This Is A Work of Non-Fiction

This is a guest post by Alli Houseworth, an independent arts consultant and former marketing and communications director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. I don’t have anything especially interesting to say about Mike Daisey, but Alli does, so I have asked her to do it here. The views and opinions expressed are Alli’s alone.

 

In 2010 I worked at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, when The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (TATESJ) was “birthed” at the theatre, and the following spring was the marketing and communications director who worked on the show at Woolly. Today, as an independent consultant, I write as a former marketing director who is no longer bound by the public statement of her institution in this matter, and what I would like to say is this: Mike Daisey, you should be ashamed of yourself. And to members of the American theatre: we should be disappointed in ourselves too.

For months and months four major non-profit organizations across the US (Seattle Rep, Berkeley Rep, Woolly and the Public Theater) worked to put TATESJ on the stage, bringing the story we all felt was so enormously important – a story Mike told at least me time and time again was true. He insisted that “This is a work of non-fiction” be printed in playbills. This was to be a work of activist theatre. Staff at Woolly handed out sheets of paper to every audience member that left our theatres, per Mike’s insistence, that urged them to take action on this matter. (I and other staffers would get nasty emails from him the next day if even one audience member slipped by without collecting this call to action.) As the head of the marketing staff at Woolly, my staff and I worked hard to get butts in seats, and it worked. We sold out our houses.  As in the other cities where Mike appeared, we got Mike in every major news outlet in DC, and the buzz, hype and importance of the show only grew along the way.

And then what happened? We learned from a radio producer, a year later, that Mike’s facts weren’t true. And what Mike did was apologize to him, to Ira. But he never apologized to us, and he never apologized to our audiences. In fact, what he did in his retraction interview was say, “I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theatre that when people hear the story in those terms that we have different languages for what the truth means.” My answer to that is that “This is a work of non-fiction” is pretty clear language. And how dare you, Mike, how dare you say to Ira Glass that the context in which the work is presented is different. All this time I thought you respected this industry, respected our audiences the very same, if not more than the audience of This American Life. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement.

We are at a crucial moment in theatre history – the relationship between artist and administrator has been a super-hot topic ever since the publication of Outrageous Fortune. The battle to bring in new audiences and retain them is becoming harder and harder to fight. And though I can’t speak for my colleagues in Seattle, or Berkeley or New York – that’s what my staff and I did for you, Mike. We collaborated. We listened to you, the artist. Not a single piece of material left my office without your approval. We, all of us, we brought new people to the theatre, who perhaps have never been to the theatre before. And they – and all of our audiences – paid money, and they sat in seats and their listened to you, and then they took home a piece of paper urging them to take action on this matter. And all along a playbill sat in their laps that said, “This is a work of non-fiction.”

So to the producers of the American theatre, I urge you to boycott this work. Boycott Mike’s gorgeous, amazing piece of theatre that is based on a true story. Boycott it until you get the apology that you deserve and do not ever, ever re-mount it or produce a work of his again until you know for sure what is true and what is not so your audiences are never ever mislead again. Stand by your desire to uphold the truth and value of art, of what you work so enormously hard for day in and day out, until you get an apology from the man who calls himself one of you, who is our field’s “leading man” in the fight for theatre as truth and activism. He let us down and we deserve better. Now is not a time for us to lay down and take this, to pretend “oh, it’s just theatre,” to coddle an artist because he brings in big box office bucks and “sparks dialogues.”  It is absolutely crucial that we remain relevant in the world as art-makers. And art doesn’t always have to mean untruth. And if we are going to put this on our stages for our audiences then we need to trust the artist who creates the work in the first place. Until then, don’t do it. Do not produce his work until you get an apology.

And to the tens of thousands of Americans who paid money to sit in our theatres to see this show that was billed as a non-fiction piece of theatre, I am so sorry. You deserve an apology from us art-makers. We should have known better. We should have done our fact-checking. Our dramaturgs should have gone through every fact in that show, just like they do with other plays that go on our stages. We as marketers should have positioned this as “based on a true story.” We should have known better. We all should have stood up against Mike and made sure with 100% certainty that the story he was putting on our stage was true because why, WHY, when we are producing works of non-fiction should we ever be held to a different standard than journalism.

You, the audience, deserve an apology too. You were the groundswell that started this entire movement, and you deserve an apology just like the This American Life audience got. Because you know what? Mike never would have gotten to where he is without you.

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Comments

  1. michael rohd says

    i need to hear the perspective of someone who had been involved in the way you were, Alli.
    Thank you for this.

  2. Mark G says

    Thank you, Alli. You are spot on. We do deserve an apology. But we won’t ever get one. Humility was never one of Daisey’s strong points; neither is honesty, as we now know.

