HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: Apologies for the massive delay between posts. A family emergency took me back and forth to Georgia twice last week. The final three should come out at a more regular clip.
Moon #16: “The Sun is a Blind and Burning Thing”
“Can you light it up?” “Yeah. Absolutely.”
We finally get the reveal I’ve been waiting for in Episode 26 of Mike Daisey’s 29-part monologue, All the Faces of the Moon. With only three episodes remaining, Daisey at last reveals the identity of the “big bad;” the uber-villain who has been orchestrating the magical chaos swirling around the story. Throughout, Daisey has created a minor cosmology of villains – a kind of food chain of evildoers – in his careful unspooling of this narrative.
At the bottom of Daisey’s villainous pyramid we find nuanced characters like George Soros (king of the vampire bankers) and The Grey Lady (the human embodiment of the New York Times). Think of them as the Virtuous Pagans in the outer circle of Dante’s Hell. Their under the table mystic dealings set a lot of the story’s terrible events in action, but as their forthright discussion at a Dionysian coronation/party/orgy next to the Gowanus Canal in this episode shows, for all practical purposes they are on the side of the angels now. One rung down from them you’ll find Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla – two turn of the twentieth century inventors whose intense rivalry and mad science shenanigans led to their imprisonment (by Daisey) in a pocket steampunk universe. We saw Edison get iced by the big bad in an impressive show of force in an earlier episode; Tesla is still on the loose in New York. Another circle down you find Phil, Daisey’s erstwhile magic teacher, who helped commission a series of paintings that are charged with negative energy and depict every terrible moment in New York’s history. He seems to have done so at the behest of, again, the heretofore unknown big bad.
Below Phil is the Gebbeth – a primal vicious force discovered in the shadows of consciousness by Carl Jung. As a result the creature typically takes the shape of whomever it is attacking, but now it has been contained – barely – by Saul, a golem who possesses no dual nature. Lying in a hotel room beneath a compact florescent light, the battered Saul has absorbed the Gebbeth into himself. Daisey remarks that he believes the compact fluorescent bulb to be the “death of the world. It’s so efficient,” he says, “because it’s barely light at all.” Yet there is light. Even with concentrated evil squirming and pulsing within his chest, there is hope for Saul, but it will not be easy. It’s a wonderfully simple sequence and one that probably wouldn’t work in any other medium. On the surface it just a guy laying around beaten up in a room, but Daisey renders it as a kind of holy transfiguration.
Beneath the Gebbeth, you’ll find the Small Man a.k.a Robert Moses. Moses was the “master builder” of New York throughout the 20th Century, using his subways and roads to bifurcate the city’s disparate classes as he saw fit. Daisey talks about him as the malevolent ghost in the machine of New York City’s bureaucracy, the true “mayor” of the city. Daisy, who along with his wife Jean-Michele is waiting for Livia to emerge from her initiation ritual, must soon Mexican wrestle Moses. And according to the clairvoyant paintings in Jack’s possession, Daisey will not survive the match. Yet The Small Man gets a bit of comeuppance in this episode – Jack, whose father was killed by Moses, has assumed the Dionysian mantle as the new “King.” When Jack selects his disciple Mary Jane to be his Queen by kissing her, “their love carves itself onto the face of New York City.” Cracks form in the roads, bridges, and subways – that is to say, in Moses’ legacy. All of this takes place beneath the light of the moon. “A light that reveals but also hides,” Daisey says. “A light filled with secrets and pleasures and terrors.”
Frozen in the ice underneath Moses (to continue the Dante metaphor) is where we find the true villain; the real terror of the story. At first glance he seems to be of a different sort than the others. All of the other villains in Daisey’s narrative are deeply rooted to the past, dangerous relics of a bygone era. A great metropolitan newspaper, capsizing as it struggles to maintain its circulation and integrity in the digital age. An old school financier, motivated by more than greed, who laments the “ease” of modern banking. Two inventors, whose brilliant creations informed the arc of a century; one celebrated by history and one all but forgotten. Moses, who literally “built” longstanding divisions of class into the city. Phil, whose defining moment in the 1960s was using magic to squeeze an accidental nuclear explosion and the subsequent devastation into a cigar box. Like the other villains, Phil represents a mess that was never properly cleaned up; a sliver of history left to fester that has since gone septic. None of these things were dealt with at the time, but Daisey, the magic “dilettante,” simply cannot ignore them. He must continue to face them down and try to make them right, even after the fact. Or as Daisey describes Saul’s fight to contain the Gebbeth in one of his more poetic passages: “It was everything that ever disappointed us about the 20th Century and he was holding it in his chest and he would not let it go.”
This is why Apple founder Steve Jobs really had to be the mastermind behind this thing.
The episode ends with the moment of illumination, when Daisey’s wife, Jean-Michele, shows him some of Livia’s dream and he recognizes the Apple factory and surrounding environs in Shenzhen, China. Daisey’s own history with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, This American Life, and Apple has of course been covered in spades at this point, but there are a few things that make this choice interesting. First is the at-a-glance irony; in a story where so many of the antagonists are tied to aging or antiquated institutions, Jobs and the forward-looking Apple initially seem to be odd ducks. But not really. While Apple products are seen as being on the bleeding edge of technology and innovation, the company’s primitive labor situation in China puts it squarely in line with the others. It’s another huge mess that has never quite been cleaned up.
The second interesting component is the Ahab effect. One of the things I like most about this monologue cycle is that it can also act as a “Mike Daisey Omnibus,” because it contains so many asides and allusions to his previous work. If you are looking for the complete Mike Daisey “experience,” I think you could do far worse than to lose yourself in these podcasts like I have. Throughout this story, Daisey has reprised salient points from monologues like How Theater Failed America and If You See Something, Say Something, and frequently reverted back to some tried and true topics (in this very episode, even) like the insanity and importance of living in New York City, and the wonder of audiences sitting in the dark and listening to stories. He’s put EVERYTHING into this thing in a lot of ways, so of course. Of course Steve Jobs would turn up as the master villain. This is the whale that wounded Daisey, the very one who led to his depressed and suicidal state at the start of this story. Now, with everything on the line, Daisey will get another well-deserved shot at that sonovabitch.
Near the beginning of this episode, Daisey talks about endings and tying up loose ends:
These are the end times. People always say that. People always feel like they’re at the end of the world. They have that feeling. But we truly are within this little bubble universe; this little universe we’ve woven together. You and I. We are approaching its end and all things will come to pass. Everything will be accounted for. Each and every thing will be given its due.
Listen to the podcast at mikedaisey.com