What’s Done Cannot be Undone
Lies in the Theater and Some Thoughts on Mike Daisey
For better or worse I have always had a passion for justice. This was not a lip service passion, it was one I tried to live out. I intended to graduate from college and change the world, to make it better here and abroad. I spent the first several months after college in South Central Los Angeles working in a medical clinic for Central American refugees and taking part in political protests with the Catholic Workers on the weekends. I was a perfect candidate to fall head over heels for Mike Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. I didn’t have a chance to hear it until some of it was broadcast on This American Life. I was rehabbing from hip surgery and working out on an exercise bike at the YMCA. I was riveted, embarrassed about my love of Apple products. I decided to buy tickets to his show in Chicago with Ira Glass. The story within the monologue that activated my passions?—the man with the twisted hand who sees an iPod for the first time. In sorting this all out—This American Life’s calling out Daisey’s story as fiction, Daisey’s justification and explanation of his role as artist versus journalist, and its impact on us— I’m much less interested in Mike Daisey per se.
I don’t care all that much that he betrayed me. His betrayal is so much less significant than let’s say Exxon or BP, or even Apple and whatever is true about what’s happening at Foxconn. And his betrayal is less than the larger betrayal for me of the American theater that has tossed out a commitment to artists in favor of a commitment to big buildings, inflated administrator salaries, and big individual egos. Rather, I want to focus on at what point in the plot of the Mike Daisey story did lies get told that were no longer in service of the story of workers in Chinese factories but in service of Mike Daisey’s ego and personal ambition? Again, I’m not interested in sorting this out because of feelings about Mike Daisey, as I don’t know him, but rather I care about that moment where people with power to change the course of history tell lies, commit murders, cross the line where what has been done can no longer be undone. My thoughts about this come directly from a lecture by author Charles Baxter on plot at Bread Loaf a couple of summers ago “Undoings: Dramatic Actions that Can’t be Undone.” When I listened to this lecture on that same exercise bike at that same YMCA, I felt some kind of deep understanding about the nature of compelling stories and how we enact them, how they are more interesting as theater, less interesting when you find yourself the victim of the unfolding plot that can’t be undone.
Baxter takes the phrase, “what’s done cannot be undone” directly from Act 5, Scene 1 of the Scottish play when Lady Macbeth utters these words and then leaves the stage for good. Baxter defines the central feature of some of the greatest stories:
The stubborn and unfixable nature of an action that’s been done but cannot be undone, constitutes the core of how certain great plots work. . .a one-way gate, an irrevocable action that a character cannot go back on. . .You are now defined by that action, often unforgivable, and always undoable.
And as the plot unfolds in some of our best stories, Baxter says we get a snowball effect or what he calls snowball plotting. "An error becomes retroactive—everything that follows one error becomes another error…you lose control of events and you lose your ethical self in the bargain." The story of Macbeth is for Baxter the story of ambition. And it’s ambition, the desire “to increase power and social status” that leads to scheming and scheming leads to ever more complicated plots:
The schemer says I will lie to everyone and therefore I will succeed. If I do not succeed, if people don’t believe me, I will tell more lies until I do succeed. And then I will tell lies to cover up my previous lies. The schemer, the social climber, is therefore in league with the writer. Both are creating plots, lying like art begins when fabrication replaces action.
We can feel the snowball plotting effect, in both listening to and reading the transcripts from This American Life’s “Retraction” episode. From the transcript:
Rob Schmitz: How many factories did you visit when you were there?
Mike Daisey: I believe I went to 5.
Rob Schmitz: You told Ira 10.
Mike Daisey: I know.
Rob Schmitz: OK.
Mike Daisey: But, now that I’m looking at it, I believe it was 5.
Rob Schmitz: Cathy remembers three. Daisey also revises the number of illegal union members he met. He originally told Ira 25 to 30. Now he knocks it down to ten. Cathy remembers, said it was between 2 and 5.
