There was no Duncan to slay
Comments on Mike Daisey
Reposting a comment from Polly Carl's What’s Done Cannot be Undone: Lies in the Theater and Some Thoughts on Mike Daisey
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.
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 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 iPad 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.