The announcement by NPR that sections of Mike Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" were fabricated by the author came as quite a surprise to me. I have long enjoyed Daisey's writing, especially articles from years back focused on the bloated nature of not for profit theater. Many of my own opinions regarding the need for a market driven theater were influenced by his work. Daisey has a unique ability to tell people things they dont want to hear. This ability to tell uncomfortable truths is a powerful tool for artists. But the the truths have to be true. The Public theater released a statement today in which they said, "In theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth.". This is a complicated sentiment, and one which we currently see in many aspects of our cultural and political lives.
About the same time that I saw the Daisey story on Facebook yesterday, I came across a quote, allegedly from Mitt Romney in which he supposedly said that he understands black people because his family owned slaves. Obviously the quote was fake, but that didn't stop several people on my feed from posting it. In comparing these two fabrications, what I found interesting was the fact that in both cases, a lie, or as the Public puts it, a fiction was being used to promote what the fabricators believed to be a greater truth, a greater good. Better working conditions for Chinese workers may be a more objective good than re electing the President, it also may not be, but in both cases we see the same manipulation in operation. In both cases the authors of the fabricated material decided that what they think should happen was worth misleading people.
Today I watched again Daisey's rambling, over simplistic speech from Occupy Broadway late last year. It was interesting to hear it again in light of the new information about his sources. Though the speech didn't dwell long on China, it was used a few times as an example of how obvious the left wing truth that Occupy preaches is. He praises his audience to the heavens for recognizing the clear evil of corporations and speaking out about it. But here's the problem, if it is so obvious, if the negative impact of corporations on our society is so clear,why did he need to make anything up? The answer of course is that it is not obvious, it is not clear, it is in fact enormously complicated. At some point in the creative process Daisey said to himself, how do I jazz this up? How do I make people really feel what I know is true. Sadly his answer was to mislead them for their own good and the greater good.
In his Occupy Broadway speech, Daisey accuses the United States of having exported our manufacturing without exporting our values. As I heard those words I had to wonder, if his interviews with Chinese workers produced so few nightmarish tales that he had to make some up, what was he told that he left out altogether? It is perfectly fair to say that working conditions in China can be abysmal, but one must also acknowledge that since China opened it's markets, there is vastly more freedom for it's citizens, not enough surely, but vastly more. These are the cross currented complicated issues that both Occupy and Daisey choose to ignore, it is a shame, as both would be welcome and vital participants in an honest and open discussion.