Moon #6: “The Empress Holds Her Cards Close”
“It’s always been a war of mythologies and dreams. That’s how these things actually work.”
First, some housekeeping: now that I have reached Chapter Six of Mike Daisey’s All the Faces of the Moon, I feel the need to tag each of the posts with a SPOILER WARNING. Characters from previous episodes have started interacting with each other and significant revelations are being made. It occurs to me that some reading this might be listening in at a different speed than me – or perhaps you are reading these from the distant future. Anyway, part of the fun of Daisey’s extemporaneous epic, like any story, is in the twists and turns, so I’d like to help preserve them as best I can. I’m not out to give a play by play of each chapter, but at times I’ll will want to speak to specific revelations and how they affect the overall structure.
Case in point: part six’s revelation about The Grey Lady. In an earlier post, I commented about how Daisey spends a lot of his time “mythologizing” New York City. By this I meant that he uses vivid details about draperies or slightly pitched floors to give each location he describes a kind of effervescent life. Like me, Daisey moved to New York from a rural area and when you come to a place like this from a place like that, the wonder of the city never fully vanishes. Sure, the grimy reality of urban life eventually smudges the windows a bit and the gross gray piles of snow last for WEEKS, but after you’ve been here for a while you realize that even the grime can be a little magic. Probably the word I should have used to describe what Daisey was doing was “romanticizing.” He was romanticizing New York. But somehow that didn’t go far enough to me. So maybe my instincts were right or maybe I just rolled sevens with the Microsoft Word thesaurus, but it turns out that mythologizing New York is literally what Mike Daisey is doing here.
Daisey leads in with a discussion about the Apple Keynote Presentation that took place on the day of this performance, the one where Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the iPhone 5s and 5c. Daisey’s own history with Apple Company and its labor issues led to the creation of his monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which has been duly reported in many places. It was touching to hear Daisey lament the loss of Steve Jobs, the former CEO and founder of the company. On the subject of whether or not Jobs was a genius, Daisey says, “It’s not worth discussing, but he was irreplaceable. We won’t see his like again.” It’s interesting to me that Daisey invokes Hamlet’s dead father as he considers Steve Jobs, who is in a way the “father” to the monologue that will always be a major part of Daisey’s own legacy. In spite of everything, Daisey seems to be speaking from the heart when he admits to an enduring love for some fundamental part of the Apple company and its concern about the way people interact with machines.
In confronting the Grey Lady, Olivia from episode four finds herself interacting with a kind of machine in a very peculiar way. Daisey straight away tells us that the Grey Lady is in fact the human personification of the New York Times, which he says has been a “tough road to hoe” for the past few years. Daisey characterizes the Lady as an Upper East Side sophisticate, with cropped silver hair and a smart suit, who occasionally coughs up a glob of black ink into a handkerchief. The Grey Lady is ailing; her seat atop a throne of newsprint is crumbling away in the wake of the digital revolution. And for this reason, she needs Olivia’s help to deliver a message. Olivia sets out on this mission – during which the Grey Lady expressly forbids her from talking, eating, drinking or kissing – but as hot dog vendors, tourists, and cars begin to block her path, it becomes clear that the city itself is trying keep her from her destination. Oh, and twice in this installment, Olivia’s proximity causes a digital device’s view screen to crack.
Perhaps Olivia, who vividly dreams of working in a Chinese iPhone factory, represents something too? New media? Apple? Daisey himself? In last episode’s review, I wondered what mythology Daisey might be sampling from, but shame on me. Daisey is doing something far more interesting and at this point the story has gone to the zoo in the best possible way. My mind is spinning with in mysteries of who the other characters might be. Could the “Big Guy” be Donald Trump? Wall Street? Daisey has dreamed up a New York Pantheon, where even the very city itself is a kind of living creature.
And at the time of this performance he was fully dialed into the heartbeat of this creature. At one point in the telling of the story, the Grey Lady affectionately touches Olivia’s head. At that exact moment, the 6 Train rumbled audibly beneath Joe’s Pub. Daisey took hold of the moment and wove it into the tapestry of his story, saying that Olivia could feel the rumble of distant printing presses in the Grey Lady’s touch.
Talk about interacting with technology.