Much of the conversation proceeds this way until Daisey leaves the interview and comes back the following day and suddenly has his story straight, and then holds steady to the notion that he’s making theater and not journalism. But I think the compelling part of the retraction episode is what Baxter says, makes great drama, when an action spirals out of control and one lie justifies another lie and “lying like art begins when fabrication replaces action.” This is the line from Baxter’s lecture that requires a moment to understand and I’m truly not sure I’m getting it right, but this is what I take from it. For most people who start off with good intentions, and we imagine Mike Daisey did start off truly passionate about the plight of Chinese factory workers, they take concrete action.
In Daisey’s case he hires a translator, he flies to China, he interviews workers. He actively pursues the story he cares about as a citizen and a person. But like a good artist, as he goes to tell the story, he says by his own admission, that he becomes the fabricating artist. He tells us he was performing Mike Daisey on stage, and that that Mike Daisey isn’t the Mike Daisey citizen. Fabrication replaces action. But in this case it was the private citizen Mike Daisey who was critical to our embrace of his actions. As a former activist, turned artist, I was moved by how he took those two pieces of himself and weaved them together and performed them. This is what made The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs great, not just good art, performed well. It’s what allowed Mike Daisey to be asked to write an editorial in The New York Times after Steve Jobs death, and it’s why he was asked to go on MSNBC. I know plenty of playwrights who have written plays on the Iraq war for example, but they are not asked to write an op-ed for the Times as an expert because their private citizen persona and their artist persona are clearly distinct. Baxter makes clear what happens to the private citizen who becomes mad with ambition:
The private self, the person we are to ourselves is gradually overwhelmed by an artificially constructed public self underwritten by social climbing, and the will to power, the markers of ambition.
Mike Daisey isn’t alone in his ambition as a theater artist, and he’s in good company in his profession, a profession that has its share of former private and passionate citizens whose ambitions have caused them to lose sight of what drove them to love theater and to want to make it in the first place. We have plenty of ambitious public personas caught in their own snowball plotting. Daisey made the mistake of taking his ambitions well beyond his profession, into a public realm where transparency couldn’t be covered over, where those complicit in the lie could no longer cover them up. And I think Daisey’s undoing is all of our undoing.
He was the theater artist we could bring into our spaces and assuage our liberal guilt, cover over our own activism gone dormant. We could live vicariously through his citizen/artist persona. We could take cover behind his truth, make it our truth, and feel we had done our part. I’ve been undone by this. I’ve been exposed as a complacent passenger on his lying train. I handed over my own responsibility as citizen/artist. I was happy to let Daisey do the hard work of responsible citizenship for me. In exposing himself, he’s also exposed all of his supporters. We all have some blood on our hands.
The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here
I don't understand how I need to make myself complicit to Daisy's fame addiction. Can you help me see how I have "blood my hands"? His story is a cautionary tale but it is nothing more than presumption to minimize his actions through social blame.
When all of this first broke I was so sure how I felt -- upset, naive, conned. Reading through the critics, absorbing the radio coverage, taking in various theatres' points of view, magazine articles and dozens of blogs I started to change my mind -- there was context to consider, I needed to look at my own expectations and biases as well as appreciate the inherent nature of theatre making. Then I heard the Georgetown talk and got upset again -- why was Daisey angrily demanding reporters see factories for themselves when he was called out by one who was already there? Now going through all of the above has me reeling yet again. David describes the Multiple Mikes and it makes sense to me. Caridad writes so beautifully it's really hard not to agree. I find myself deliciously confused (a big deal for a control freak like me). I don't know what to think. Or rather, I have a shifting opinion all day long. In that way the reactions to a work of art have become an artwork in itself: encouraging me to challenge my perceptions and making me see anew. Rarely have I loved being so lost.