  3. Kent says

    Hmm. I understand that you are upset and feel betrayed by this very public admission of wrong doing, but I think this reaction borders on the hysterical. Mike is not wrong that the context of the theater changes the equation of the way the facts were presented. If you think there aren’t equivocations and fabrications in other works of documentary theater you’d be wrong. Plays like The Laramie Project and Fires in the Mirror may not make stories up, but they do edit, arrange, and structure themselves to create a point of view, sometimes a point of view which may make a real person look foolish or wrong headed, when they aren’t. This is also a form of “truthiness” for lack of a better word. Additionally, journalists such as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe often fabricated or changed elements of their work to make a better story. David Sedaris, also a TAL, contributor has been caught hyperbolizing his stories regularly, and Ira Glass has never retracted a single one of those.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not apologizing for Mike’s behavior and I find the whole event more than a little embarrassing for the theater and the form. I also understand that there are huge differences between David Sedaris creating a story out of his life and Mike Daisy claiming he met people he didn’t. But the point still stands: context does indeed matter. Is it an article of faith that everything you see on stage is true? Ira Glass certainly seems to think so, but I’m not so sure. Someone is writing a point of view and that means that other points of view are not represented. By definition it can’t be journalism. Even in the initial TAL podcast, Robert Reich was interviewed and said he didn’t think the conditions in China were a permanent problem. Which means that as much as we thought we were getting the truth from Mike, we were actually only getting Mike’s point of view.

    Which if he had stated from the beginning, rather than giving into the trappings of the ego and desire for the attention, then he wouldn’t have found himself in this spot. And I wish he had done it to save us all the embarrassment. And his actions are bad… no doubt. But a boycott?

    If the future of theatrical activism relies on solid journalistic standards, then we’re sunk. Our relevance to the world is based on our ability to cut through the clutter and show humanity in its best and worst moments. To create a sense of community around the human experience by bonding us through experiences that make us see each other for who we are. Mike made mistakes. Those mistakes are human. But in the end, Richard III really didn’t have a hump. Shakespeare lied about that because it made for a better story.

    • Brklyn David says

      Kent, I think you missed the point. If Mike Daisey had presented his work not as exact, journalistic truth, but as a theatrical interpretation of events, it would have been different. Had he even said that it’s basically, essentially true but it’s a story, it’s theatrical, and it’s an assemblage of events, it would have been fine. But again and again he said that everything in his monologue was true. And that was a lie. He misrepresented his work, and that undermined its essential truth. Anna Deveare Smith doesn’t start out her stories saying “everything is true, and this isn’t a work of fiction.” Mike Daisey did. And there’s the tragedy.

      • Kent says

        I didn’t miss the point. I get that and am sorry I didn’t make that clearer in my post. I’m specifically responding to this point made in Alli’s original: “We all should have stood up against Mike and made sure with 100% certainty that the story he was putting on our stage was true because why, WHY, when we are producing works of non-fiction should we ever be held to a different standard than journalism.” I have very mixed emotions about what MIke did and why. I think, in his specific case, he was wrong. But I think we need to be very careful about how we talk about how to deal with the fallout.

        • dave says

          Um, there hasn’t been an overreaction.

          His original story was: This is what I witnessed and was told when I was in China. This is my report.

          Now it is: This is a story meant to dramatize things I witnessed and was told when I was in China. This is a story to try to get you to do something.

          Mike has screwed other people who may present their work in the same fashion as Mike, but ARE ACTUALLY TELLING THE TRUTH. NOT SOMETHING THEY HAVE IMAGINED.

        • JR TEETER says

          Everything Daisey said in the story was true in terms of working conditions in China and the nature of the Apple products. What he “lied” about was his own personal experience. He didn’t meet a worker with a mangled hand and show him an IPad. But workers with mangled hands exist…and those workers have never seen or used a fully operational IPAD. Ira Glass gave this play the stink of journalism. Daisey did not. He was telling a story from a certain point of view. And if Clayton really was part of the process from the very beginning then he saw this play worked on, edited and then re-edited. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is true from his point of view — maybe not from everyone’s point of view — but from his perspective it is.

          Oh and one of these factories caught fire a little while ago. Just after Apple inspected it. They inspected the building for a total of 10 minutes. Great job guys.

    • Jessica Finkelberg Silver says

      This is a fantastic response to Alli’s piece. I am also an arts presenter, and an independent consultant, AND a theatergoer, AND a recent attendee at The Public, where Mike’s show is $65 a ticket, and has had its run extended multiple times. I feel annoyed and disappointed in and for Daisey, but most importantly, I think that when I see a piece of THEATER, no matter HOW it is billed, it is CAVEAT EMPTOR. This is not a lecture being presented at a college during a conference on ethics in business. It is a theater piece, written by an actor, to be entertaining as well as informative, and having been the boss of people like Alli for 15 years, I can tell you that I take the words “this is a work of non-fiction” stated in a theatrical monologue context as fairly elastic. When Daisey, in his lust for money, or fame, or power, or in the grips of a falsehood that had taken on a life of its own, or maybe even just as a victim of his own good press, believed he could perpetuate the lies holding up this house of cards in a journalistic context, is where this all went pear shaped for me. Theater audiences want to be illuminated, educated and have their consciousnesses raised, but they also just want to have a good time, and I don’t think most people–including me–want their $65 back, because the piece is great, it taught me things, and even if he didn’t actually meet 12 year old workers….I am sure there are some. It’s sexier to be “true”, it sells more tickets when it’s “true”, and I am not Daisey’s conscience. But he lost me when he lied to Ira. Sic transit gloria mundi.

