Putting the I in Story

I worked as a customer service rep at Amazon in the late 90s, at the same time as Mike Daisey. I don’t think he and I ever interacted one-on-one, but I knew who he was, saw him around the ol’ cube farm, and received the emails he periodically sent to the department, alerting us to upcoming performances by his improv group.

After he left Amazon, Daisey created a one-man show called “21 Dog Years”, which documented his zany adventures with the company. A book soon followed, and I have harbored a petty grudge against him ever since. He had the initiative to do the thing we’d all fantasized about (i.e., turn our experience with Amazon into a book deal), and that made me resentful. You know how that goes (or don’t, and are a better person than I).

A lot of my coworkers saw “21 Dog Years”, and most enjoyed it. Some thought it was great. But the consensus was that it was “truthy” at best, a slurry of his actual experiences, exaggeration for comedic effect, some good stories he’d heard from others cast into the first person, and maybe a little bunkum.

In 2001 when he spoke about the show with the Seattle Weekly (which was on a weird anti-Amazon jihad at the time), the interview contained this exchange:

Seattle Weekly: How much did you really deal with Jeff, and have you heard anything from former co-workers about his reaction to the show?

Daisey: I saw Jeff all the time, almost every day.

I worked like 100 meters from Daisey, and saw Bezo maybe three times in as many years. Like I said: truthy.

In the context of an interview, “I saw Jeff all the time” is a lie, plain and simple. But if Daisey said the same thing on stage as part of “21 Dog Years”, I wouldn’t have objected. I guess I agree with Daisey when he says that the tools of theater are different than the tools of journalism.

And although I and others were irritated at some of the “facts” Daisey got wrong in “21 Dog Years”, it seemed okay that the monologue took liberties with the truth, even if he didn’t state as much. After all, no one thought that all of the workplace events recounted by David Sedaris in “Santaland Dairies” were literally true, and that story was everywhere. Heck, it had even appeared on everyone’s favorite radio show, “This American Life”.

* * *

So where did Daisey go wrong with this whole Foxconn debacle?

For me, the key clue comes not from the This American Life Retraction episode (although there are plenty of damning moments in there), but from a February appearance Daisey made on “Real Time with Bill Maher”. It’s at the two minute, 35 seconds mark of this Youtube clip:

Daisey: People work on that line tirelessly, hour after hour until they drop. I met people who were–

Maher: Until they drop?

Daisey They drop. A worker at Foxconn died after working a 34 hour shift …

And here there’s the slightest of pauses, as if Daisey has reached the end of the statement. But then he adds, almost mechanically:

Daisey: .. while I was in China.

A worker did indeed die after a 34 hour shift. But the truth of this fact isn’t enough for Daisey; he has to then attach to it some connection, however tenuous, to himself. A Chinese man didn’t just die; he died while Daisey was in China.

Of course if Daisey wasn’t actually in China at the time of the death, his statement, as a whole, becomes false. And this is what appears to have happened with a lot of the “facts” of the Foxconn story, facts that were true until Daisey digitally inserted himself into the narrative. Foxconn has employed underage workers (true), but Daisey didn’t meet five of them on his first day. Workers were poisoned by n-Hexane (true), but Daisey didn’t meet them either. Someone Daisey spoke with had a “ruined hand” (true, according to the interpreter), but the man never worked at Foxconn (the company Daisey was specifically investigating). Even the lie that the Foxconn guards had guns is only interesting in juxtaposition to the picture of a rogue American in Hawaiian shirt, boldly striding toward the gates of the factory.

It’s tempting to ascribe this to a kind of megalomania on the part of Daisey, to speculate that he lives in a world where everything must ultimately be about him. But speaking as someone who has dabbled in storytelling a bit, I can tell you that there is another explanation.

The easiest way to make a story engaging is to personalize it, to say “this is something that happened to me”. Everyone knows this on some level. Urban legends happen to “a friend of a friend” because, just by adding that phrase, you have made the story twice as interesting as one that happened to someone to whom you have no link at all. And be honest: would you even have read this post if I hadn’t opened with my personal connection with Daisey?

