Many people were stunned and infuriated to hear that Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was a partially fabricated story performed many times by Mike Daisey. This story was the pinnacle work of his career, and in believing he should expose it to as many listeners as possible, Mike asked This American Life to broadcast the performance. Ira Glass, and those working at This American Life, agreed to the performance and received Mike’s authentication that his story was in fact journalistic (meaning it was all truth). The original broadcast aired on January 6, 2012 and was retracted on March 16, 2012 after Marketplace reporter, Rob Schmitz, uncovered the truth behind Mike’s journey to Shenzhen.
Mike’s performance on This American Life has stirred up quite the mixture of emotions among many listeners around the globe. In “Retraction,” Ira Glass meets with Mike to substantiate upon why he lied about events in his performance and how he could ever come to terms with telling people it was journalism. Although not defensive, Mike apologizes for his actions and then, unexpectedly, proceeds to explain that his true mistake wasn’t including fabricated events in his story, but instead airing it on This American Life. Mike explains how he felt extremely conflicted about his decision to lie to the news station and how he wished that Ira and This American Life would have killed the show. With many listeners, the challenging questions is “Was Mike Daisey wrong for including fabricated details in his monologue?” I would like to provide you with my personal opinion about the situation.
I must say that Mike Daisey’s performance of “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was awe-inspiring because of the way he portrayed the events of the story and how little we, consumers, actually know about the technology we possess today. Did the fabricated elements of the story improve upon the societal complexities he was trying to convey? Of course! He managed to truly reach a consumer market and open their eyes to the grisly conditions in which today’s products are made overseas. This is not only to address Apple, but ANY manufacturer who offshores their production of goods. His decision to create a compelling story that captivated audiences worldwide, in spite of the dropped media coverage regarding China’s labor conditions, was astonishing. I truly did enjoy his monologue and the information it provided me with. Now, on the other hand, comes the criticism.
I do truly understand why Ira was so upset and, shall I say, disgusted by Mike’s decision to lie about the genuine nature of his story to This American Life; however, I do not agree with Ira’s constant berating of Mike. Mike’s story, was in fact, not journalism. It possessed some true information about his experiences in China, but was certainly not up to This American Life‘s journalistic standards. In this sense, I think Mike was completely wrong in lying to the radio show in order to gain access to their listeners. Mike even admits that his decision to approach the show in attempt to have his monologue aired was wrong. And that it is “not up to the standards of journalism.” This, I truly believe, is the sole reason I feel let down by Mike as a performer. He is so very talented and did not need to lie to a certain type of media in order to gain access to their listeners. He should have just performed the show as a non-journalistic work of art.
While Ira addresses Mike’s corrupt decision to air this non-journalistic story, I do believe that Mike’s responses to Ira’s questions reveal the true nature behind his work. Mike understands consumers. He understands that they don’t only “desire” new products on a daily basis, but constantly “want” things they don’t already have. And this “want” ends up turning into a wrongly perceived “justifiable need.” While this is great for those companies who sell millions of products every year, Mike believes that consumers need to see beyond the screens or keys of their devices. That consumers need to understand their devices; they need to understand WHAT they’re made of, HOW they work, and WHERE they are made. These are the concepts that consumerism often leaves unveiled because it may tarnish the “good feelings” one gets from a product.
Mike’s intentions to educate people on troubling current events that often get pushed under the covers is very inspirational to me. He does not lecture people, but instead entertains them while they learn. He does not bore you with facts, but instead engages you in his own personal stories. And while some of these may indeed be fictitious, they have a lasting impact on people’s opinions of certain manufacturers and their methods of production. And this impact, in the end, leads to the much needed change many often speak about but dare not act upon.