      • says

        Sorry, but no. I would fully agree under different circumstances, but we’re talking about a person who continually and emphatically lied and insisted that other people lie on his behalf.

      • K. Benton says

        No. Theatre or not, the words “This is a work of non-fiction.” are not subject to fiddly artistic interpretation or equivocation. They’re a bright line with specific and absolute meaning in the context in which they were presented, and whatever he my have done or said on the stage itself doesn’t modify or excuse that in the slightest.

        And he certainly doesn’t get a pass for hedging his non-apologies and ignoring the community that bought into his vision.

      • Nick says

        “it taught me things”

        The only things Daisey ‘taught’ you were lies.
        They were not presented as anything but the 100% genuine truth.

        Standards in theatre may be ‘elastic’ as you put it, but they sure as hell aren’t elastic enough to include flat out fabrications and lies.

        This is especially true when Daisey continued to spew forth his ‘truth’ outside the theatre.

      • Phil says

        Jessica, how exactly would some individual theater-goer CAVEAT EMPTOR to what Mike Daisey was selling during his show? Ira Glass and his team talked extensively with him in January to fact-check his episode; Daisey blatantly lied to them. They finally had to do an end run around Daisey and talk directly to the translator in order for the fabrications to be revealed.

        You also skirt an ugly little question: was Daisey still performing when he did the fact-check with Ira and TAL in January? Or did he tell them that the fact-check interview “is a work of non-fiction”? ;-)

        Was Daisey’s performance in the most recent episode another performance?

        You may be fine with performers lying about facts with businesses, but many theater-goers disagree. They think that Daisey is poisoning the well for all sorts of legitimate performers — a very selfish act.

        What would have happened if Daisey had simply told the truth in his show? We will never know.

    • Scott says

      But Shakespeare didn’t tell his audience that his work was non-fiction, urge them to take action against British royalty, and then later, after the show closed, tell the press that people shouldn’t have thought it was non-fiction.

    • Suzanne DuCharme says

      No, Shakespeare did not lie about Rich III’s hump. He was writing historical, theatrical fiction. Daisey absolutely held his play out to be fact. It is not. A hysterical reaction? Not at all. I think a very reasonable and appropriate reaction. And honest.

    • Phil says

      Kent, the retraction episode had to happen because Mike Daisey blatantly lied to Ira during the fact-check for the January episode. As far as we know, Ira has never ever even requested that David Sedaris go through a fact-check for one of his stories; your hypothetical is rather pointless.

      Also note: Daisey has claimed that Apple *must* know that underage workers are at the plant. He has not — and never will — provide any evidence of that claim. There is huge downside for Apple in tolerating the use of underage workers at the plants. Given there are plenty of adults available, what possible upside would Apple have for encouraging underage workers to be hired by the Foxconn plants?

      Even as stories or performance art, Daisey’s tales don’t pass the smell test. He is conning the audience to believe his claims. He is very accomplished in his craft; his “dropping the voice” trick is a great tool for this con artist. But absolutely none of it serves any purpose in responsible “non fiction” theater. Daisey has hurt Ira Glass, TAL, Public Radio International, Apple, and the entire theater industry. I wish that some lawyer would file a class action suit with a class of ticket-purchasers to his fraudulent show.

  4. Ken says

    I can’t believe the wave of sanctimony overwhelming people who are ready to pillory Mike Daisey and dismiss out of hand his entire show (which, I must admit, I haven’t seen, though I have been seeing/reading/hearing him discussing it in various venues for about a year now). Yes, Mike was wrong to allow “This American Life” believe that he had created a piece of journalism that would stand up to fact-checking scrutiny. OK, the guards at the factory weren’t armed with guns, and he didn’t meet a worker whose hand had been destroyed by a chemical solvent used to clean iPad screens, and he had changed the name of his interpreter. Does all this mean the piece has no value? Does the main point he was trying to make now beneath our consideration? Are all Apple products suddenly manufactured in Berkeley, California, under comfortable conditions by highly paid workers who go to work happily whistling? Is his whole thesis now a fraud? Dare I say, there are some (many?) who are eager to declare it that, so as not to have to wrestle with the hard questions of what karmic price we are willing to pay to have shiny new gadgets at our disposal. Better that we find the flaws in Mike’s presentation, and then self-righteously castigate him for daring to make us think.

    In Spalding Gray’s monologue, “Swimming to Cambodia,” he says at one point, “Everything I’m saying tonight is true…except for the fact that the banana sticks against the wall when it hits it [I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet seen or read it by explaining that reference.].” Now if a fact-check the likes of which was performed by This American Life was done on Gray’s piece, I dare say we’d find more than a few things which had been exaggerated beyond recognition, if not wholly fabricated. Would that suddenly mean the piece was any less hysterically funny, or emotionally powerful? Art is not social work, and it certainly isn’t journalism. It is, in the words of Pablo Picasso, “The lie which tells the truth.”