Playwrights have been adapting history to the stage from before Shakespeare and ever since. Real artists are content to have words like "based upon" or "any resemblance to real persons..." appended to the work's credits. The basic credibility of theater isn't at risk. When Daisey insisted that theaters insist the work was wholly true, he hijacked their credibility to his ends, but he didn't steal it. We'll keep adapting histories, theaters will produce with humble disclaimers, and anyone not wanting that deal should just be shown the door. That's what the street corners are for.
Before we can speak the truth on stage, we have to be able to see the truth. If we damage that part of our instrument then we're in trouble. How often do I blind myself to the truth because I'm looking for the story I want to tell? Ambition needs humility to see the world with any depth.
Daisey spins a yarn. That's what he does. In The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and all of his work I've seen thus far. He presents a very specific, created persona of a version of himself on stage. He's an entertainer. A comedian. A clever fellow. And a compelling theatre presence. Sometimes some yarns are more interesting than others. The obession with Apple products, the marketing of them, and the venal, "cheap labour" working conditions condoned by Apple in their production is worth illuminating. In a piece of theatre. In artful and crafted and sly storytelling. And in as many hard news reports that are willing to get the story heard.
Of course, hard news has stopped being hard news for a long time in the buy and sell of media. How interesting it is that some news stories get buried before they're allowed a chance to be even born, for instance? Conflict of vested interests and all that jazz.
Daisey is one entertainer/performer/writer. One. A pretty good one depending on the yarn being spun and sometimes an awfully good one, when he lets the yarn take over and gets out of the way. But at day's end, he is only one artist-citizen of many.
Is fabrication a sin? Is TAL a barometer of "truth?"
If a storyteller disguises the frame of the storytelling, isn't the spectator placed in the position to suss out what is "real?" Or is the spectator passive? Do we render the spinner of the yarn to be our prophet?
Theatre is not my oracle. Theatre is my healing place. Sometimes. And sometimes my place of alienation. And sometimes my place of offense. And sometimes the place where trouble resides. In troubled times, such as these, (aren't they always?), trouble is bound to be ripe.
The Agony... is a troubled piece. Fast n dirty. Scrappy and high wire. Clever and manipulative. At one and at odds with itself. Sign o' the times. And this offstage drama has entered its troubled heart.
Simply beautiful Caridad. Thank you.
From where I sit, which is more in the tech world lately than the arts world, theatre suddenly became part of the national dialogue again for a bit as a result of Daisey and TAL. And that to me was actually encouraging, perhaps cynically so, for any publicity is often good publicity. But all this talk about non-fiction in the theatre troubles me: I mean, how can artists really believe fact speaks the truth louder than fiction? Otherwise, artists should all become scientists, digging through data and making vast replicable and provable generalizations, dismissing the specific, the unique, the personal, and giving up metaphor altogether. I wish the arts would again embrace their intrinsic power, which we’ve mostly abdicated to religion in the public sphere, of making and remaking and sharing metaphor, which is perhaps the only way of knowing, expressing, and sharing mystery. And not just wacky big question mystery, but the day-to-day moral ambiguity of knowing right from wrong, and of dissecting and evaluating highly complex situations. Metaphor, truths revealed and experienced through a dramatic tension of contrasts, is as necessary to living with honesty and integrity as fact. That said, I do think Daisey was dishonest in trying to pass the work off as non-fiction at any point in time, and framing things as fact that were in fact fiction. That makes me annoyed with him. Still, I think that Woz’s take on Daisey is the most compassionate one: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1...
