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This American Life Ira Glass Man-Fatuation Post: Mr. Daisy And The Apple Farm

Mike Daisy’s one man show, Steve Jobs: The Agony and the Ecstasy has been the subject of much chatter since it opened in NYC a few months ago and this week, in conjunction with Daisy’s show, This American Life did something unprecedented, highly original and compelling.

How often do you walk out of a great film, play or exhibit feeling captivated and yet teeming with questions, gripes and frustrations.  As the last of “End of the Year” lists of critics galore continue to sputter forth, two of the most talked about films of 2011 are ones that left viewers utterly split as to whether they were successful, and ambivalent as to what these films were trying to achieve. The Tree of Life and Martha Marcy May Marlene are both perfect examples of what was so effective about this week’s episode of This American Life. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film with an odd, abrupt and somewhat confusing ending, one that’s left many viewers with a certain ambivalence as to what they should feel, while The Tree of Life confused most viewers, and continued to do so more and more with each frame.  While these two films couldn’t have been more different, they both left viewers wishing for something more, even if just a good conversation to provide some kind of closure on the experience.  Was the end of Martha Marcy May Marlene the most compelling and wise of all choices or merely a lazy period on the end of a faulty sentence?  Was The Tree of Life and disjoined yet deliberate cinematic masterpiece or an under-realized shortcut that garnered a reaction in the spirit of The Emperors New Clothes? It was in that spirit that this week’s episode flourished, an examining of the lingering questions and loose ends of a compelling story.

After listening Ira adorably play with the Siri function on his iPhone, receiving nothing but ominous and cryptic answers from his electronic companion, Act I of this week’s episode begins with Mike Daisy performing a sizable chunk of Steve Jobs: The Agony and the Ecstasy.  On stage Daisy delivers his monologue in his Errol Morris-like voice with an intonation ala Christopher Walken telling the story of his visit to the Oz of electronics.  Ira points out before the act begins that Daisy accomplishes something quite impressive with his monologue by making us for the first time, really care about a pre-existing problem with which we are entirely familiar.  What’s the issue?  Well, the beautiful, sleek all knowing, all doing electronic object in your pocket, the one many of us commit to with religious-like intensity is made by factory workers under almost concentration camp-like conditions.  Yes, as it turns out Ridley Scott’s Orewellian Apple commercial from the 1980’s has come to fruition, only the face on the big screen is not that of some unnamed competitor, but of Steve Jobs himself.

But how can it be?  Half the reason for Apple’s cult-like following is a certain humanistic view toward doing business, right?  Or did we just add that part to their persona because it seemed appropriate?  And besides, what was the point of this act?  How are we supposed to feel now that this thing that we’ve all unanimously agreed is good for numerous reasons is seemingly bad?  Is the impetus for this entire one-man show and now radio broadcast to guilt a large chunk of the country, and split us regarding one thing most of us still agree upon?  For goodness sake even dumpster diving anarchists are willing to take a mulligan where Apple gadgets are concerned because they’re so helpful, fun and well, lovely.  Besides, are the alternatives any better?

That’s what was brilliant about this episode of This American Life, it offered a kind of salve to the raucous, unsatisfied voice in all of our heads.  It gave us perspective.  By speaking with journalists, labor specialists and watchdog groups and fact-checking the story and asking for relative viewpoints, the show gave us options of how to feel about this story, this problem.  While it would be a joy to hear Ira make sense of The Tree of Life, the choice to delve into the deepest levels of this story was a wise and almost valiant one.  The world as it is today can be understood through the story of Apple computers and that is why the death of Steve Jobs brought forth such an outpouring of emotion from the public.

In the end we learn pretty much what we already knew.  The problem presented in Daisy’s story is one endemic to that part of the world and exacerbated by this side of the world, it’s been around for a long time, and while Apple’s manufacturers are part of it, Apple itself has taken more and greater steps towards remedying it than their competitors.  Apple is good after all, just not as good as we would like to think, but that’s life.

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