Tuesday, March 20, 2012

life, or otherwise

I’ve listened to my share of This American Life. I’d consider myself a fan; I also saw Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs when it first ran here in D.C. about a year ago. The apparently volatile combination of the two on an episode of TAL has turned both his one-man monologue and TAL into strange bedfellows.

First, it’s clear that Daisey used a considerable amount of embellishment/fibbing/lying when creating his script. In particular, Ira Glass and crew question the following (we know this from the Retraction episode last weekend): he didn’t go to 10 factories, he went to either 3 or 5; he didn’t talk to anyone who was poisoned by some type of industrial cleaner (though admittedly, that did happen); he didn’t talk to any underage kids (Daisey maintains that he did talk to a 13-year old); and that there were no guards with guns at the Apple factory he visiting in China. As theater, Daisey should admit fully that his monologue is taken from his visit, news reports, and Apple reports. He should simply say that in theater the picture he is weaving is true even if these things didn’t happen directly to him. As he attempted to point out in last week’s episode, he was creating the arc of a story. Unfortunately, for both TAL and Daisey, this is all pretty sour; TAL will survive because it’s a stronger brand; Daisey may not.

About TAL – Ira Glass and crew, who readily admitted twice during the last episode that they were wrong to not kill the story, really come off as complete assholes. If their decision was to kill the first episode, but then begin to investigate Daisey and his facts, I consider that fair game. But Glass’ repeated admissions to not upholding the vetting and fact-checking of TAL for this story rings hallow as they simply grill Daisey and his work. Instead of simply starting any episode with a retraction that could have filled 3-5 minutes, they decided that the better path was to try to get Daisey to defend himself, which he couldn’t, and put that out there as some sort of detraction (an hour long detraction…) from their error. No matter what Glass says, it was a purely vindictive move; a move he knew that Daisey would take a bite at if offered.

When Glass finally enters part III of the episode and brings in the experts from the NYTimes, what we hear is that the arc of the story is correct: the long work hours, the deaths and injuries (via explosions and failure to stop them), the bad living conditions, etc. What Daisey created via the story was true – and Ira’s NYTimes sleuth confirmed that by explaining to Ira the conditions and how they relate to what we as Americans consider harsh. That was the story.

I haven’t listened to the initial episode they aired with Daisey, but I saw the show. I’ll go back and listen to TAL’s story in a minute. But, what I didn’t hear at all in the Retraction episode was an overview of how in the monologue Daisey takes you from his fucking absolute love of Apple products to the point where he has to decide whether those conditions supported by American consumers, in fact created by American consumers (per Ira’s NYTimes pal), are worth the harsh conditions of Apples factories overseas. And in that production, Daisey did a fantastic job.

Both Daisey and TAL are on the hook for this 15 minutes of fame. Since I consider TAL to be a story-weaving show, regardless of Ira Glass’ declaration of journalistic integrity, Daisey had woven a story. If TAL is seriously going to stand tall and declare that they’ve never embellished a story for emotional effect then I’d be very surprised. What this all stinks of to me is TAL using the heft of their history to use Daisey as an excuse for their failed process, and to simply exact revenge for what they consider a hoodwinking.

I can defend Daisey’s story, but he’s a bit harder to stand up for without questions. I understand the theatrical aspect of the monologue, I arrive at the same place he does at its conclusion, and I wish he’d be more forthright in the details. But, I won’t crucify him for it. Ira Glass will, and that is more bothersome than the fact that Daisey’s question as posed is actually correct.

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