David's thoughts resonate with me -- I have been living with Agony and Ecstasy a lot more than I usually would as I travel the country talking about the intrinsic impact results (which include Daisey's performances at Woolly Mammoth), and I've got to say, talking through those results day after day makes me sad and frustrated at exactly David's point. Agony and Ecstasy got some of the absolutely highest impacts scores among the 58 productions we surveyed. For the a question about whether the show actually inspired the audience to make a change in their lives, the numbers were extremely high--far higher than other shows, and that's on an incredibly difficult indicator of impact (how many shows actually make you want to change something in your life? really?). And I think that a lot of that was predicated, either formally or informally, consciously or subconsciously, on the fact that the people seeing the show thought it was a "true" experience (i.e. a factual experience) of a single person seeing first-hand these atrocities. I wrote my thesis on Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a book that is the ultimate in screwing with the audience on whether what they're reading is fact or fiction (and whether that actually affects the "truth" of the piece), and I've been thinking about that book a lot in this time. It seems to me that Daisey's mistake is exactly where Dower places it -- in the framing of the work as something that it wasn't, and then in rolling with that until he was trapped. I disagree that that impulse was only about marketing though. Because I think that the impact that show had was very influenced by the assumption of personal testimony, and that Daisey's choice to frame it as such implicitly and explicitly may have drastically increased the impact. Which, setting aside the moral implications of "lying" and the hurt feelings of being deceived" (or forced/tricked into deceiving others), is damn smart for a piece of activist theatre. Where Tim O'Brien was messing with the audience, trying to keep them on their toes, Daisey was (not only, but at least somewhat) building the experience that was going to engender the most change. What makes me sad is that (1) that tricked a lot of people and (2) I think that fundamentally the piece may be made weaker without that faux non-fiction frame. Which is such a quandary--what do you do when one of the most mainstream-impactful pieces of theatre in a long time is rendered fundamentally different in a way that is necessary but that also damages the impact of that work?
Lies is lies is lies ... At this point I wouldn't walk across the street to see this guy perform.
I have been sitting this one out because I haven't found a way into the discussion that seemed true to my own experience- of this particular mess nor of the whole idea of truth in monologues. I appreciated Holly Hughes' take on it on Facebook. I read the transcript of Mike's own response-as-performance in the Atlantic and recommend it for anyone who worries about how Mike is going to come through this. I understand Alli Houseworth's outcry. And can appreciate the nuances of Woolly Mammoth's position. For me the grip this has on me is entirely about the question of lies told off stage, as you are pointing at Polly. I am not in any way surprised at the fabrications inside the piece- Mike's whole body of work is based on that sort of storytelling. The distinction of something being emotionally true as opposed to nonfiction is a distinction I have worked with repeatedly myself in making monologues with some great, principled people. And there absolutely is and frequently must be a degree of separation between the artist and the character, even when they have the same name and the story is "emotionally autobiographical" in form. In this sense I wouldn't have cared a wit if Mike had, as he said in his Georgetown remarks, just stayed home in Brooklyn and made shit up because he could just as easily have Googled these stories at issue and come to the same emotionally true place for himself with this material. But where I do snag on this is what happened next. To my mind this whole storm is rooted in the marketer Daisey, not the writer or performer Daisey. Just as he has done for his whole career, marketer Mike crafted a fiction off stage that expanded the opportunities for his monologue- a remarkable gift of Mr. Daisey's- but this time it also played out as an opportunity to elevate his position in our culture. There was no Duncan to slay, particularly once Mr. Jobs had passed, but the basic motivation- blinding ambition- and a self-rationalizing feedback loop led to the same sort of calamity. And I, too, feel the producers and press who went along for this particular ride have done something that cannot be undone for themselves. It strains credibility that people who have followed Mike's career thought he was working in the form of non-fiction as a writer/performer and that this was the basis of their interest in the show. They were interested as much for Steve Jobs and Apple's celebrity as for the story's truthiness. And marketing the show as nonfiction was a clever hook in which they are active participants- a solid and inspired stunt, one of marketer Mike's best. Right up there with the viral video of his persecution by the religious right. Even without knowing the I-Pad or the underage girl or whatever other story was fictionalized, the whole monologue is filled with evidence of a storyteller at work. This is the basis of Mike's entire career. And it was effective story and close enough to true for rock and roll (and Pulitzer talk) and sexy enough for big box office. And when marketer Mike started to tell the lies to the marketing staffs and in the press, it only seems to have increased the viability of the piece as a prestige booking with big buzz/bucks. So their hand wringing now rings as false as the passive-voiced apologies carefully constructed to preserve Mike's sense of himself as the victim here. And in a sense he is on semi-solid ground there- which he will no doubt exploit onstage in a new monologue coming soon to a theater near you. After all, he's worked this way all along. There have been no consequences for it before now. So what's all the outrage suddenly? And the outrage around the lies inside the tale from these quarters plays like an attempt to evade responsibility for having participated in the lies surrounding the tale- the very salesmanship and chutzpah that drew them to him from the beginning. And for having fallen in line with the lies and perpetuating them for their own gain. It is this stuff that is at the bottom of the problem, not any problem with the monologue as a show, to my mind- or at least the new problem for him and for others in this line of work. I don't look forward to the aftermath- for anyone. Least for the other monologists now tarred with this same brush. And the other "artist-witnesses" who will, for whatever time now find themselves on the defensive before they begin. But the standing ovation at Georgetown the other night makes it clear that Mike's going to only get bigger behind this. I wouldn't want to be Ira Glass when the next monologue premieres.
