The doggiest notion
The national obsession with Internet riches caught hold of Mike Daisey, who has now turned his misadventures at Amazon.com into a sharp-witted autopsy of the tech boom called "21 Dog Years."
By JOSHUA TANZER
(Originally reviewed at the New York Fringe Festival in August 2001.)
Now that the Internet bubble has burst, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos isn't being called the man of the year anymore, as he was just two years ago on the cover of Time. So maybe we need a new cover boy for post-crash America, and Mike Daisey is just the guy.
Daisey wasn't being hailed as a hero of the tech boom, because he was making his contribution as a customer-service representative answering the phone and apologizing to irate Amazon customers. Not the number-one glamour job in the heady late-'90s economy, perhaps, but the perfect experience from which to stand over the carcass of the Internet craze and poke through its entrails, picking out lessons that can be turned into a satirical tour de force called "21 Dog Years."|
To get an idea of what "21 Dog Years" is like, think Spalding Gray with a PowerBook. Daisey doesn't have Gray's new-age loopy quality, but he does have a degree in aesthetics from a small liberal-arts college, which makes him smart, introspective and unemployable perfect qualities for a monologist. Oh, and theatrical training in England, perfect for converting your dark, cubicle-confined broodings into a skilled stage performance.
Daisey tells how he fell into the Amazon job as a temp. The company, being cutting-edge and all, had specifically asked the agency to send over all its freaks. "We knew this because the temp agency disclosed the criteria during the interview. 'Mr. Daisey, you look like a freak we're sending you to Amazon!' "
He proceeds with an exhilarating ride through life on Internet time two totally separate lives, really, because after serving as a netslave in customer service he finagled his way into the promised land of bizdev. Customer service is a dark, subterranean hole filled with gerbil-like liberal-arts grads who are regularly reprimanded if their computer-monitored performance shows they aren't spinning their treadmills fast enough. Business development is a shimmering promised land in which beautiful, clear-skinned professionals with ill-defined duties talk about snowboarding and monitor their stock options to see whether they're zillionaires yet.
|"21 Dog Years" is so funny, fast-paced and well-crafted that it could easily zip by without your realizing that its underlying message is dark, serious and even subversive.|| |
"21 Dog Years" is so funny, fast-paced and well-crafted that it could easily zip by without your realizing that its underlying message is dark, serious and even subversive.
It's really a story about how America was seduced into a vision of a future in which technology makes everyone happy and the stock market makes everyone rich. But even before those pretty dreams came crashing down along with the Nasdaq last year, the unreality was already there for all who would see. The Internet golden age never abolished the pattern in which a few at the top get rich, a lot in the middle cling to the ephemeral promise of getting rich, and all the work is being done by gerbil-people at the bottom, being chewed out for not running fast enough. It's built on it.
So "21 Dog Years" is a story about the loss of innocence, maybe the loss of the soul. Amazon lost whatever soul it had when it stopped being about something real, like books, and started being an all-knowing selling machine. As one of the characters in the show mouths: "It's more than just a store it's a preference engine!"
Daisey fears that he lost his soul when he was blinded by talk of stock options and strike prices and started to believe the myth of uncountable riches for all as soon as the options mature. He wonders if he, too, stopped being about something real. Fortunately, "21 Dog Years" is evidence to the contrary and is as great a play as you'll find at the Fringe Festival.
|AUGUST 11, 2001|
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