Foxconn Riots: “Tell-Lie-Vision distorts your vision”

September 25th, 2012 by | Tags: ,

Unconfirmed photographs and video circulated on social networking sites, purporting to be from the factory, showed smashed windows, riot police officers and large groups of workers milling around. The Foxconn plant, in the Chinese city of Taiyuan, employs about 79,000 workers.

The Chinese state-run news media said 5,000 police officers had been called in to quell the riot.

A Foxconn spokesman declined to specify whether the Taiyuan plant made products for the Apple iPhone 5, which went on sale last week, but he said it supplied goods to many consumer electronics brands.

An employee at the Taiyuan plant, however, said iPhone components were made there. Most Apple-related production, though, takes place in other parts of China, particularly in the provinces of Sichuan and Henan. Apple could not be reached for comment.

Foxconn Plant Closed After Riot, Company Says, 9/24/2012

I feel strange about how every article about Foxconn focuses on the Apple connection. “Were iPhones built there? Is the iPad worth the cost of being poisoned or maimed? Does Apple know how abhorrent the conditions are at Foxconn plants? No blood for MP3s!”

Questions like that are good, necessary even, but by focusing so strongly on the Apple connection is a mistake, particularly when you consider how comparatively little attention is given to the other companies who employ Foxconn to manufacture their products. That focus seems like it makes the problem easier to minimize and dismiss, in addition to demonizing Apple. The impression is that Apple is the biggest offender here, and those other guys are small time in comparison.

Here’s a list of Foxconn clients I pulled off Wikipedia: Acer Inc., Amazon.com, Apple Inc., Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Nintendo, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio

They’re ALL compromised and we’re all compromised by extension. Not just Apple. A significant number of personal electronics are made at Foxconn. That Kindle you bought your mom, your old Nokia flip, that blu-ray player you watch your HD porno on… the poison has deep roots. I’m writing this post on a MacBook. I just went for a run using an iPod Nano. I was watching youtubes earlier on my Sony Google TV box-thing. I was reading comics on my iPad last night.

I benefit from the exploitation of others, we all do. And I think this style of journalism actually hurts awareness of that. The laser-tight focus on Apple means that people who don’t use Apple products, or who only have one or two, might not realize that the rest of their technology is compromised, too. PlayStation 2s used to use coltan, and there was a long-lasting violent conflict over the rights to mine and control that metal in the Congo. While I was traipsing around a virtual world, somebody my age on the other side of the world was working his fingers to the bone.

But Apple, as a company and a concept, moves units and generates controversy. They’re extremely popular; people are more likely to click through if they see Apple’s name. They attract virulent haters and strident defenders who battle it out every single time.

This type of thing shows that even factual reporting is a game, whether it’s the news gleefully playing along and encouraging the Obama birth certificate controversy or… do you remember the shooting at the Empire State Building a few weeks back? It was immediately termed a mass shooting and the think pieces started rolling out about gun control and how we’re messed up as a country. Turns out, the mass shooting was actually one guy shooting one other guy and then being killed by the police, who also managed to shoot nine bystanders in the process. It’s not the mass shooting that anyway said it was.

Meanwhile, nineteen people were shot in Chicago that weekend, a number that they match week after week after week. But that’s not marketable enough to go above the fold. It’s sad. Complex did a horrifying memorial for the teenagers who’ve died in Chicago this summer. “Between the first of June and the 31st of August, 152 people were killed. Of those, 38 were teenagers.” Scary, right?

It’s all a game. News organizations have to make money just like anyone else, and will do things that encourage that. I include myself in that number, too, though I don’t make money off this site at all. (It’s the opposite.) I prioritize subjects according to my own interests and desires, which creates a bias. It is what it is. Just be aware of that and seek the truth, instead of being given just part of the truth, I guess.

