Daisey's latest show The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs brought even more attention to the artist, probably more than he ever imagined or wanted. The recent monologue details a visit Daisey took to China to observe the manufacturing practices that are involved in creating the sleek gizmos we all love: iPads, iPods, MacBooks.
The show's dramatic and touching description of the inhumane conditions in Chinese factories caught the attention of the NPR show "This American Life," which broadcast his performance. The episode, which consisted almost entirely of excerpts from Daisey's monologue, went viral and quickly became one of the most popular episodes of the show ever. All good, right?
Well, it turns out that Daisey took some artistic liberties in creating his monologue. Some of the details recounted in Daisey's show have been shown to be, well, made up, and a controversy started raging: Where does artistic liberty end and journalistic integrity begin?
The story broke on Friday, and the media has had a field day with it ever since. Media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen dubbed Daisey a "master manipulator" while Slate chimed in that Daisey was an "unethical" and "dehumanizing storyteller." Um, ouch?
New York Times media critic David Carr summed up his condemnation in a column: "No one is suggesting that everything about Apple’s supply chain is suddenly hunky-dory, but the heroic narrative of a fearless theater artist taking on the biggest company in the world is now a pile of smoking rubble."
"This American Life" retracted the entire story, removing the whole episode from its archives. Host Ira Glass devoted Friday's entire show to highlighting the discrepancies between the facts on the ground and Daisey's story.
Daisey fired back with a searing blog post, claiming "Agony and Ecstasy" was not journalism, but a piece of theater: the overall point is still credible, he contends. He argues that the basis of his story, that Apple supplier Foxconn treats its workers inhumanely, remains true. "Given the tenor of the condemnation," he writes, "you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components. There is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing."
In other words, he will not go quietly. Last night, Daisey addressed the scandal in a lecture at Georgetown University. "This is my first scandal," he said. "And, as they say, if you're going to go, go big." Mission accomplished.
Personally, we confess we're sort of looking forward to seeing the revised show when it makes its way to Charleston's Spoleto Festival in June. Daisey is a visceral performer (We almost typed "viscerally honest," but we'll reserve that judgment for the time being). Anyway, no doubt the recent occurrences will become an important part of his work, which has always purported to confront the most complicated and controversial issues head on. Talk it out, Mike.
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