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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mike Daisey's statement about This American Life

Can be found here.

This is an extremely complicated issue, clearly. Painful even. I don't have good, strong, coherent thoughts about it. But I'll say a little something.

I hope we all remember that this monologue positively changed the American debate about our use of overseas labor by implicating ... well...people like me. It implicates the well-heeled people who are extremely outspoken about human rights in most instances...but love, love, love Apple and our iPhones and iPads. He posed us a question about what we are prepared to accept from companies we really love. And most of us weren't comfortable with the answer. He also did so right when Steve Jobs became the lionized symbol of entrepreneurship and the future. He did so with the dramatic tension that only a storyteller with his mastery of the form can create. He made us feel. That's a rare gift.

I remember listening to the episode of This American Life for the first time and thinking it would be a great case study for college classes: the difference between dramatic narrative and journalism. The first half of the episode is incredibly compelling, powerful, it makes you feel like something needs to happen. The second half, which is all journalism and questions in a purer form, seems less urgent somehow. It seems to put an interest in the details above emotions. As if, from the start, the producers were unsure how they felt about providing a compelling anti-Apple case. As if we are, in short, a little scared to accuse corporations of wrongdoing without an airtight, perfect case.

Narrative storytelling is not journalism. Still, it will be a hard case to make that what is presented as fact does not have any obligation to be honest. It's not an intuitive case for most people, that some things ARE journalism and some things that SOUND like journalism, are not.

Also, of course, there's the question of details. The devil is in them, I hear. Still, even if Mike Daisey's personal experience was not a perfect and direct match with the story he wrote - is anyone denying that the conditions for labor in China are up to snuff? Are equal to the rights we expect to have as Americans? Aren't we still receiving the cost benefit of the more lax rules found elsewhere that we would never accept for our own working class?

I hope Mike Daisey's reputation survives this and I hope This American Life take a good hard look at its policies.

And I hope we don't get more interested in a small scandal and lose sight of the big one.

1 comment:

Matt A said...

There are a few points in the Daisey dilemma that I have trouble with. There's the specific way he answered emails from TAL outlining their need for him to understand that everything in his show needs to be totally factual. There are the tv spots he agreed to, where he took fictionalized elements from his play and posited them as truth. There's the strange way he seemed so unprepared for TAL's Retraction episode.

But to address your point, Matthew, that we're still better off knowing...having felt something real...as a result of the story, even if it was dishonest in some ways:

In following the fallout of Daisey's story, it appeared that Apple's overseas factories were actually some of the better factories in which people can be employed in the region. The worst prevalent issue was illegally long working days...not lethal dust, underage workers, or suicide on company time. Apple's response has been really positive, but from what I'm reading, no other companies are rushing to follow suit with their increased transparency and more frequent factory checkups.

People are asking if Daisey deserves such a public drumming. So, did Apple really deserve it? Fiction was required to make it a compelling piece of theatre, which makes me think not. Considering all of the truly scary working situations in China, and systematic human rights violations made by the Chinese government, Daisey seems to have forced a lesser issue into the national dialogue by dressing it as something it's not.

Daisey's show was presented as truth, and then he doubled down by lying to journalists. Even if his motivations were 100% pure (which would make him the superlative human being), the critical response against him online seems to be one of the things that makes the internet so great.

...although I do hear you. There are entirely more grievous lies and liars up to more dastardly endeavors than Daisey. Where's our mighty internet when it comes to politicians, leaders of industry, and financial officers??