Mar 19, 2012
I feel a real underpinning of anger about the recent news regarding Mike Daisey and his one man show The Agony and the Exstasy of Steve Jobs. I've been reading the blogs and editorials hoping that they satisfy or get to the heart of why it feels like such a violation. None have been able to do so, so I've decided to write my own.
For those of you who don't know, Mr. Daisey's show about the working conditions at Apple factories has been a huge hit, first in the theater world, and later on the media circuit. He performed the monologue on This American Life, and it was their most popular show ever. After some fact checking by NPR's Marketplace and This American Life, he was found to have fabricated many details of the experience that he was claiming to have had.
After This American Life retracted their episode, Daisey's countered with the argument that theater is not journalism, and that fact can be turned into fiction in the theater, even if presented as non-fiction.
Before I get into it, for Mike Daisey to get on his soapbox and tell us the rules of the theater is blowhearted in and of itself.
I saw the show last fall at the Public in New York. Daisey sits in front of the audience and tells, to dramatic effect, of his trip to China, of the labor conditions there. He wants, and gets, the audience to lap it up. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted cynic, but I have to admit, it wasn't particularly reveletory. It doesn't come as a huge surprise that working conditions in China were are bad. I was a history major and I read about the building of the transcontinental Railroad. People work hard, harder than other people in the world.
I also wondered. Why is this guy telling this story? Something about it felt disingenuous, like he was wanting me to feel something, almost pleading with me to feel it. When you have good storytelling and acting in general, don't you plead. It should come out of you, effortlessly.
I read and review plays for a playwrights conference and one of things that is continually brought up is "what is the essence from which this agitates?" It's almost as if you shed some skin, and you want to show people around you how it died, so that it's not as painful for them.
But Mike Daisey never experienced the story that he said he experienced, that he pleaded with audiences to feel. Instead masqueraded being in a vulnerable place to entice people. He stole a story. And a story that he knew would be very popular. He seemed to do it so that he would be well-known. And he almost pulled it off.
But something didn't fit.
I'm angry because I take storytelling seriously. I work to have it come from a place deep down. And while we all struggle to gain notoriety, to stand in front of a theater night in and night out and invent an inexperience to seem more profound is a violation. Even if what you are doing has some benevolance.
Thanks for listening.