By Jim McCarthy Mar 20, 2012 2 comments

From Now On, If I Say Anything Untrue, It’s “Theatre”

Mike Daisey has recently and very famously been busted fabricating stuff for his one-man show (which has been on Goldstar recently) The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. For my taste, the content of the show is a little too screamingly fanboy about Apple, but I have to admit that I was drawn in to his This American Life podcast.

If you didn’t hear it, well, you may have missed your chance, but you can hear the retraction and discussion.  What Mike was saying was so explosive, so powerful and so deserving of urgent action against Foxconn (the Chinese manufacturer who makes many Apple products) and Apple itself that people were moved.  Millions of them.

Except that Mike Daisey made some of it up.  We don’t know exactly how much of it he made up or where the fiction starts and ends.

And in his defense, he said that his work is “theatre” and he should never have put it in a setting that was “journalism.”

So let me get this straight…

A person tells a story about a trip that they actually did make, conversations they actually did have, to places and related to an issue that really is serious and then mixes it up, without warning or notice, with a bunch of other stuff that didn’t actually happen, and we’re supposed to be believe that because it’s performed theatrically, we don’t have an expectation that what you’re saying is true?

And it just so happens that the juiciest, most damning pieces of information are the ones that were “theatre” and not “journalism.”

No sale.

Here’s the problem though.  These issues ARE real and they deserve real consideration, but that’s not going to happen now, or at least it will be more difficult to do.

Theatre uses conventions, like characters and faraway settings, to make it clear to the audience that we’re suspending our disbelief about what is being said.  Just calling a monologue about your personal experiences “theatre” doesn’t give you license to make stuff up.

Or, theatre friends, am I wrong?

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    • Jeremy Wechsler

      I just spent some time wrestling with this. It’s not so either/or, because I think the wrapper around his event (which I saw) mis-represented the literality of the experience, but I don’t find the experience significantly diminished by the revelation of partial fictionalization. Wrote wrestling with this confusion.

    • Jim McCarthy

      Perhaps not, though in the This American Life piece, no such wrapper existed.