Friday, July 23, 2010

The Ecstasy and Agony of Steve Jobs... Or What should I do with my iPhone?

Employees work on the assembly line at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
This is a cross post between My Theatre Ramblings and My Random Ramblings.

I recently had an opportunity to purchase cheap seats to the World Premier Preview of Woolly Mammoth’s Theatre Company’s: The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, written and performed by Mike Daisey.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read the Tweet Seat call for $10 tickets, but I knew that I wanted to go (I’ll go to any cheap seat theatre). Due to the timing of the tweet and my commute to Chinatown, I had just made it to the theatre about three minutes before curtain, when I found out there wasn’t an intermission. I was then expecting a 60 – 90 minute show.

On stage sat a frosted glass top desk and a glass of water. Out comes Daisey to a round of applause. With an outline to guide him, Daisey began telling us the story of his trip to China. He would alternate “chapters” of the story in China with the story of Steve Jobs and the Apple Computer.

I started taking notes on the story and theatrical notes as I normally do when reviewing a show, but I was quickly enthralled! When Daisey was talking about his trip to China, he was recounting his investigating reporting of trying to visit Foxconn – a giant manufacturing plant in the city of Shenzhen that produces hundreds of different electronics including Apple iPhones, iPads, Intel motherboards, Dell computers, Hewlett-Packer computers, Wiis, Playstations, Xboxes, Kindles and dozens of other cell phones. Daisey, a Mac junkie since the Apple II came out in the late 70’s, had decided to visit the plant that created some of his favorite products, for recently this plant is in the middle of a suicide plague.

Daisey’s story telling was amazing! I couldn’t believe that an actor, not a journalist, was scooping the story. Daisey met dozens of people who were willing to talk to him about the sweat shop like factories that they were working in, making just pennies a day (about $131^1 (American - USD) a month: a quick look up of the purchasing power parity^2 shows that in China this is about equivalent to a monthly income of $483^3).

One stand out story was about a man who had lost a hand in the factory line while making iPads. Daisey showed the man his iPad and the man, using his injured arm to swipe the screen, called it magic. According to Daisey, all completed iPads are shipping out of Shenzhen.

Daisey told a story of line workers forced to stand for hours on end; unable to speak, unable to move, just doing the same repetitive action over and over again with only one “break” in sight: “accidentally” dropping a item. The relief a line worker would have during the new movement was well worth the verbal assault they would receive from their superiors for slowing down production. The financial group Bloomsberg report similar findings “About 80 percent of the front-line production employees work standing up, some for 12 hours a day for six days a week… ‘We get yelled at all the time. It’s very tough around here’[ –Ah Wei, factory worker] ” (Wong^4).

Ironically, this reminded me of Walt Disney! During production of Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia Walt Disney ran the Ink and Paint department very similarly. The women, underpaid compared to their male counterparts, were working in silence, standing around doing their job:

We tried to keep from talking,” says Yuba—since speed and accuracy were closely monitored. (Ruthie confessed she would sometimes drop her board on the floor “just so it would make noise.”) (Kohn^5)

Of course, this was a different time, and a different situation, but I couldn’t help draw the parallel between Disney and Foxconn’s practices. However, they span over 80 years and are oceans away. During the 20’s and 30’s in America, women were still fighting to get jobs and were treated like second-class workers. In modern Shenzhen, all workers are looked at as second-class and are easily replaceable with the hundreds of other people waiting in line to get a job. This however, hasn’t stopped 11 people from jumping off the roof of their dormitories.

Long days and little pay. I recently spent 12 hours at camp (I arrived at 7:30 to enjoy a leisure hour of prepping and catching up on my internet sites. I talked with a friend until about 9:00 when I began teaching; I took a bathroom break sometime between classes; taught two more classes; ate lunch with friends. Then I performed in a talent show; taught a couple more classes; had an hour to relax before my shows began; had one show; squeezed in a dinner; had two more shows; watched the dance concert and finally went home). That was my twelve-hour day. A twelve-hour day for a worker at Foxconn: arrive at 9, work two hours; 10 minute break (no talking); work two hours; 10 minute break; etc. Can I truly complain about my twelve-hour day when I had a plethora of down time and more interaction between peers and students than I could count?

For most of Daisey’s performance I kept questioning: “What can I do?” Would ditching my iphone make a stance? But what product would I use instead? If it’s not made by Foxconn, it’s most likely made by another factory in Shenzhen or in another factory with horrible human rights practices.

Three hours later, I couldn’t believe it was over! Daisey took me and the rest of the audience on a journey that I don’t think I can ever return from. As I sit here and type this on my iBook, with my iPad and iPhone right next to me, I can’t help but wonder what the costs of these devices truly is. I think I would happily pay more, knowing that every person along the way was treated like a human!

Please go check out this show when it returns to Woolly Mammoth from March 21 through April 10, 2011. Tickets can be purchased here. Also check out Daisey’s blog. As his monologue changes from performance to performance (for it is just spoken from an outline), I can’t wait to go back during the regular run to see what it has turned into!