There is something here that may be a generational issue. Part of the curse of aging is that one recognizes the origins/derivations of a LOT of theatre. Daisey has appropriated the environment of the late, great Spalding Gray -- a table, working from an outline, a glass of water -- to invoke the confessional, personal, nonfiction content of brilliant pieces like Swimming to Cambodia, Gray's Anatomy, et al. In other words, Daisey has placed a nonfiction frame around the work. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but important to know from whence it came. For those who saw Spaldiing's performances, the environment of table and glass of water evokes (implies?) truth-telling. Nuff said.
Mame, I totally agree.
This discussion is so important. I love HowlRound! I am back and forth on this one--odd, for an opinionated person like myself. But this distanced state allows me to take in everyone’s point of view and appreciate the way so many well-meaning and engaged folks can look at something so differently—even in total opposition. I can learn from this! I think Sarah’s viewpoint is extremely important and strengthened by things foreign journalists based in China are reporting in response to the Daisey scandal. I love the personal take on it all by Gwydion, writing in his blog, though it saddens me. Personally, I do not feel implicated or betrayed by Daisey’s artful, activist play with the truth, though I think you describe your feelings so honestly, Polly—again, making me feel very sad. I enjoyed the show, was buoyed by its activist success and the scope and potential of story-telling (which I assumed was all true). Perhaps because I am no fan of Apple’s ‘magical’ products out of some stubborn resistance to trend and fashion, I was able to maintain a certain emotional distance to the story on stage and now to its aftermath. I see both points of view—the betrayal of trust and that betrayal’s effects on the public good vs the acceptance of embellishment which art has thrived on since its birth. I do feel very badly for Mike Daisey. I hate scapegoats and I hate burnings at the stake. And I will be very upset if this whole thing hurts him in ways he can’t recover from, while recognizing that the theatre will need to recover from his undertaking, as will Polly and others affected so deeply by this. Daisey brought something to light in a dramatic way. Personally, I prefer the strict truth and fact and working off of them in my own writing. It’s just more interesting to me than making things up. But that’s personal.
Lydia, I don't think it is personal. As a storyteller myself, I try very hard to keep to the strict truth--which of course is always the truth as I remember it, and other witnesses to the events I describe may remember them differently, but I never deliberately embellish for theatrical effect because the attempt at literal truth leaves loose ends and places for the spectator to fill in, creating an energetic interaction. One of the greatest theater artists and monologists ever, Spalding Gray, whom I had the honor of counting as a friend and mentor, was rigorous in his insistence on keeping to the facts in all his work, and it was his startling views on those facts that made his work great. Perhaps I'm holding Daisey to too high a standard, but I don't think so.
I have similarly muted thoughts, Polly.
I feel as if the most important questions we ought to be asking in response to what's happened haven't really been asked...
