Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mike Daisey is no master monologist

Still on the subject of fiction being presented as fact: You've probably heard about this Mike Daisey character. For those who haven't he wrote and performed a critically lauded one man show called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. This purported to be a factual account of his visit to Chinese factories making Apple products, and included some explosive claims about the appalling exploitation of workers.

While promoting the show he was interviewed on a public radio program called This American Life. Its producers originally believed the claims made in his monologue. Subsequently, however, they did some more serious fact-checking and found that many of them just didn't stack up.

Since they had been so supportive of the writer-performer, they felt that it was their duty to correct the record and also ask him why he misled them. The full episode dealing with this issue can be found here (hat-tip to Gregoryno6). I recommend that you listen to the whole thing. It's fascinating stuff.

And not just because of Daisey's answers to the questions put to him, which I'll get to in a minute. The reaction of the journos themselves is also quite revealing. It's greatly to their credit that they chose to correct the record, of course (if only the hypocritical ideologues at Media Watch were so thorough and professional!). But there's also a palpably personal element to this decision that comes through.

Having an ideological prejudice against big business, they desperately wanted to believe the simplistic picture Daisey painted of Apple's eeevil empire. Which is why they endorsed it originally. But when they twigged that he had brazenly fabricated so many details they seemed to have been quite hurt as well as astonished. That's leftists for you. Naive as well as emotional.

When they ask him about why he lied, they never get angry or upset. But their pique at his betrayal comes through loud and clear. As well as their genuine curiosity about his motives, there's an almost plaintive, miffed quality to their questions. It's like they're saying: "You really hurt us, Mike ... Why did you let us down? We supported you, comrade." Conservatives will find this amusing (as well as a little sad) because they just wouldn't have been taken in by the portly blowhard's tall tale in the first place.

Back to Daisey himself: He's also very naive and emotional. All he had to do to avoid this whole mess was make the qualification in the program and interviews that while The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was based on his real experiences, it took a lot of dramatic license as well. This "all of the truth, none (or at least some) of the facts" defence is still a bit dodgy. But it's an oft-used one and most people right across the political spectrum are happy to accept it. They'll go, "Okay, I know what to expect. I can go with that."

But he didn't think that far ahead. Looks like he didn't think at all, actually. Instead he told them his Apple factory stories met journalistic, not merely theatrical, standards of truth.

The second interview, when the journos confront him, is the most interesting. There are these excruciatingly long pauses when he tries to figure out how to lie again about why he lied initially. He comes up with this lame claim that he "wanted to make people care". Gawd but it makes you cringe. (That's even worse than that other ol' chestnut "I'm making people think". Like they don't care, or think, in the first place!)

Clearly, he said that his story was entirely factual because he wanted to promote the show and himself -- which definitely worked; the initial interview is what garnered him heaps of subsequent MSM exposure. And he thought he could get away with it. (I assume he believed that because he'd had so much good press in the past.)

Aside from his obvious lack of principles, he's hugely overrated as a performer. Watch him in action in the clip below and you'll see what I mean. He just sits there talking with his script before him (presumably because he can't be arsed committing the show entirely to memory). Your average half-way decent standup comedian is not only much better prepared; he also performs his routine with far more verbal, vocal, and physical creativity.

Yet Daisey gets all this effusive praise from the critics (watch for the quotes that punctuate the YouTube clip). One label that's often used is "master monologist". He's definitely not that. He's a coupla notches below ordinary, in my opinion. I wouldn't even call him a master bullshit artist, considering he's been so spectacularly sprung and all.

The secret to his success is obvious. He just says what the overwhelmingly left-wing, anti-capitalist critical establishment want him to say. They're so overjoyed that he does so that they are prepared to completely overlook his obvious lack of imagination, originality and performance skill. And they'll sing his praises until the bloody cows come home -- or he gets caught telling big fat porkies, like just recently.

Just you watch. His reputation's taken a hit because of these Apple-related fabrications. But all will be forgiven eventually (if it hasn't already).


  1. A nice summary of - dare I say it? - Daiseygate, Matt. I'll post a link at TMI.
    Those long silences are as you say: excruciating. In a movie, Daisey would have cracked. He would have screamed it loud enough to shred the wallpaper. "I LIED, OKAY? I LIED! I F#$%ING LIED! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?" In real life, however, silence. As if he's willing the interviewers to pack up and leave.
    Mike Daisey has pissed off a whole lotta folks.
    PS: Here's the other article I mentioned.
    This Is A Work of Non-Fiction

    1. Thanks for that -- and the link on your blog, which brought quite a few clicks.

      Yes, the silence really is deafening in those pauses. It's one of the only times that phrase truly applies.

      The guy's gall is something else. If I'd been sprung doing something so dodgy -- which I wouldn't have contemplated in the first place anyway -- I would have curled up in a little ball and cried for days, then apologized at the top of my lungs to anyone who would listen. Then I probably would have had plastic surgery and left the country.

      But he just kind of toughed it out. Amazing.