    • Garrett says

      Your points about art and “the lie which tells the truth” are great, and there are many situations in which they can apply. They do not apply here, because Daisey insisted, repeatedly, that his story was literally non-fiction, on and off the stage. He went on TV telling these lies that he presented as truth, as non-fiction, not as art. Are we to believe that his TV appearances were all part of the performance?

      His show was great, and with the proper disclaimer (e.g. “based on a true story”), it has incredible value. Mike Daisey is an extremely talented storyteller, and his art can stand on its own. Unfortunately, these facts don’t make Mike Daisey any less of a liar.

    • Alastair says

      The fact check was not performed by This American Life it was done by others who were sceptical when they heard either the monologue or the radio show. TAL reviewed and in part replicated the fact check by calling ‘Kathy’ the translator — whose testimony is central to attacks on Daisey’s credibility, along with the fact that nobody has ever corroborated several of his exact claims (guns). Many of the things he talks about witnessing of course have been publicly documented by Apple since but the context and characterisation he gave to these issues is worthy of a MSM tabloid ie. fanciful. A shame because the issues of human rights in China is so very serious for those living in China enduring such employment or “internships” if what SACOM claims about college students forced into months of very-low-wage labour is correct.

    • Chris says

      Kent,
      One point that Daisey made over and over again was that he personally saw workers as young as 12 working at the factory that made Apple’s products in China.
      The TRUTH is that he saw no such thing. What he read, or heard was that “Apple’s products are being made by people as young as 12″. So he read a headline, put the facts the way he needed them to make things “dramatic” and said “this is absolute fact”. There were 12 or 13 year olds working at some supplier of parts that went in to making some Apple product. Apple found out about this and told the supplier to stop (and/or fired them) because it was strictly against the policy that Apple had, a policy that this supplier had agreed to.
      When the JOURNALIST in China tracked down the interpreter that was with Daisey during his trip, he asked her “Did you see underage works at the factory, did you and Mike talk to these kids”. And her answer was “No”. When pressed as to why she was certain about that, she said that said that since it is illegal in China to have kids as young as Daisey stated that HE SAW at the factory, that it would have been very unusual and something she would have remembered.
      Even if he had said “This is based on true events” and not “This is a work of non-fiction” he would still be playing pretty fast and loose with the facts.

      Lastly there is two points I need to make. First, go out and find the piece that ABC’s Nightline did about the Foxconn factory. Look at the rural villages that most of these works come from (where there are no jobs whatsoever). Also look at the number of people, of there own free will that show up to be hired by Foxconn. If these were such bad jobs (by standards in China) then it would seem strange to have so many people show up for such bad jobs.
      That being said please ask yourself why Mike choose just Apple as his topic for this show? Where does he think that Microsoft makes it’s Xbox’s at? Where do most TV’s that we buy in the US get made? These issues apply (to varying degrees) to everything that we buy that comes out of China. The grand total value of Apple products that are made in China when compared to China’s overall export numbers to the US has to be a very small percentage, lets say under 10%.

      So why does Mike go after Apple and Steve Jobs for an issue that Apple did not create, and even if Apple stopped all production in China tomorrow that it would have very little impact on the number of factories that are churning out electronics that will be headed to the US. Could it be that he was more concerned with selling tickets than actually helping Chinese workers?

      • Kent says

        Ken and Kent are not the same poster. My posts are specifically in response to the idea of poetic license and have nothing to do with the facts of Mike’s show or his lying. I don’t dispute those at all. Just so we’re clear.

      • Ken says

        Daisey “went after” (as you put it) Apple, rather than the hundreds of other companies who have their electronic products manufactured in China, because, yes, it does make for a better theater piece. Apple had a charismatic CEO, a character the public had heard of and probably knew something about. Daisey is a theater artist. That is what he does. So, should he make a LESS interesting theater piece, that attracts FEWER people? Is that what you do in your line of work–constantly strive to get LESS attention and compensation for the work you do?

        His sin is not being upfront with the “This American Life” people who were ready to take his piece as journalism. But outside of that, what are his crimes? He can construct his monologue however he wants, and you are free to see it or not see it, believe all of it, some of it, or none of it. He is not testifying before a senate subcommittee, he has not been sworn in under oath. He is not a reporter, he is not the employee of a trusted new organization. He is an actor and playwright. He put on a play.

        • Eugene says

          And labeled it non-fiction. And passed out pamphlets for people to take action against Apple. About facts. Facts that he claimed were so rampant that even a big american in a hawaiian shirt with no journalistic background could verify in a six day tour by standing at the gates of Foxconn. Facts that Apple already reported on and put effort to fix and was in no way as rampant as he claimed.

          In short, he lied.

      • John says

        Well said. He singled-out Apple for violations that he fabricated. He wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times that was published the day after Steve Jobs died that reiterated the “mangled hand” tale. Are we to not take a NY Times piece as truthful? He appeared on Bill Maher, Ed Schulz, et cetera, claiming he saw all of these things with his own two eyes.

