You Can Always Shoot the Bastards

Memories of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs.

When WS Rep approached me with the opportunity to do another one-man show, I didn’t stop to think. I just said yes. I’d enjoyed our run together with The Santaland Diaries in 2011, and I always look forward to working with the talented staff at the Raue Center.

Then I started my research, and the importance of what I’d agreed to became much clearer.

Let’s be up front: I’m not a big fan of big business, and I’m sure Richard Kuranda knew that when he tapped me. But I’ve also enjoyed a decent career in the tech industry, and I was making rehearsal arrangements on my iPhone. One of my two iPhones. When I wasn’t answering Richard’s emails on my iPad.

Just like Mike Daisey, I had never stopped to wonder where those phones came from.

Daisey’s monologue captivated me. I wanted to know more. I wanted to see more. I subscribed to dozens of RSS feeds – think of instantaneous magazine article delivery – about Apple, Apple rumors, and business news from Apple. I sifted through articles from NPR, The Weekly Standard, Forbes and Alternet. I tried very hard to give equal time to both pro-business conservative and pro-worker’s rights leftist commentary.

Because director Pat Henderson made very sure I understood that this show wasn’t about bashing big business or capitalism. It wasn’t about trying to bring down The Man. It was, instead, an attempt to make people think about how their habits impacted the world around them. How their choices impacted people around the world.


photo: Robin Pendergrast

That’s much more exciting than just fighting power. Making people think?

That’s how you can change the world.

It wasn’t without its pitfalls. Several of my friends who work in journalism and education took issue with my accepting the show. Like many, they felt that Daisey’s initial willingness to stretch a point to sell a story made him an unreliable narrator at best, a glory-seeking showman at worst; and some tarred me with the same label.

We accepted the controversy. We embraced it in interviews and advertising. And like any other tech-minded geek who wants to know how things work, I watched closely for any sign that things were improving or devolving in the state of Apple’s factories around the world. I have to say I didn’t find much evidence of change.

But then, we hadn’t started our run yet.

I loved the show with all my heart. I loved working with Richard, with Pat, with stage manager Caitlin Quinn and lighting designer Carolyn Voss. Their artistry made sure our real message could come across as more than dry research and less than a bloody screed.

And it felt good to deliver the message. I saw nods every night, heard gasps, caught the eyes of people who suddenly understood the real cost of our consumer-driven lifestyle.

Yet in December of 2014, three months after we closed, the BBC program Panorama showed that factory workers in China were still pulling 12-hour shifts 18 days in row. They showed Indonesian mines which employ child labor in hazardous conditions remain a part of Apple’s supply chain – a fact which current CEO Jeff Cook actually confirms in a letter to all Apple employees. (See “Tim Cook Speaks Out About Horrifying Documentary Showing Apple’s Working Conditions in China”, Business Insider, Dec. 19, 2014)

So in the end … what did it amount to? A great experience for me. A well-received performance for the audience.

But really, the world didn’t change.

The iPhone 6 is still manufactured in China, and it has shattered all previous sales records. Apple’s stock was at $101.66 on opening night, it’s at $130.59 today.

I guess you do have to be crazy to think you can change the world. Or at least, to change it for the better. And I grew up a bit through this performance.

Just as Daisey grew up when his contradictions were exposed, just as Jobs grew up when he gave us this quote:

When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can always shoot the bastards!”

Everyone’s in business to give people exactly what they want. What a depressing thought, indeed.

IvaIvan Ewertn wears a number of creative hats professionally, including writing and acting. He just wrapped the WSRep performance of A Streetcar Named Desire in the role of Mitch, and is currently working on his third novel for Apocalypse Ink Productions. In terms of trying to change the world, Ivan also appeared as himself alongside his family in the award-winning documentary The Suicide Tourist.