Another wonderful blog entry, Polly. I cut my political teeth and honed my sense of truth and justice as a very young (13yo) teenager, working for the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign, walking down a street in the Bronx carrying a lantern on a pole and a sign referencing Diogenes searching for an honest man (with the conclusion that "we" had found one in Eugene McCarthy). The lesson I learned back then (in addition to not trusting anyone over 30) is that we cannot trust the news media or our politicians. Now, I am learning not to trust art and not to trust the feelings and emotions that art evokes in me. I recently read a journal article that had statistical evidence that musicals can change people's thoughts on particular subjects. (I am reminded, however, of a book I read in college, "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics.") It is a reminder that we are involved in, arguably, one of the most powerful artistic mediums. Theater moves us. Art moves us and teaches us -- very often teaching us misinformation. Daisy's play (and the controversy now surrounding it) is perhaps an extreme example of the issue of truth in art. I am equally concerned about plays that alter history in more subtle ways. We learn much more about history and about the world and about people from plays, movies, cartoons, television and photography than we ever do from textbooks. Are there ethical guidelines for artists? Legally, our right to free speech as artists allows us to lie and stretch the truth as much as we'd like, so long as we are not defamatory. Ends justifying means, or not? Free speech is very complicated!
I'm amazed there's even a debate about this. The guy lied. And not in small ways. He lied, then tried to cover the lies with further obfuscation, and claimed that what he was doing was theater. This is essentially the same excuse that Rush Limbaugh trotted out when defending his slander against Sandra Fluke, that he is an "entertainer." I smell a double standard here. And thanks, Polly, for the reminder that "we all have some blood on our hands." I think after I smash my iPhone I'll just go shoot myself. Or maybe instead I'll stay active in Occupy and continue to try to work for some real change in the world.
Fascinating isn't it? I wonder If an "actor" in the "role" makes it more theatre than docudrama, and therefore makes the exaggeration more palatable. Did Mr. Daisy believe that the projection of truth (the docu part, as inspired by his own statements) more engaging than the perception of it (as viewed by an audience) when presented as drama?
I am really enjoying this dialogue.
"Art is the lie that enables the truth" - Pablo Picasso
I saw Lance Baker perform Mike Daisey's Agony/Ecstasy. And saw it as a beautiful work of art that enables a truth. I listen to TAL and actually never considered that show journalistic in nature. It seems to be an entertaining and moving storytelling show. I didn't consider David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell stores as 100% factual. But I guess lies/exaggerated stories about Christmas elves and lies/exaggerated stories about one of the most powerful companies in the world (is that true?) are two different things.
Storytellers exaggerate truths. Politicians lie. Apple donates new ipads to WBEZ's fund drive. Ira Glass got spanked.
Lying is wrong. Making billions of dollars for stockholders while American workers have less and less manufacturing jobs is just good business. Contracting far-away factories with horrific labor standards is just remaining competitive.
Corporations, CEOs, our leaders, all get away with lying because they have learned to speak "corporatese" - we are all learning to speak inauthentically. And it is accepted.
Our lawyer-laden language needs a rewrite.
We have a lot to be thinking about and talking about. We have to change the conversation. Mike Daisey wrote a powerful play. Apple must be held accountable. TAL needs to get over themselves. And I mean all this with great respect to all involved.
And now I need to stop typing on my mac.
Thanks for writing this powerful piece. There are a surprising number of similarities between this story and the Kony2012 phenomenon - from the initial reaction of viewers, to the later exposure of the exaggerations and lies employed to "help the cause." Unfortunately, I expect the result will be an even greater cynicism on the part of audiences, who will be less and less likely to believe the stories they hear, even when they're true. On the other hand, greater caution may be a good thing, if it can stop us from rushing off to war before we've heard all the evidence. (I still don't see any reason to buy an iPhone, though.)
