09.07.08 at The Gerding Theater
2008 Time-Based Art Festival, PICA
Photo by Kenneth Aaron
All Rights Reserved, PICA
Posted by Dusty Hoesly
Mike Daisey is incredibly funny and surprisingly touching, a synthesizing polymath who serpentines between history, science, business, and personal stories with wit and aplomb. Merging narratives about Microsoft, Wal-Mart, Edison and Tesla, Daisey incorporates his own family and work history into a personalized account of 20th century innovation. A sweaty, hysterical man, he has an ear for the telling detail, the complicating counterpoint, and the voice of the common shopper.

He begins, sitting behind Spalding Gray’s desk, by poking fun at Portland: the condos in the Pearl, the gentrification (the audience, many of whom live in gentrified neighborhoods , cheer his criticism of the very places they live). He talks about growing up in Maine, child geniuses, and games as tiny systems of desire while their completion is a death experience. He tells an uproarious story about living in Seattle and winning an acting gig in a Microsoft industrial video as the “Fat Geek”; one line sustains applause: Who is “so fucking retarded to move to the Pacific Northwest to break into acting?!”
He relates how Charles Darrow stole the idea of the Monopoly game from an old Quaker woman and became a millionaire, then how Parker Bros. cheated the lady again by only paying her $500 once they discovered she already held the patent for the game (then called “The Landlord’s Game”). The greatest irony is that the game is meant to show kids how corrupting and unfair unstructured capitalism is. Edison takes Tesla to the cleaners similarly.
He tells us how Microsoft monopolizes document platforms: watch the warnings that pop up when you try to save a Word file as .rtf instead of .doc. People are afraid to change what they are used to, and it’s surprising what people will get used to. A famous internal Microsoft lecture reveals that they have added no legitimate new features to MS Word since version 5.1, some fifteen years ago. Welcome to Vista. Welcome to corporate America.
The most revealing scene for me is the story he tells about his sister shopping at Wal-Mart. The Main Street where Daisey’s family grew up is barren, replaced by a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town; Wal-Mart has replaced Main Street as the town square, where people gather and see each other and say hello. She exits the store as he pushes the cart, biting his tongue so he won’t criticize where she shops, and she looks up into the blue sky and says, “I just like coming here and getting everything I need in one place.” He delivers this line with such affection that it is hard to continue to censure a place that provides a real comfort to so many people. Let’s face it, he says, Main Street sucked before Wal-Mart came in and it still sucks. The Pearl was often empty and poorly-used industrial space before its reconstitution; Mississippi and Alberta Streets were crime-havens where few non-residents ventured before their gentrification. Do folks really want these districts to go back to the way they were?
Daisey leaves us with a new charge, with secret knowledge, with true stories to combat the lies and manipulations. We need to remember our history with eyes open, to see the corporate raiders and derelict neighborhoods of yesteryear, to hear the voices of the hardworking people and the savants that created the marvels of our technological society. We need to act up, get out, share, and expose the games. Early on, he asks, “What happens next?” after the game. By the end, it’s clear that the answer is up to us.
Posted by Dusty Hoesly