Truth. Such a widely used term, yet no one really knows what it actually is. Is it a long lost out in planes of Eden? Could it be a wild, ruthless engine running the world? Perhaps, it is just a simple entity embedded in the very threads of our soul. Or is there truth? And if there is truth, is it absolute or conditional? So many questions, so few answers. Yet, people keep asking same questions over and over – exactly what Ira Glass did in his studio on the 16th day of March in 2012.
Some say that every single person has his/her very own truth. In other words, one’s truth starts where another’s ends. Perhaps Mike Daisey did honestly think about his play as truthful representation of events. If that is the case, then it is quite easy to understand the reasoning behind Mr. Daisey’s representation of his journey to Shenzhen. If that is the case, then Ira’s anger is also quite justifiable. If that is the case, then the inquisition should have let heretic be. Unfortunately it was not quite as simple as I delineated above. Perhaps, the premise was wrong, and, in that case, anaphora was very much unnecessary. Perhaps, the truth in this particular discussion is slightly unconditional, if not absolute. Perhaps, “truth” should not even be used in the following discussion, as it will touch upon “opinions” and “facts”, both of which, depending on perspective, could be used as synonyms of “truth”. The phenomenon Mike Daisey and Ira Glass argued about has, as a matter of fact, a factual foundation, and therefore “fact” and “misrepresentation” should be used instead of “truth” and “lies” accordingly. We do not want to simply disregard ones “truth” otherwise, don’t we?
Journalism, as I understood Ira Glass, is based on facts rather than opinions, perspectives or vision. Art, on the other hand, presents opinion, often subtle, and attempts to sway opinion, if one is present, or plant it in one’s mind. Ira Glass has his radio show based on facts – he sets rules of the game. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, as a matter of fact, belongs to the domain of arts, as Daisey presents his exaggerated vision of the journey to Shenzhen. He, as stated on the show, attempted to raise awareness among people. The goal of the play clearly was not to deliver dry facts. Therefore, by presenting his play as factual-based on TAL, Daisey violated the rules of the game, and thus angered his “friend” and host, who vouched for the guest. From this standpoint, it seems to me that Ira Glass is quite justified in his anger. However, the way he unleashed his fury was clearly part of a different game. The prologue and first two acts of Retraction sounded very similar to a theatrical dialogue, the goal of which was to address the issues of “truth, lies, life, the universe and everything”. The only part of Retraction that stands up to the bar set by Ira Glass is Act Three. The rest was just, putting it crudely, plunged into burning pits of farce and tragicomedy by highly respected one. What was the point of the whole inquisition from journalist standpoint? Ira Glass, in my opinion, definitely over-reacted. It would have been enough to simply inform listener of play’s illegitimacy in context of the radio show and present factual evidence without witch hunt.
Despite being humiliated in such a ruthless manner on TAL, Mike Daisey did not do anything wrong, other than labeling his play “based on facts”. I would even go as far as saying that lying was not an unethical decision in this particular case. Mike Daisey had good intentions. One of the indications is his decision to make the script available and modifiable, unless the decision was induced by guilt or other hard feelings after Retraction. Mike Daisey’s play was not supposed to inform listeners of the numbers. It was supposed to make people aware of the labor conditions in China, where their “shit” was being made and how. In case one wanted to know the details, there are numerous sources out there online. Bucknell students managed to find, you should too. If Mike Daisey just reported exactly what he saw in Shenzhen, his play would not have been any different compared than any other news article. In fact, exaggeration was necessary to attract attention of public. Numerous journalist articles have been written. However, it was The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that moved minds of people. Ironically, despite public’s demands for “truth”, it was a “lie” that moved people.
Mike Daisey was crucified at Retraction, but not all he did was unethical or plain bad, as it has been mentioned before. He encouraged people to think, and therefore put a crack in iCult religion. However, people still have a long way to go in order to stop worshiping the pagan devices. People have to understand that they do not understand the labor issue in China. As we have seen in “un/real and un/true: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, exploitation of labor was a common phenomenon earlier in the industrial period of United States. In fact, such exploitation occurred in every country that has gone through industrialization. Why should China be an exception? Perhaps, because there were no foreign mega-corporations strongly influencing domestic economy in times of US industrialization. Perhaps, some of the blame for poor labor conditions in China should be put on corporate enterprises. Apple did not interfere in the labor policies of factories such as Foxconn until the media started creating problems, though Apple was very well aware of malpractices. As we know, prevention is best solution to a problem. Apple also knew, but they did not take action.
The truth – I am not even sure whether it is a fact or opinion – is we do not understand how big the gap between our understanding and reality in China. However, thanks to Mike Daisey, we do at least understand that there is a certain “truth” out there, we should be concerned of, and it gives us no rest. These are only first steps of long, long stairs.
“Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.” – Mark Twain.