Well, thank God it was all made up and everything is awesome in China and everyone is paid well and I can play Temple Run without any guilt. That's what were saying, right? The fact that everyone is quick to jump down Mike's throat seems really weird to me. Because he was an activist that lied implicates me for not being an activist and entrusting him with blah blah blah... Are we implicated? Did we entrust Mike? The greater truth is that we live in a world where we can buy Tom's shoes and an iPad and not blink. The fact that Mike exaggerated beyond what is acceptable for docu-drama doesn't diminish the message. All narrative reporting presents a point of view and by simply not highlighting opposing views distorts the reality of any situation. My God, no one is more guilty of this than highly-dramatic, tear-jerker NPR programs. Clearly, Mike has a lot of trust to re-earn, but he is an extremely gifted storyteller who, as an activist, is inspiring to a lot of people. If we can watch Death of a Salesman and overlook the fact that Arthur Miller institutionalized his down-syndrome son into adulthood, I think we can continue to support Mike. Perhaps what we've really learned thru this is that not only are the people who inform us responsible for journalistic integrity, so are we in choosing how we listen.
Brant, your argument strikes me as nonsensical. Daisy didn't tell small fibs in the service of a greater truth. He *made up* a greater truth, informed by a lazy, parochial racism as described above by Sarah Schulman. The "these events all happened, he just didn't actually see them" is ridiculous. Frame it this way: take a story of every murder that happens in your city in ten years. Now, tell those anecdotes--which all actually happened--in a made-up framework that claims you saw them all personally in the span of 48 hours. You aren't describing a "greater truth", you're creating a wildly, irresponsibly false impression of what is actually going on, and when you're inevitably outed as a rank liar, you're going to cast a long shadow of wolf-crying over the cause you were supposedly trying to illuminate.
Brant, I agree. I think the piece still works wonders and is a moving piece of theater, despite this brouhaha. (I scribbled about it at http://www.theaterwit.org/b... The suggestion that dramatized events don't hold ANY truth is worrying to me. I think the anger and outrage is oddly misplaced, and Polly's frustrations are an insightful view about why this has hit some folks so hard. The interesting part is that we are not only implicated in delegating responsibility for activism to Mike, but that his piece is about this same shared responsibility. There's something transfer-y in the discussions about Agony/TAL. On the other hand, maybe I'm reading too much into Twitter posts. 140 characters, and all :)
I couldn't agree more. What struck me (quite profoundly) in this story was Daisey's ambition, and then how easily we can feel as though we are part of a movement by virtue of seeing a play or hearing a radio show and agreeing with the message— passive do gooders by proxy. As a former human rights lawyer and writer, it struck me once again that the role of artist is necessarily different from the role of journalist. Perhaps it is that the former looks for truth through art, while the latter tries to find the truth through fact. Sadly, Daisey seems to have failed on both counts.
Fantastic piece. We are all implicated. I am wooed by Apple to buy products I know are unethically made.
On the one hand, the impact of his piece seems to trade on its veracity.
On the other hand, as we learn from Tim O'Brien in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, if a story COULD be true, it might as well be.
Actor Lance Baker has been performing Daisey's monologue at A Red Orchid Theatre for the past few weeks. I haven't seen it; reports indicate that audience members are moved despite the fact that the person speaking the words did not experience the story he relays.
I don't believe non-fiction theater exists (and rarely believe non-fiction anything else exists either: take that sentimentalist editors over at TAL). I make stuff up on stage. Even when I'm telling you that what I'm telling you is true, there is no guarantee. What there is, is mystery. I love the mystery. I love telling lies. Not only do I love it but I see it as my job. This whole debate reminds me of the what I'm not interested in when I go to the theater; the thing that bores me: theater that lacks mystery. Perhaps I'm too invested in theatricality (as opposed to naturalism or even realism) or too cynical to believe wholeheartedly in what people tell me or perhaps I've been making a similar kind of theater as Mike for long enough that it's easy for me to tell what's exaggerated and what's not in his piece but I doubt I'm that much more in tune with this things than others. What I'm not is in denial. We all lie. Everyday. Everyone of us. It's childish to act like you don't. As if you're worried mom (or in this case Ira Glass) is going to catch you. I love the lies and liars. They inspire me to research. They inspire me to take a trip to China and find out for myself. To me that's what good theater does: gets you out of your complacency. I don't feel complacent when I tell my lies on a stage or when I listen to a good storyteller like Mike tell his. I feel active. Active in that I'm searching for the truth in our circumstance. I imagine that's how Mike feels as well. Maybe more people should tell more lies. Perhaps then theater would be better, people would be active, and things would get done (just like they got done as a result of Mike and his work).