        If he cared so much of worker plight, he would, instead of producing lies, emphasize the slew of electronics manufacturers who use Foxconn and China for production. That’s something true, that is compelling – that *isn’t* in his story. He’s implying there are alternatives, when there are none. Take a look at your TV, Blu-Ray player, XBOX 360. All made in China in tedious factory conditions.

        The reality doesn’t make people care enough to suit him, so he fabricates worse things and says they’re true, and then charges people to see him dramatically rage about it. He implies Apple should be disgusted and ashamed with itself in this line I just listened to and transcribed, that he says slowly and in hushed tones: “I met workers who were 14 years old, 13 years old…… 12 years old…… do you really think …… Apple doesn’t know”?

        He is a parasite and liar. He used the guilt of people for financial gain. He used the attention and success of Apple, Apple’s products, Steve Jobs, and hard work of the employees of Apple to reap a financial gain for himself. Shaming others while reaping profits.

        The few truths are mostly about long and tedious work. Are you kidding me? I assure you that you will find all sorts of long and tedious labor to be had in the U.S. Check out home construction or data entry. These people don’t have a right of humanity to not be bored!

        If you see About Schmidt, and feel bad for the poverty and famine of Ndugu in Africa – a plainly fabricated person – you can still feel bad for the plight of those in terrible conditions in Africa. In my DVD copy, there’s even an envelope to donate to a real world charity like the one portrayed in the film. But they’re honest that the movie is fake! It’s still powerful. Mike Daisey’s monologue was nothing of the sort.

        • Ken says

          From what I’ve read, most of the things Daisey had claimed to see (Workers maimed by machinery/chemicals, child workers, etc.) do actually exist and have been reported in other venues. It’s just that Daisey wasn’t the one who saw them. The fact remains that he was describing a real situation that deserves attention. Yes, he put himself at locations and in time frames that don’t check out. But people are acting as if now we can forget about the subject, because we discovered some inaccuracies in his piece. Apple (and the other electronic manufacturers) must not really have any problematic labor practices in China that are worth investigating, because this guy made up some details for a theater piece.

          • Proshun says

            “From what I’ve read, most of the things Daisey had claimed to see (Workers maimed by machinery/chemicals, child workers, etc.) ”

            context is all important:

            daisey claimed to have met 13 year old working in horrifying condidtions on apple’s products.

            but what did the audtis actually say about child workers?

            Apple has caught suppliers with underaged workers but were they 13 and what were they doing? The legal employment age in their supplier factories for apple are actually higher (16) than the legal age in many western countries (15 in my town). So factories letting 15 year olds is actually violating Chinese law. There’s a big difference between 13 and a 15 year old slipping through.
            And Daisey described the 13 year old as working as horrible indentutred conditions. If a 15 year old was hired by a small supplier (most of the violations were in the smaller suppliers) to sweep the floor that’s different context altogether. but apple has said it is appalled by ANY child labour and it is a supplier firing offense.

            Also “Workers maimed by machinery/chemicals, child workers, ” can be TRUE even in the U.S.A. There are thousands of industrial accidents in the U.S: have we forgotten the oil rig that blew up spewing oil in the Gulf and killing numerous workers? And plenty of ‘children’ work on farms , in family businesses like restaurants, hundreds of thousands of teenagers (15-16) work in McDonalds etc so Again CONTEXT is important.

            the thing is Daisey removed the context is by lying and exaggeration.

            here is an example : if a newspaper report says ” man broke into house” , ok fine but if I say ” I SAW the man break into the house and attack the old lady and rape her”. Can I say it was ESSENTIALLY correct based on true facts and I just made up a few bit to make it interesting?

  5. yet another steve says

    I can’t believe he has defenders. His truth is at the level of “it must be true I read it on the internets.” I can haz cheezburger true.

    When you can just make up shit and look people in the eye and insist you are telling them the absolute factual truth the EVER DOUBTER of every inconvenient (but true) fact is free to smugly believe that the world is whatever they feel comfortable believing it is. And that is pretty much where we are as a global society and that is the cause he’s advanced.

    • rossor says

      I chuckle at those seeing this episode as an attack on art or theater or freedom of expression.

      Daisey erred when he stepped off the stage, walked into newsrooms and claimed everything he said was 100% true. He lied, pure and simple. And that lie wasn’t motivated by a “higher truth.” It was motivated by a self-absorbed need for publicity.

      Stop defending this guy blindly. I expect that from Rush Limbaugh supporters. I expect enlightened people to recognize facts – even when they’re not what we would want – and proceed accordingly.

      • Mark G says

        Rossor…there is an additional distinction to be made. Daisy erred when he stepped off the stage. Period. It doesn’t matter where he claimed everything he did on stage was 100% true. That he did it in a newsroom is wrong; that he did it to his own is betrayal. He spouted the lies the minute he got off the stage. He conned many people, both audience and administrator, into believing his lies in the name of outrage, when in fact, as you point out, it was nothing but self-aggrandizement.

