Cargo Cult of Mac

The long queues of people waiting to buy an iPad is reminds one of the Pacific Island cargo cults. These are the last people on Earth to whom money is just bits of paper. What they value above all is Western cargo. Both the cargo cults and the Cult of Mac believe in the divine nature of manufactured goods. Each cult believes that goods have been created by their god especially for them. It doesn’t matter if the object is a crate of corned beef dropped by the U.N or an iPhone ordered online, these things represent both the salvation and trappings of the first world. 

There is a John Frum Movement in one of these islands ,which some suspect was named after a man called John from America. They worship American objects. The Islanders build coconut radios, which become totems of power in their village. 

The Prince Phillip Movement of Tanna is a cargo cult that genuinely believes Queen Elizabeth II’s husband is a mountain spirit will one day bestow upon their village a cargo of miraculous goods from the sky. Like Steve, Phillip does nothing to shatter their delusion. 

Cargo cultists are ignorant of modern factories. They are no different than Apple customers who don't know (or don't want to know) that many Chinese factory workers who build those lovely iPhone screens suffer permanent nerve damage from n-hexane poisoning.[1] Cargo cultists are skeptical when someone tries to explain modern business practices behind the scenes. They maintain that cargo is a miracle and mark themselves with the magical logos of civilized nations in homage to their god. This is not very different to the popular practice of Apple tattoo and the occasional scarification (left pic). The islanders build mock airstrips in case their god returns in their flying machine with more shiny objects. A similar ritual is the queue of MacHeads camping outside Apple stores. 

Mike Daisey was a member of the Cult of Mac until he found out how his iPhone was manufactured and his illusions were shattered. He took his story on the road as successful monologue in the tradition of Spalding Gray. The cherubic monologist reminds one of a lost little boy grown angry that Santa Claus turned out to be a myth. New York Times calls him as “one of the hardest-working and most accomplished storytellers in the solo form”.[2] Washington Post describes his show as, “a blisteringly funny, icily penetrating account of the extraordinary influence and not-so-benign impact the man and his company have had on the world”.[3]  Exploring “The Last Cargo Cult” comprises the first half of Mike’s act, followed by the "Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." Mike claims Steve as “not a micro-manager, he’s a nano-manager.” He researched these two stories by traveling to the Pacific Islands and the factories of China. In Shenzhen, he posed as a businessman to gain access to the workers. Both halves of his act dovetail into a whole that says something darkly humorous about our consumer culture.

Mike explained why Apple fell from his favor during an interview with Andrew Keen of TechCrunch.[4]

“Are you excited about the appearance of the new white iPhone 4?”

“No,” Mike chuckles from deep inside his generous girth as Andrew maintains his deadly earnest demeanor. ”Having spent time in Shenzhen, in factories, watching the circumstances under which the devices are made there’s something, sort of the height of hubris to think that (chuckles again) the significance of Apple being able to make an iPhone that is now white, but otherwise exactly identical to the old iPhone. …I own an iPhone and when I use it, I am reminded of the children who put the device together. …I spoke to many workers who were fourteen years-old, thirteen years-old, and twelve years-old. I heard stories to last a lifetime …the devices are lovely and they have a very real cost.”

Andrew: “Does it have to be that way?”

“No. The standard belief that we’re all inculcated with is that if we don’t use cheap, cheap labor in China, our devices would be so hideously expensive. …China should be acknowledged is a fascist country run by thugs. The special economic zone that was carved out in the south, where corporations were invited to participate, those corporations, which were OUR corporations wrote their own rules for how labor would work there. …Many of the changes that could happen have nothing to do with money …while I was there at Foxconn, a worker died after working a 32-hour shift. …the entire system in Shenzhen that makes our devices is deeply inhumane. It is designed for using up the workers for everything they have and throwing them away. …I spoke to many people who have mauled hands, mauled in machinery making not just Apple devices, but Nokia, Lenovo, everyone makes their technology the same way”

The final note is very good point. Why does Steve cop all the bad press when his competitors use similar factories? Perhaps it’s for the same reason that we decried the Nike sweatshops rather than Dunlop sweatshops – both probably exist side-by-side in the same third-world town. However, unlike Nokia and Dunlop, Apple and Nike tack on a hefty desire mark-up into their price tag. Therefore, these desirous products represent two ancient sins that continue to grate on our conscience even in our modern consumer culture – greed and vanity. Our Christian guilt shifts into overdrive.

At the end of the show Mike gives out Steve’s email address to the audience. During an Washington Post interview he said, “The only reason to speak the truth is to try and change the world." Steve believes in the same creed, for very different reasons. Mike quotes Steve’s only reaction to his show, “I don’t think he appreciates the complexity of the situation.”Washington Post poses the question, “What if, for example, people were to stop upgrading their stuff for a while?”[5]

Mike alludes to Steve’s need to drive our desires: “If you control the metaphor through which people see the world in technology today, you control the world itself”.

[1] Barboza, D. (2011, February 22) Workers Sickened At Apple Supplier In China. New York Times.

[2] Zinoman, J. (2007, January 21) The Need to Think Onstage Is Driving Mr. Daisey. New York Times.

[3] Marks, P. (2011, March 30) The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Washington Post.

[5] Horwitz, J. (2011, March 23) Mike Daisey discovers the worm in Apple. Washington Post.

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