In response to Taylor (Hi Taylor!)...
I thrive on mystery, too. It's all around us to observe, and it sits inside us, in memories, fantasies, fears and dreams. But what do lies and mystery have to do with each other, necessarily? Do I have to lie to you or to an audience to make myself interesting? You are more excited by making things up. That’s great, and it works wonderfully for you, but I don’t think it’s more mysterious. I don’t agree that it’s a universal truth that we all make things up all the time. And we need people telling us the truth, the facts, we just do. Can you imagine a moral universe without facts upon which to base our actions? I’m afraid that fascism created that kind of world--where truth and fact went out the window (some believe we are approaching such a world again here), replaced by beautiful lies. One big theatrical extravaganza.
To Lydia (Helloooooo Lydia!): I think having other people tell us the truth is what actually brought about fascism. A bunch of people believing what other people believed to be true. I hope to inspire people to find facts for themselves when I tell my lies. No periods. Only questions. I suppose the debate is whether Mike's piece offered up enough questions or gave too many periods and exclamation points. I personally felt the questions in his play. And I can't help but note that equating theatrical extravaganza with fascism is ridiculous. Yes the fascists were putting on a big show but let's not attack the form/style when it's really the specific message that was to blame.
Taylor, I truly admire your ideas about so many things and would never be dismissive of your thinking on this issue (as you seem to be of mine, above) but help me out here:
Telling lies leads to the right kinds of questions? Telling the truth doesn’t?
And re. the fascists. What ‘truths’ are you talking about? A lie is deceptive, it’s created to make people believe it’s true or it wouldn’t be a lie. The fascists lied outrageously. Das Volk believed them.
I know we're a bit off subject here, and I started it, but somehow, somewhere, I feel it's connected. At least in my thinking about it all.
What I don’t understand is how TAL is somehow being placed as this unbiased source of "truth". Especially considering the voracity that Glass went after Daisey in the "retraction" episode. TAL's treatment of the artist and his role on the show presents a bias that is now being replicated by the larger society instead of being "journalists" or treating Daisey with the respect I have heard Ira Glass give criminals that have committed multiple murders. It's as if, even if we wanted Daisey to be our defacto liberal voice, we are also relishing the in fact that he is, after all human, and there for deserves an appropriate funeral by fire because he dared to change the world through his medium. Mike Daisey is wrong. He must be wrong. And he deserves to be punished. Because he "betrayed" us. My question is, didn't TAL? In both the interviews. And yet, we believe them. We don't question their motives.
I look at this a bit differently. The information that he changed had to do with upping the ante about our image of the Chinese. He gave them guns at factory gates, he gave them more underage workers than they actually have etc. He capitulated to and exploited the intense American fear about the Chinese. This problem- of relying on stereotypes of people who are not represented and therefore do not speak for themselves on the American stage- is a prevalent and ongoing one, not limited to Mike Daisy but rather systemic. I found the same problem with his show "How Theater Betrayed America" where instead of taking head-on the repetition of narrow range of points of view allowed to be seen on stage, and the exclusion of a broad variety of experiences and perspectives, he focused on regional actors as the victims of the American Theater. So, I think he has consistently had a blind eye to race, sexuality, gender - and while positioning himself as a kind of progressive because he is "against exploitation," ended up enhancing and thereby re-enforcing racial and national cliches and fears. It would be interesting to ask the profoundly underproduced Asian playwrights in this country what their take is on these events.
Wow. Thanks Polly.