted from American actor and author Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man theater show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (2010), the namesake Chinese production premiered last week and is currently on show at Beijing's Trojan Theater until October 28.
Presented in the form of documentary theater, the 90-minute show of nine episodes is divided between an Apple addict's fanaticism and his shock at the brutal reality of the exploitation of Chinese workers at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.
Rather than telling the story in Daisey's simple form of narrating from behind a desk, young actor Huang Chengcheng acts out the whole story by enthusiastically imitating nearly 30 characters. Dramatic as it is, the monologue disappointingly comes across as pretentious, not heartfelt.
"There is no such thing as 'stand up' comedy in China. The traditional Chinese xiangsheng (cross-talk) show is similar, but it is boring to infuse this into theater," director Wang said of the decision to turn the monologue into a melodramatic production.
Set against the backdrop of a giant canvas with Steve Jobs' portrait and a white, 1-meter-high box with Apple's logo, Huang starts the show with a rather cold joke about one owning an iPhone yet keeping their vital organs - a reference to a Chinese teen who last year sold one of his kidneys on the black market to buy an iPad and iPhone. Yet the show recovers well from this stumble to explore how worship of Apple products has manifested itself among loyal consumers.
While such obsession resonates and evokes mixed feelings among many audience members, the show hits its stride when it covers a trip and subsequent investigation of a Shenzhen factory owned by Foxconn, the Taiwan electronics manufacturing company rocked by a spate of worker suicides triggered by harsh working conditions.
"After being involved in the show, I certainly know more about the stories behind Apple products. As an Apple fan myself, I now wonder what went into making my iPhone as I slide my thumb across its screen," said Wang, who has adapted a number of Broadway dramas, including American playwright Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues (1996), into Chinese.
Cutting about one-third of narration about Apple's history from Daisey's original script due to fears it would distract Chinese audiences, Wang emphasizes the stark reality behind production of gadgets pioneered by the Silicon Valley giant.
Stories of child labor in the show attempt to tug at the heartstrings, as does Huang leaping from the box to the stage 13 times to symbolize the number of worker suicides between January and November in 2010.
"I made [the suicides] more dramatic to stir people's conscious," Wang explained. "It is also about globalization and the issues it brings along, which is often overlooked by Chinese dramatists."