^1 Pay rate found at 9 to 5 Mac
^2 Purchasing Power Parity is the idea that although an exchange rate between money is how much the money is worth in gold, it does not take into account the price of goods and services. So if $1.00 USD can buy you a loaf of bread, and 3.69 Yuan buys you that same loaf of bread, then the PPP between USD and Yuan is 3.69 (despite the fact that 1 USD would buy you 7 Yuan^2a)
^2a Conversion rate: Coinmill
^3 Purchasing power parity was figured by taking the monthly income ($131) and mutilplying that by the PPP of the yuan 3.69 per USD. Wiki Answers: What is the PPP in China?
^4 Wong, Stephanie; Lie, John; and Culpan, Tim; Bloomberg: IPhone Workers Say `Meaningless' Life Sparks Suicides; June 2, 2010
^5 Kohn, Patricia; Vanity Fair: Coloring the Kingdom; March 2010

Walt Disney Animation Studios Part 32: The Lion King

Series Intro: This is Part 32 of a multi-part retrospective of Walt Disney Animation Studios' endeavors.

Official Title: The Lion King
Release: June 15, 1994 (A Summer release)
Running Time: 89 minutes
Estimated Cost: $45 million
Estimated Revenue: $783.84 million
Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Plot Summary
The birth of a male heir, Simba, to the lion kingdom of The Pride Land, brings all animal subjects to celebrate King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi’s joyous occasion. Time jumps a bit as Simba is a young cub. He travels around Pride Land with Mufasa training him in the ways of being king; and forbidding him from entering a shadowy valley.

Simba, and his betrothed Nala, ditch their babysitter (hornbill Zazu) after Simba’s uncle – Scar – tells Simba that the valley is home to an elephant graveyard. While there, Scar has his hyena henchmen attack Simba (for Scar wants to be the heir to the throne), but Simba, Nala and Zazu are saved when Mufasa enters.

Not discouraged, Scar tries again to kill Simba and Mufasa, by starting a wildebeest stampede, which doesn’t do it’s job, so Scar gets his paws dirty by throwing Mufasa into the stampede. Scar encourages Simba to run away so he doesn’t get blamed for the death of the king.

Simba meets up with Pumbaa (a wart hog) and Timon (a meercat) and after they perk Simba up with their Hakuna Matata (no worries) life philosophy time jumps again and Simba is now a young adult. Nala, also grown, finds Simba and between her and Rafiki (the monkey who oversaw Simba’s birth) Simba is convinced to return to the Pride Land and dethrone Scar and his band of hyenas.

Simba and Scar battle, and Scar is tossed off of Pride Rock into a pit of angry hyenas. Time jumps again and Rafiki is once again on the top of Pride Rock, this time overseeing the birth of Simba and Nala’s son, the next heir to the throne.


Circle of Life
I Just Can't Wait to Be King
Be Prepared
Hakuna Matata
Can You Feel the Love Tonight

I can’t believe how wonderful the music is again. At this point, WDAS has had four great musicals; and puts us half way through the Renaissance.

Plot Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Calling on almost all of the previous Renaissance directors was a good call to rewrite the ending of this movie. The plot of this animated classic (although highly influenced by Hamlet and controversially influenced by the anime Kimba The White Lion) was WDAS’ first completely original story.

Animation Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’m kind of getting upset with WDAS with their reliance on CG effects. I understand that it is much more cost effective, but it seemed almost a bit lazy in this movie. While the wildebeest scene was great for its use of many different animals on many different travel paths, the hyenas in “Be Prepared” are barely more than CG skeletons walking in a nondescript CG environment. However, WDAS’ traditional animation continues to make great leaps and bounds!

The Test of Time:

To this day, Lion King remains the highest grossing traditionally animated movie! Lion King is in the top ten longest running shows on Broadway; has a long running acrobatic show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in WDW; has a movie attraction at The Land Pavilion in Epcot; spun off two direct to video sequels; had a television series based on Pumbaa and Timon (who are WDW’s unofficial spokes-animals for public safety).

I saw this movie in theatres!

Through the Modern Lens

There was not a Princess in sight (although Nala becomes the queen, she was never a princess)! As WDAS continues to struggle with modern audiences accepting their movies and trying to branch away from the princess theme (thanks to the marketing department over saturation of the line) they needn’t look to re-titling their works and shelving fine movies, but look backwards, what made Lion King the best animated movie of all time? It wasn’t based on anything! It was new(ish).

Off my soap box now.

Watching this video (yes the last one I needed to watch on VHS), I was surprised how violent it was. Not to say I disapprove of the violence that is portrayed, but the on screen death of Mafasa would never be created by WDAS today. Koodos to WDAS for pushing the boundaries of what a “cartoon” means.

Next Up:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Walt Disney Animation Studios Part 31: Aladdin

Series Intro: This is Part 31 of a multi-part retrospective of Walt Disney Animation Studios' endeavors.

