Friday, March 16, 2012

Did Mike Daisey Tell a Doozy?

Or Does "This American Life" Have Trouble Telling Fact from Fiction?

Mike Daisey is the monologuist best known for "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which details, among other things, the often-squalid conditions under which the smartphones, computers and iEverything that enable us to continue to exist are made.
Daisey's on a national tour for his acclaimed production, which focuses on the perils of life at Foxconn but the profits that are subsequently amassed in Cupertino and beyond.
"This American Life" recently aired an excerpt from the play, which seemed like the kind of thing you'd hear on the program.
However, host Ira Glass was all agog today in a Facebook post that screeched: "We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend's episode of our show will explain the errors in the story."
Glass is actually devoting the whole show to picking apart "Steve Jobs," as this press release details.
Now, while I would certainly expect there to be a strong factual current running through Daisey's narrative--and Apple has given him ample material to work with--I would not expect that he's merely distilling facts gleaned from newspapers and Wikipedia to keep audiences entertained. It is done in a theatre after all. However, that notion is apparently lost on Glass.
As Daisey points out on his blog:

My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

From the sound of it, Daisey will be a lot more careful about whom he gives clips to:

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.

Of course it does. Why Glass fails to realize this is a head-scratcher. He might be too busy playing with his new iPad to realize the distinctions.
Granted. This was the most downloaded podcast in the show's history, some 888,000 to date. And a performance "TAL" was to host of "Steve Jobs" in Chicago next month has now been canceled. This was more than passing interest for Glass. But still.
Not that Glass is a stranger to drama. "This American Life" is usually presented in a series of acts.
On this weekend's show Act I can be entitled "What the hell were we thinking?"

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