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9 comments to “Foxconn Riots: “Tell-Lie-Vision distorts your vision””

  1. David,

    Interesting article, always fascinated by the things you do choose to focus on. Just wanted to point out, not only do the news organizations play the game and decide what to prioritize and cover, thus shaping public perception/opinion, but sometimes the companies involved do it themselves. I actually used to work at Cisco (one of the companies you rattled off that uses Foxconn as a contract manufacturer) and you’d be surprised (or not) what lengths corporations like that go through to suppress their connection to incidents like these in order to avoid the bad PR and “guilt by association” angle. I mean, there are teams of marketing and PR people trying to keep the name of their company out of news like this, often times making deals and dangling other carrots, things like exclusive interviews with corporate executives, in exchange for the blackout. Cisco never really became a household name and doesn’t have the media frenzy surrounding its products like Apple does, but you’d think Apple PR would be more aggressive in spinning stuff like this. Anyway, not excusing the behavior, just another factor to consider that plays into the whole media game.


  2. This is why I read your writing. It’s that you bring this same kind of quality to your pop culture writing as you do this kind of stuff, your disappointment in the lack of journalistic integrity, all of it.

    Don’t ever stop.

  3. Wasn’t that riot do to ethnic violence or somthing? One group from one chinese province didn’t like another group from another chinese province?

    I don’t agree with any of the bad PR those companies might be getting from doing business with Foxconn

  4. Spot on about how the media coverage distorted the NYC shooting – most people I talk to about it still think the guy went in there indiscriminately firing at former coworkers. Mark Ames sometimes crosses the line from piercing to provocative, but if you get a chance, check out his book Going Postal on workplace and school shootings, which spends a lot of time on how the media take complex situations and remove them from context to fit a preexisting narrative of “just another crazy”.

    The comparisons to other forms of rebellion are a bit of a stretch in some places, but Ames does some amazing fact-gathering showing that even in many workplace shootings with “indiscriminate” killing, the “rampage” begins as part of the shooter’s reaction when a specific original target, usually a firing boss or workplace bully, can’t be located. Ames also argues that a surge in workplace shootings in America followed the Reagan-era dismantling of workers’ protections and rights in the workplace.

  5. @Dylan:

    Whether or not you agree with the bad P.R., you’re spinning old Chinese govenment P.R. by presenting this as an ‘ethnic’ conflict. Those reports came from the New China News Agency, a state propaganda organ – and in fact the latest reports from another Chinese state-run news agency, the China News Service, corrected those claims and described the battle as between Foxconn workers and guards from start to finish.

    According to real news sources, the fight began when Foxconn security guards beat up workers brought in from Shandong province to work on a large production job for Foxconn. The only aspect of it that was remotely ‘ethnic’ was that the first group of workers to fight back against Foxconn security were other workers from Shandong who were already working at the plant.

  6. @Don Druid: why do you keep putting ethnic in parathesis? But ok I looked it up and stand corrected. I was just going off what I read on MSN.com the other day.

  7. @Dylan:

    Thanks for the response – I genuinely appreciate it.

    By way of explanation, I put scare quotes around “ethnic” because I believe the term “ethnic conflict” is overused, especially since the end of the Cold War and Western involvement in Yugoslavia, and more importantly, it obscures rather than provides an explanation when groups of people fight, even if each side’s supposed members are mainly from a different ethnic group. There is no scientific principle that says that if you put two groups of different ethnicity into one room that they will fight – not even those who advance theories of human behavior toward people based on visual or other unconscious cues would view “ethnicity” as a sufficient cause for “conflict” in that sense.

    Clearly, even people with negative ideas about perceived members of other ethnic groups do not necessarily resort to fists or guns. Far more often, there are material causes for violent or other conflict that may get papered over with terms like that, which allow the speaker or writer to present the current conflict as somehow conforming to a law of history. That, in turn, allows them to distract from the cause if it is inconvenient for them to face it. In this case, the Chinese government seems to have tried a similar tactic before backpedaling.

    I’m not saying you were going there intentionally – I’m saying it was the source’s issue, not yours – but I always treat that term with a lot of skepticism. Nothing personal.

  8. My fave Mark Ames article is the one where he boasts, in his 30s no less, of fucking a 15-year-old (search for the word “pervometer”):


    My fave article about Mark Ames is the one written by a former associate of his who accuses him of being a rapist:


  9. Hey I saw this same smear against Ames on Breitbart. Cedrick, are you Breitbart’s ghost?