  6. Proshun says

    are you guys just mouthing it that you are appalled etc because you all are worried that you’ll be SUED?

    shoot any HALF WIT would have known Mike Daisey’s stuff was fake.

    all kinds of people who have actually worked in Asia (I’ve spent years there) would have told you it was B.s. and have done so in many blogs and comments but people who hate apple simply put their blinders on as it fit in their PRE CONCEIVED notions.

    The really scary thing about Mike is that he condemns others for been unethical yet he has no ethics himself and can’t see he’s done wrong: that’s something pathological about that. It’s like a pastor who still goes on preaching against adultery while cheating on his wife and CAN’T see anything wrong with the duality of it.

    It’s not just that Daisey fictionalized parts of a theater PLAY but that he went on TV and other broadcasts saying that he saw this and that when he didn’t. Daisey just lied to sell tickets, as it’s clear he has no ethics I seriously doubt he gives a rat’s azz about the Chinese workers.

    And the people who keep defending him, man you must hate apple, as it shows you have no moral compass. And for the people who paid $65 to $85 a ticket you have been CONNED.

  7. doodle says

    As others have pointed out, the problem with Daisey’s defense of his actions is that he repeatedly insisted that his claims were true, and repeated his claims in op-eds and media appearances.

    What’s more, the idea that he was telling little embellishments in the service of some sort of larger truth is hogwash. Daisey saw news accounts of some sensational incidents–hexane poisoning, etc–and pretended to have heard firsthand accounts of all hese things during one short visit. The resulting impression is of a situation far worse than it really is. Certainly working for Foxconn seems like a grim existence, but Daisey’s account is a lie on every level. Given this even “based on a true story” might be a stretch. This is more than a “flaw in presentation.”

  8. J-train says

    As a theater maker, I understand how research works in this situation. We do exhaustive research and have extensive meetings in the course of any production. And, yes, we often embelish to tell a better story. We do not, however, make anything up and insist it is truth when we do this. Using theater as a veil and saying its ok is insulting to everyone who makes theater and cares about using art to reach audiences.

    What is so stupid is that there are many truths that would have made the story just as entertaining and informing. TAL even spent the last 15 minutes of their show Saturday about the real violations that Apple is doing and why Apple in particular IS one of the more powerful in China. All Daisey had to do was create a character for himself and say that it was based on a true story. And then not insist it was all truth when speaking with reporters.

    What he did was sit on stage using his own name and hand out fliers that said “this is all true.” The Laramie Project never did that.

    Even for fiction, research is important in the details. Last night at a dress rehearsal, I checked to make sure Fabreze was invented during the time of the show as we were using a bottle as set dressing. But Daisey represented himself as more of a lecturer than a character saying a monologue. In that, he showed a lack of respect for theater and the good work so many of us do.

  9. minimalist says

    Thanks Alli. It’s good to hear from someone from the world of theater understand why people are upset. Its very simple. People don’t like being lied to. And they like it even less when the person caught red handed tried to avoid responsibility with weaselly excuses. Or when they point fingers at others (the latest blog post from Daisey on his website accusing TAL of being “storytellers” (who presumably lie just like Daisey) is anunseemly and pathetic blast of cynicsm that could only come from someone who thinks everybody lies and that its OK – http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/). Too many others in the world of the theater have uncritically sided with Daisey out of blind artistic solidarity. But this isn’t an attack on the arts. Its an attack on a guy who lied to everyone to further his agenda and pimp his show.

    The theaters at which Daisey performed fell down on the job as did the journalists who unquestioningly published his lies. But in the end its Daisey who is most to blame. He lied on stage and called it “non-fiction” and he lied to reporters and called it “performance”. He deliberately put people on the wrong track when they tried to fact check him and when he was caught he squirmed around and acted like a child who refused to admit he’d been caught.

    And the sad thing is that it was all so unnecessary. I already was concerned about all our products being made in China and had already knew of the troubles at Foxconn. I was sucked in by Daisey’s monologue and his original TAL episode. And now I feel like Ive been made a fool. I’m still concerned about worker conditions but I will be careful about who’s word I trust in the future and I’ll be damned if I am going to let Daisey lecture me about integrity.

  10. Mystified says

    This whole thing was bordering on and is now well past histrionics. Daisey’s piece is smart and eloquent, and his message is to the point, even if the facts aren’t immaculate. Except for a few “theater people,” no one holds theater to a journalistic standard. It’s absurd to pillory Mike Daisey for what he’s done. It seems the real rub here is that he’s done it too well.

    • Bewildered says

      >no one holds theater to a journalistic standard

      I keep seeing defenders of Daisey equivocating when it comes to this “journalistic standard”. Yes, Daisey’s work was in the theater, but he explicitly labeled it “non-fiction”. Does “non-fiction” mean “truth” only if you’re a journalist? Does it mean “mostly truth” if you’re a regular person? Does it mean “whatever I want it to mean” if you’re an artist? You don’t have to be a journalist to understand that it’s wrong to go on TV, to go on the radio, to write an op-ed for the New York Times and tell stories about what you saw with your own eyes, when you didn’t see those things with your own eyes.

