Stephen Fry, the British actor and vocal Apple admirer, defended the company on Twitter against accounts of brutal working conditions in its contract factories. This did not sit well, at all, with Mike Daisey, creator of a critically-acclaimed one-man show about those very factories, and, now, of a blog post in which he says Fry "is being a total idiot" and calls him a "fanboy," "apologist" and "pathetic."
Daisey's monologue "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" is excellent, informative and disturbing. You can listen to long portions of it on a recent This American Life, read the New York Times review or skim the other notices.
Less than 25% of Foxconn make Apple products, the rest is Dell, HP &c. But the real point is this
The gist is that, according to stats culled from news articles and issued by Apple's factory operator Foxxconn, not that many people are getting maimed, killed or driven to suicide in the Chinese facilites. Also, everyone else is doing it, and as for awful working conditions and child labor, "that's what being poor means, having to work extremely hard to make very little."
Daisey was not amused, issuing a call "to stop Stephen Fry, who is otherwise wonderful, from being an idiot:"
Yes, Foxconn makes things for many different companies. Yes, conditions are terrible across the entire Special Economic Zone. But it is bizarre tech fannishness in the extreme to somehow think that because others are implicated in a crime that this somehow absolves Apple. It's like a child being caught with their hand in a cookie jar pointing at other children and saying, "They did it too!"
...What's disgusting here is the underbelly. The clear implication is that because these are "poor people living in a poor country" they don't deserve safe working conditions, or working hours that don't result in people dying on the production line, or factories that don't have explosions that could be prevented. Because they are Chinese they deserve less working protection that we would afford Americans. It's a nasty streak of thinly-veiled racism that underlies a lot of the neoliberal arguments
He goes on. Do read the whole thing. Hopefully Fry will, too: While there's some name calling and obvious anger here, it's rare and refreshing to see two people with real show business stature go head to head over global labor issues. Only once they stop fighting over lovers, parts and publicity can actors truly lead a war to recapture the means of productions. I believe it was Marx who said that.
[Image of Fry at an Apple store event via Vivan Jayant/Flickr]