To Perform Or Not To Perform…That Is The Question

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 The original broadcast aired on January 6, 2012 and was retracted on March 16, 2012 after Marketplace reporter, Rob Schmitz, uncovered the truth behind Mike’s journey to Shenzhen.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.


5 thoughts on “To Perform Or Not To Perform…That Is The Question

  1. I think you bring a really great point about Daisey’s method to convey his ideas to listeners. Daisey clearly believes that consumers should understand their products better – they should know what they’re made out of, where they are made, who makes them, etc. However, the fact that Daisey does not lecture his audience is very important. His ability to tell a story that intrigues his listeners is impressive. He encourages this audience to learn more, to question norms, and to look deeper. This is perhaps a much more powerful way to encourage change because it will leave a more lasting impression. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to do this by simply telling the truth.

  2. I like how you see the good in Mike Daisey for helping consumers see what goes into the products they buy. I was not as forgiving to Mike Daisey after being lied too. I think we all agree that the fabrication that Daisey used in his first story really helped bring out this caring. The one question that I have is how effective will this caring be once people find out that the majority of the caring was built on lies?Basically if you have to lie to people to make them care is it worth it?

  3. I think Mike’s fabrication is simply trying to draw as much attention as possible from the public. No matter it is for his own artistic reputation or the sake of the abused workers, it is not acceptable. If he consider this monologue as a art show, he should never use such a lot of fact to decorate the story. I think his intention of mixing facts and fabricated details is more to make audience believe that it was a true story than make this story sounds realistic. If his original idea is to catch people’s attention, he could reveal all the truth afterward, rather than keep build lies up on the old ones. That is what I thought about his intentions.

  4. But Xin, any “documentary” mixes the artistic and the factual. Choice of light, choice of words. Even a simple news story makes artistic choices in which words to convey. There is no “pure transcript” of news events.

  5. I found the play, and his performance, compelling precisely because he does capture so many human experiences that are bound up in the beauty of technology. Including consumers, including Jobs, including the phone hacker, including the workers. Look, he DID meet some… even Kathy the translator agrees.

    What is so young it “horrifies” you to know that such a person works in a factory? 17? 16? 15? 14? 13? 12? My point is that for an audience to react to an emotional truth, they need to connect to it. The legal working age varies, as do ideas about what childhood is.

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