Official Title: Aladdin
Release: November 25, 1992
Running Time: 90 minutes
Estimated Cost: $28 million
Estimated Revenue: $504.05million
Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Plot Summary: Expanded
A traveling salesman travels on camel back and once he notices the audience, he breaks the fourth wall and tries to sell us various broken products, until finally he comes across a lamp, and begins to tell us the story of Aladdin and his lamp.

Jafar, vizier to the Sultan of the fictional city of Agrabah, and his parrot Iago have taken a street man out into the desert and convinces the street man to go into the Magical Cave of Wonders; trying to retrieve the magic lamp. The cave devours the man and says only a “diamond in the rough” will be able to successfully open the cave and retrieve the lamp.

The next morning, street rat, Aladdin, is stealing bread (with his adorable monkey companion Abu). The palace guards chase them both to the catchy tune of “One Jump Ahead.” Just as Aladdin and Abu are safe from the guards, Aladdin sees children scrounging for food; he gives them some of his bread, as does Abu, however reluctantly.

Jasmine, daughter of the Sultan, is sick of meeting princes, as she is to marry a prince according to the law. So she decides to run away from the palace. In the city market she meets Aladdin (after running into some trouble with a merchant). Al and her escape only to find themselves under arrest from the guards accompanied by Jaraf (who had cast a spell to reveal that Aladdin would be able to enter the Cave of Wonders). Jaraf arrests Aladdin under the pretenses of kidnapping the Princess.

While under lock and key, Aladdin is hook winked by Jaraf in the disguise of an old man into escaping the prison and entering the Cave of Wonders. The Cave allows Aladdin to enter and to only touch the lamp. But greedy Abu touches some of the treasures and the whole place turns into magma. Luckily, they had befriended a magic carpet who takes them to the mouth of the cave, where Jaraf – in disguise – takes the lamp and throws Aladin back into the disintegrating cave.

Abu reveals that he stole the lamp back from Jaraf, and after rubbing the lamp (to see what’s written on it), Aladdin meets the Genie, whom gets tricked into taking Aladdin, Abu and Carpet out of the collapsed cave.

Once safe, Al tells Genie of his wish to be a prince so he could marry Jasmine, and his wish is granted. And he reenters Agrabah in style to the song of and under the misnomer of “Prince Ali.”

Just before Ali enters the royal palace, Jaraf has convinced the Sultan that the law said if a suitable husband cannot be found for the princess, she is to marry the Grand Vizier! Jaraf uses magic to hypnotize the Sultan.

Jasmine is unimpressed with Ali, and only once she realizes that he is Aladdin from the street (though he says that was his disguise and Ali is the real one) does she trust him and they go on the infamous carpet ride.

Jaraf attempts to kill Ali, but luckily Genie saves Al from drowning. Then Jaraf steals the lamp, reveals Aladdin as the true identity; and enslaves Genie, Jasmine and the Sultan by using his wishes.

Aladdin, Abu and Carpet find there way back from where cold place Jaraf has sent them, and he tricks Jaraf into wishing he had genie powers, but is then tethered to his own lamp (with Iago) and flung into the Cave of Wonders (by Genie).

Aladdin, still left with one wish, does not wish to be a prince again (to marry Jasmine) but wishes to set Genie free (as promised). The Sultan changes the law so Jasmine can marry whomever she wants. And everyone lives happily ever after.


• Arabian Nights
• One Jump Ahead
• Friend Like Me
• Prince Ali
• A Whole New World
• Prince Ali (Reprise)

Almost every song from this movie is a Disney classic!

Plot Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

OMG! As a child, I loved this movie more than Mermaid! It is not a Princess movie at all, and truly had the action/adventure to lure in the boys, while still keeping the girls interested with cute animals and musical romance. It was a truly endearing story.

Animation Rating: 4 out of 5

Colors were bright. Lines were clean. The biggest issue with the animation of this film was it’s reliance on CGI. I remember watching this as a child and thinking that the Cave of Wonders seemed really weird, and now I’ve come to learn that it was CG. I guess I just wonder why? Wouldn’t the scene at the front of the talking tiger head cave been just as powerful if it was hand drawn.

The Test of Time:

Aladdin spawned two straight to video sequels and even a TV series! It won several awards including an Oscar for best score.

Aladdin has an attraction (Dumbo-like flying carpets) in The Magic Kingdom in Florida and a long running stage show in California. Jasmine is part of the Disney Princess marketing.

I saw this movie in theatres.
Through the Modern Lens

Just like Belle before her, Jasmine is a more progressive female. She doesn’t want to just marry, she wants to experience life first. However, her plans change once she meets the man of her dreams and he is head over heals in love with Aladdin! I wish she had been more skeptical of him or that he hadn’t lied to her!

At the time, many Arabian people were offended about the style of animation for the heroes (who look Anglo with tans) verse the villain (having a much more Arab look). I can understand that completely and had to side with them! (In fact when I met Al and Jasmine in WDW, they looked like white actors!)

Next Up:
Lion King