The Shocking Truth About Mike Daisey


I am shocked after listening to the second This American Life show, but for much different reasons than I was after the first.  I generally consider the radio to be pretty reliable and informative, which is what I expected when listening to the “Mr. Daisey and Apple” podcast.  I am surprised that Daisey put out a story that he knew was not entirely true to be heard over the podcast.  He said in the second show that he regretted doing it, but that does not make what he did right.  He fooled so many people, including myself, into thinking that his monologue was factual.  I mean, why wouldn’t we have believed him?  He gave no clues that what he was saying was not true, so we had every reason to believe him.  I definitely think that Ira Glass is justified in his anger about the story.  Daisey not only made a fool out of himself, but he also made Glass feel like an idiot for airing this untrue show.  Glass in no way intended to mislead his listeners, but Daisey ended up doing this for him.

What bothered me the most about Daisey’s lies were the lies about the people that he met.  I assumed that he was trying to do justice to these workers that he met while in Shenzhen, but it turns out that he did actually not meet many of them.  He was obviously trying to pull on the heartstrings of his listeners and viewers, but it seems as though he made a lot of it up.  Yes, he admitted to doing this and justified it by trying to tell these people’s stories, even if he did not actually meet them.  Telling a story of people he did not meet in person has a much different effect.  Just because he did not meet these people does not mean that they do not exist or that their lives are easy, it just limits his credibility when he says that he spoke with these people.  The interview Glass did with Daisey’s translator Cathy gave light to his lies in the play.  One part that especially annoyed me was about the teenage workers.  Daisey admits that, while he claimed that he met a worker who was 12 years old, this never actually happened.  She just looked young.  As someone who has often been mistaken for being younger than I am, this bothers me.  Child labor is an extremely controversial issue that many people feel passionately about.  I have no doubt that underage workers are employed at Foxconn and other large manufacturers, but this does not mean that he should lie about meeting these young workers simply to get a point across.

While Mike Daisey was definitely a liar in his play, I am not sure if he was an “unethical” liar.  It seems as though he really did mean the best by making this play.  While this play is full of stories that did not actually happen to Daisey, he just wanted to get the word out about what he heard and saw while in Shenzhen about the subpar working conditions.  If he had included a disclaimer in his performance saying that not everything in the play actually happened to him, people would not have reacted as they did.  It would cause sympathy from the audience, but without the feeling of being misled.  The most unethical thing that Daisey did in my eyes was, by not admitting to the false truths in his story, essentially pretend that everything in the play was true and did happen to him.  This I find to be unethical.

I thought it was interesting to compare the Bucknell Tech/No’s production of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” with the podcast we listened to a few weeks ago.  I thought the play was a little long and dragged on, but it may have been simply because I had already heard a large portion of it listening to the TAL podcast.  Putting the repetitiveness aside, it was interesting to hear what Bucknell changed when putting on the performance.  I think it was interesting that the play was interrupted every so often to provide corrections to “facts” given in the play.  I thought that was a powerful way to address the controversy stemming from Mike Daisey’s podcast on This American Life.  It directly combats what Mike Daisey said happened to him in Shenzhen, which I thought was important to do.  Performing the play without acknowledging the lies within it would have done it too much justice.  One part that I particularly enjoyed about how Bucknell performed the play was the narrators in lab coats.  It reminded me, as I’m sure it was supposed to, of the original Apple 1984 commercial.  I thought it was a nice way to tie together the old commercial with the present day story.

As far as Mike Daisey allowing his play to be performed or modified by anyone, I am not sure what to think of it.  On one hand, if more people and theaters perform the play, then more people will know who Mike Daisey is.  As a move purely for publicity, I understand this.  Daisey makes his living by people wanting to know what he has to say, and he can make more money if more people know and care who he is.  Even though people do not have to pay to download or perform the play, it is essentially free publicity for Daisey.  It is his willingness for the play to be modified that surprises me.  I guess once it came out that not all of the events in Daisey’s story were true and actually happened to him, it kind of makes sense.  But when you think about most plays, schools and theaters do not usually modify the play before putting it on.  They accept the play as is and choose to either perform it or not.  I guess the difference here is that most plays are taken to be fiction and the audience knows this.  Once the truth came out about Mike Daisey’s story, many less theaters would want to put it on, unless they could modify it to suit their needs.

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2 thoughts on “The Shocking Truth About Mike Daisey

  1. I think you bring up a good point that Daisey’s willingness to allow others to modify his play is simply for publicity reasons. It is clear that this play caused controversy and as we saw with Bucknell, many venues would be unwilling to perform the play without modification. I also agree with you that the modified version of Daisey’s play was a powerful way to present it to the Bucknell community. I think that the interruptions used throughout the play were a great way to showcase the big issues and lies told by Daisey. I think that the best part of this, though, was that these interruptions didn’t simply call out his lies and shut down any bit of information that was misled. Rather, these interruptions presented the truths about working and living conditions in China. They showed the audience that there is, in fact, bad things happening, but still explained that Daisey was not always truthful.

  2. Ha! You know what, I wrote and produced the interrupted version. I dont’ recall us ever trying to evoke the famous ad. WE just wanted something neutral and vaguely scientific.

    So,you never know the power of symbols in art.

    I need to think about being an “ethical” liar.

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