      Just to clarify, many of Daisey’s critics are not primarily objecting to his theater performance. We’re primarily objecting to his insistence that the performance — an artful mingling of his own experiences and imagined experiences based on things he read in the news — is classified as “non-fiction”. More than that, we’re objecting to his continued insistence in media outside of the theater (newspaper, TV, radio) that he really saw these things. He didn’t.

      Each time he wrote an op-ed/went on TV/was interviewed was an opportunity for him to disclaim: “remember, I’m not a journalist, I’m a performer, we all have different languages for truth, etc.”. Isn’t it odd that he waited until he was caught red-handed to remind us of this fact?

      >This whole thing was bordering on and is now well past histrionics

      histrionics, n.
      Exaggerated dramatic behavior designed to attract attention

      Sounds like Daisey, all right.

      • minimalist says

        Daisy ran to This American Life, CBS Sunday Morning, Cnet, HBO, and The New York Times and presented his lies as truth. He also presented his monologue to theater goers as “A Work of Non-Fiction”. Excusing all that as “performance” is glib and cynical. He actively tried to keep the journalists he spoke too from verifying his “facts”. Using the “but its all theater” excuse at this point is glib and cynical.

        Many of us believed what Daisey about his experiences at Foxconn because… you know… they were said on This American Life and the New York Times and CBS Sunday morning. It’s bad enough he made fools of so many us. But now he is making matter worse by digging his heels in and spinning this whole thing as an attack by the media and Apple apologists who want to seep the manufacturing issues under the carpet. Does he really think we are that stupid and that he is the lone voice in the wilderness who dares to speak of this? Talk about megalomaniacal. He can’t even seem to recognize how his lies have infuriated people who might otherwise be supportive of his cause. People don’t like being lied to and manipulated… even if they agree with your politics. The more he protests and points fingers the less I think of the guy.

        Whether he can admit it or not, Daisey’s lies have had very real effects. This change.org petition based almost exclusively on the “facts” of his TAL monolog and interviews is but one example (http://www.change.org/petitions/apple-ceo-tim-cook-protect-workers-making-iphones-in-chinese-factories.)

  11. Anna Russell says

    So does the responsibility for putting this show up on stage lie solely with the creator? Or are the producers who allowed it to go up without fact checking it themselves also culpable?

    I’d be curious to learn more about what went on behind closed doors when the decision was made to present this. Who got to read and approve this piece? Did anyone dig deeper? I can only assume he had the work published so did anyone there look into his stories? And who approved Mike Daisey’s use of “This is a piece of Non-Fiction”? Sure, Daisey should be ashamed, but I think there’s egg on more than one face here.

    • J-train says

      Ira Glass on TAL apologized to his listeners for running the original story. He said when they couldn’t contact Kathy to fact check, they should have killed the story. The journalists that ran these stories are responsible IMO because this is what they do, and they allowed a very charismatic person to blindside them.

      With theater…this is tough. We do research, but to support productions. Dramaturgs are used when a play is chosen to make sure the details are done correctly. But we don’t traditionally “fact check.” And if a playwright is also the performer and says that it’s all true, our default is just to believe them.

      I think this is a lesson for us in Theater. We don’t have a fact check system for new works – perhaps we do now. Honestly, I’m disappointed in the Public Theater for not apologizing. We tend to just trust that the playwright has done his or her job. I think the mistake here was also presenting something that clearly was NOT theater as presented by Daisey. If what Daisey was doing was a lecture on his experiences, a theater was not the proper venue for such a presentation. The theaters are culpable for accepting such a piece that they did not have the expertise to properly present.

    • Bruce C. says

      As a playwright of some dramatized history, where I’m getting pinched is that that particular field would now somehow be suspect. Alli and others, I don’t think theater staff should now be fact-checkers, if only because it will never be a core competency. I think the learning is that theaters should have a policy that all plays carry “this is a fictionalized account” disclaimers, and no playwright gets to insist otherwise. That’s what movies do with all of that “real persons, living or dead” language their lawyers make them use.

      If someone wants to give a lecture and live or die by their own statements, go for it. But demanding an institution present them as factual is unreasonable for anyone, and kind of silly for the theater. Hearing Daisey demanded that, knowing what he knew, is weird and troubling.

      Happily, Woolly’s light won’t be dimmed as a result of this — everybody gets it.

  12. Woody says

    I think this is an appropriate response by Alli. But I am curious to hear people’s opinions on similar disclaimers which were not true but raised no ire that I’m aware of. One of the more well-known is this, from the opening credits of Fargo: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

    Now, the end goal is different, one is a call to action against a very real company, the other is to amplify a suspension of disbelief for entertainment ends. But should people have been upset at the Coen Brothers for this lie? Or is it acceptable in some cases to take a false statement of non-fiction and later say “well, that was all part of the fiction!” What precisely differentiates?

