At the risk of being challenged to yet another fight by the 400-plus-pound hulking behemoth that is Mike Daisey, let’s talk about little lies, and why they matter when taking on big truths, even if you’re “just” a storyteller. In a better world, we’d not need to have this discussion, but we don’t live in a better world, and Mike Daisey has been outed as a liar and a fraud.
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.
Where’s Karl Pilkington’s alter ego, Bullshit Man, when you need him?
Let’s just get this out of the way: The dramatic license that everyone allowed Mike Daisey was to present an “extemporaneous monologue” that laid the blame for China’s labor issues squarely on Apple’s doorstep, despite the fact that those issues are, quite literally, an industry-wide problem.
It’s not fair, it’s not accurate, and it’s pretty misleading, but it’s well-within the purview of “theater not journalism” to simplify a story in order to make a larger point.
That’s not to say that doing so is without risk:
To this day, Apple is a company that people love to hate. Giving people (yet another) reason to hate Apple, to support boycotts when they were never going to buy Apple products anyway, is to miss the point. Hating Apple isn’t the same as supporting Chinese laborers, and my guess is that Daisey tapped into the former without spurring a lot of serious or lasting interest in the latter.
(How many new iPads did Apple sell last week?)
More importantly, by driving the point home, show after show, that this was an Apple problem, people were left with the idea that the problem could be solved by holding Apple to some “to be determined” ethical standard. And, if Apple refused to live up to that standard, well, we could all just go out and support Android, or Windows Phone 7, right?
The trouble is, Mike Daisey intentionally glossed over the broader issue — there is no ethical alternative, based on Daisey’s standards — in the hopes of raising awareness by piggybacking on Apple’s popularity. He knew that “dramatic focus” would bring about more chatter and, as an entertainer selling tickets, publicity became more important than strict accuracy.
Except, now it turns out that not only did he use dramatic license by focusing his anger on Apple, he also lied about virtually every important first-hand detail in his monologue. If you’ve not yet done so, do yourself a favor and listen to the “Retraction” episode of This American Life.
When you’re talking about workers who are forced to work through fear and intimidation, the story is very different if, in one version, guards have guns while, in another, they don’t. Daisey’s version supplied the guns, reality doesn’t.
That’s not dramatic license, it’s lying.
Daisey’s choice to use Apple as his theatrical whipping boy is about to be trumped by the even more sordid story of a loud, fuming, angry bully who lied and sensationalized a story in order to sell tickets. Everything he allegedly cares about (I’d argue that he cares most about selling tickets, but that’s a personal opinion) is about to come crashing down, fairly or unfairly, because of his lies.
Daisey is smart enough to know that sensationalism sells, so it’s a real shame that he didn’t think that all his little theatrical lies would, once exposed, overshadow the important truths behind the technology industry’s reliance on Chinese labor. Those who want to enact real change shouldn’t do so by taking what Daisey refers to as “shortcuts” but what everyone else refers to as fabrications.
When seeking big changes, there are no shortcuts:
The world has come undone
Like to change it everyday
Change don’t come at once
It’s a wave building… before it breaks
Mike Daisey has posted a new blog entry:
Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.
When Mike Daisey isn’t busy casting doubts about the credibility of his translator (remember, he intentionally hid her name so that no one would be able to track her down) he’s shifting the blame to Ira Glass.
To my audiences: It’s you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details.
(“That’ll be $30, please.”)
Look! Up in the sky! What’s that? It’s a bird? It’s a plane?