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Driving Mis(information) Daisey: Theatre, Journalism, Truth and Greed

Saturday, March 17th, 2012


OK, I know it’s not Google. ┬áBut here are some thoughts on the Mike Daisey thing.

A theatre monologuist is not the same as a non-fiction journalist. The former is more like a roman a clef novelist, entitled to reengineer the pesky truth to shape a talk into a play. The latter cannot entertain even for a second the prospect of fabrication.

Daisey’s play obviously (to me) took liberties. I don’t hold him to his ludicrous self-portrayal as an over-the-top Apple fanboy (pre-China.) It set up what was to come. But presenting Apple’s alleged atrocities as first-person observation is something else, especially since he was explicitly asking for change. Even so, if somewhere,–maybe in the program or in interviews–he indicated he was fictionalizing what his readings told him was a situation worth exposing, it would have been ok. (Why not include a bibliography in the program?) His job as playwright is to move us in the theatre.

Explaining what was real and not might have made for less on an impact. But he wasn’t entitled to the impact–and celebrity buzz–of a witness. Only to the impact of a dramatist who wanted to make a point.

Instead, he presented himself as a witness in the controversy itself, and replayed his fictions in non-fiction settings, like the NY Times op-ed page. And he seems to have intentionally misled This American Life to regard his fabrications as fact. He doesn’t seem to have done this for the cause of Chinese workers, but self-aggrandizement and profit. It helped his play and his brand.

(Also, implicit in his presentation was that actual reporters couldn’t get the real stories from workers that he, a clueless theatre guy, got by pure gumption. Now we know that he made up his encounters, from stories written by real reporters.)

Daisey’s lame explanation–not really an apology–ignores his greed. I hope when he creates his next play–I expect it to be about this controversy–he accepts his culpability and examines why he behaved so cravenly. If so, it should be terrific.

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