    • Phil says

      @Woody, if Daisey had kept his damn show on the stage, he might have ben OK. But the minute he started taking interviews with reporters and repeated the lies he told on stage, the end was inevitable.

      Actually, I think the truth would eventually caught up with Daisey even if he had avoided the media. His show was a call to activism, and the information on those handouts was clearly also a fabrication. Going onto TAL just accelerated the process.

      Fargo was pure entertainment; there is no charge for the viewers of that movie to go out and start agitating after watching the flick.

      One point I haven’t seen made here: Daisey gave one of those “If you were offended, I apologize” messages. He didn’t simply apologize for his actions; he made one of those #!$$ conditional apologies. I think the man is only sorry that he got caught.

      I would love to see some artist record “The Agony and Ectasy of Mike Daisey” onto YouTube. I have no idea what that piece should contain, but it definitely should be labeled as a work of non-fiction.

    • Phil says

      Richard, the problem is the innuendo/claims that Apple somehow *must* have known that there were underage workers at those plants. That has a sinister conspiratorial tone.

      If you think about it, Apple has absolutely no upside to allowing their suppliers to hire underage workers. There is no upside.

      If you still believe Daisey, then I have three bridges I’d like to sell you.

      • Richard says

        It’s not like Apple denied it, upside or no. Foxconn made a couple of statements in the ball park of denial.

        In this instance Mike’s detail is sketchy, or more specifically, his translater has cast doubt on whether the enounter happened. This does not mean the encounter didn’t happen. It is, specifically, someone I don’t know saying an encounter, which may or may not have happened, didn’t happen. This is not exactly a water-tight legal argument. Mike himself has claimed with vigour that this encounter happened, but that the girl said 13, and that 12 was an exaggeration. What is the difference? Twelve sounds more shocking. (Audience: ‘Oh my god, she’s not even a teenager’). But it is not outside of the realm of possibility. If there was a worker there who was 13, there could have been a worker there who was 12. For me, this is not a “HORRIBLE LIE WHICH MIKE DAISY SHOULD BURN IN HELL FOR ETC” (paraphrasing), this is logical leap made with creative licence. If you listen to the point in the show where Mike tells this story, the age of 12 is floated more as a suggestion of possibility. He doesn’t say “I met someone who was 12 years old”. He says “I met workers who were 14… 13… 12(?)”

        Ok, fast forward to a potential interview situation:

        Interviewer: Mike, you say in your show you met girls as young as 12.

        Pause: Ok, is he going to correct them and say “well, specifically, it was 13. I only floated 12 as a theatrical suggestion” and then go on to explain the entire concept of creative licence, the context in which the number was used etc? That would be a boring interview, and then the interview becomes the following:

        Interviewer: So… you mean is the girl wasnt 12?

        Mike: Yeah, that’s right.

        Interviewer: But you said she was 12 in the show…

        Mike: Yeah. It was exaggeration. didn’t you see the question mark in brackets?

        Interviewer: So… you lie in your show?

        Mike: Well I wouldn’t put it like that (insert explanation about the difference between theatre and journalism here) and so it’s not really lying, it’s just effective storytelling.

        Interviewer: But… hold on a sec… it didn’t really happen?

        (continued ad nauseum)

        (end interview)

        There are a couple of things possible to note about this conversation, and the most prominent one is that the conversation has not been about China, it has been about whether or not Mike Daisey lied.

        So instead of having that conversation, he nods and says “yeah” and that’s how things become accepted truths.

        So there we have an example of how drama, which operates in a grey area, is crystalised into a lie. Now apply that to about 12 specific points of Mike’s monologue, and you have the show and the subsequent nightmare.

        Let’s look at your bridge scenario.

        Interviewer: So, Phil, you said on the forum you have three bridges to sell.

        Phil: Well, I did say that, but really I don’t have three bridges.

        Interviewer: So you don’t actually have three bridges?

        Phil: Yes. That’s correct. That’s accurate.

        Interviewer: Ok. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you to say that. When you said you had three bridges, I took you at your word. Does that mean you were lying about other stuff too? What about when you were talking about David Sedaris not being fact-checked?

        Phil: No, no. That was true.

        Interviewer: I’m not sure I can believe you now…

        (continued ad nauseum)

        The media can be very stupid.

  13. says

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  14. says

    I think you missed the line of reasoning. If Mike Daisey had presented his masterpiece not at the same time as exact, journalistic candor, but at the same time as a theatrical understanding of proceedings, it would own been out of the ordinary. Had he even held with the purpose of it’s basically, in actual fact devoted but it’s a story, it’s theatrical, and it’s an assemblage of proceedings, it would own been fine. But again and again he held with the purpose of everything taking part in his monologue was devoted……….
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Trackbacks

  1. Does the truth matter when it comes to art? Does it matter that Mike Daisey lied about Apple and Foxconn?…

    Artistic license refers to the liberties an artist can take with the truth within a given piece of artwork. The bounds of artistic license are determined by the context of the work. Mike Daisey’s remarks were originally part of a one-man show, “The A…

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