Monday, March 19, 2012

Why I'm mad at Mike Daisey

I saw "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" in October and I had my doubts about how much of it was true as I was sitting in my seat at the Public Theater in New York. (Which I noted in my review.)

It was clear to me that Mike Daisey was delivering a performance with his monologue. The way his voice would rise and fall, the quotes and scenarios that seemed too perfect, it smacked of acting, not delivering a speech. And that made me wonder how much of his story about traveling to China and talking to workers who assemble Apple products was embellished. After all, we're paying $80 for a ticket and we want drama, emotion, conflict.

I also couldn't believe that the workers at the Foxconn plant were so eager to talk to him, through an interpreter. China is, after all, a repressive, totalitarian country. Daisey doesn't speak the language, doesn't know the culture. But as I said at the time, he's a performer not a journalist and he's allowed to take artistic liberties. Despite my reservations, I found the piece compelling.

So I wasn't surprised when the radio program This American Life, which had aired an excerpt of Daisey's show, announced last week that parts of it were fabricated. Quotes and some of the things Daisey said he saw on his trip to China were made up. I can't say that I felt let down because I wasn't totally taken in by it in the first place.

But then I found my program from the Public Theater and saw something that I'd forgotten. It says, in big, bold letters, that The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs "is a work of nonfiction." Which clearly, it wasn't. That made me mad. He willfully misled his audience. And it wasn't necessary. With a little more effort and ingenuity, he could have written just as compelling a piece but made it truthful. On top of everything, he's guilty of lazy writing.

Then today, reading Daisey's response made me even angrier. Instead of taking responsibility it appears that he's trying to turn the tables, to shift the discussion from his work in a way that I find offensive.

He seems to think that by focusing on the deceptions in his monologue, we're being drawn away from the larger and more important question of how workers in China are treated. But he couldn't leave it at that. He chastises us for what he perceives as our moral failing. "If you think this story is bigger than that story, something is wrong with your priorities."

Well excuse me but I'm capable of doing both - being concerned about the conditions for workers AND the fallout from the lies in Daisey's monologue. I really resent his sanctimonious attitude. I'm not the one who sat in front of an audience, told them in the program that what they were about to hear was true and then lied.

I guess now, I feel less inclined to give Mike Daisey any more of my time or money.

If you want to learn something about Apple's manufacturing plants in China or the company's history and culture, I recommend stories from The New York Times and Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. Both are authoritative and insightful.