“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey says in the Retraction episode. Well, personalization is the ultimate shortcut from uninteresting fact to gripping yarn. It is like fairy dust for storytellers: you sprinkle it on your anecdotes, and they sparkle.

It’s a kind of magic, to borrow a phrase. And it is very, very seductive.

* * *

One last observation.

The Retraction episode of This America Life is some of the most gripping radio I’ve ever heard. But you know what would have made it even more interesting? If Rob Schmitz, the reporter from Marketplace who ruthlessly grilled Daisey, had done so with Ira Glass as well. “You said that when Daisey didn’t provide contact info for his translator, you should have killed the show. And yet you didn’t. Why?”

* * *

33 comments.

  1. Thanks for this insightful piece. Despite reading everything about Daisey’s wilting, I had thus far failed to form an opinion I felt satisfied with. I think I’m all set to spew unsolicited op-ed remarks with conviction now.

  2. I read this because you wrote it. I had no idea who Daisey was because I don’t follow the “news”. Apparently for the same reasons that Daisey got in trouble.

  3. I thought I was the only one who felt this way about Mike. I saw Jeff once in our department (he stepped on my foot) and at the all hands meetings. Oh, and at a summer picnic. So there’s no way Mike could have seen him daily. I missed the whole foxconn thing, but the story reminds me of Lindsay Lohan pretending to “save” people from poverty or child marriage or something in India. Totally made up, although she did enter the country briefly.

  4. Daisey is deservedly in trouble for stating monologue material as fact in non-theatrical contexts. An aspect about this that’s important to me is the weight, the relative importance, of the facts in the story. As a consumer concerned with but disconnected from facts about how products are made, I want to know whether Foxconn is enslaving its workforce, or whether it’s merely an unpleasant place to work, as a matter of degree. My lack of important knowledge is what would make a personal account compelling to me, and an exaggerated account does us all a serious disservice. This does not apply in the Dog Years and Serdis examples you mentioned.

    “Retraction” was compelling in part because it revealed that Daisey felt compelled to lie to TAL and others because he understood how much the impact of his show depends on the audience to believe it to be factual. I’m sorry to see Daisey either hasn’t fully made that connection himself or is fooling himself with the “tools of theater” defense, but I’m hoping his recently announced revisions are a bit more nuanced. He’s allowed to exaggerate to tell a story, but he’s trying to do more than tell a story with Agony/Ecstasy, and that’s why this crosses the line.

  5. thanks so much for sharing this. i work for another non-profit in chicago that is currently deciding whether or not to cancel a performance with mike daisey this year. i’ve shared your post with my colleagues to offer a different perspective (and possibly lobby to keep him on our roster in an effort to hear a monologue about this very real experience).

  6. […] Putting the “I” in Story by Matthew Baldwin […]

  7. […] lo conosceva già da quel periodo, ne ha scritto nei giorni scorsi su Macworld, mentre il blogger Matthew Baldwin, collega di Daisey ad Amazon, ha pubblicato un post molto interessante partendo proprio dalla sua […]

  8. “You said that when Daisey didn’t provide contact info for his translator, you should have killed the show. And yet you didn’t. Why?”
    Perhaps he might have answered that “[…]other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.”
    That’s a quote from Ira Glass in case anyone is wondering.

  9. Wait, not everything in “The Santaland Diaries” really happened??

    Seriously, thanks for this. In all the coverage somehow I never even heard about his earlier book about Amazon, much less its similar problems. And your point about “personalization is the ultimate shortcut from uninteresting fact to gripping yarn” makes sense of a lot of things about writing that I’d never conciously realized before.

  10. matt, i guess you would have mentioned it here, but did you see the Jobs show while it was at the rep? i came away from the show with a sense that Daisey had punched stuff up for the sake of theatrical impact, but crucially, not the specific parts of the monologue that are the problem today.

    His second set of responses on the TAL episode come across as seriously tone deaf. his decision over the weekend to drop the anecdotes fingered as fiction seems like a good first step.

  11. This is fascinating. Great, great post.

    I agree that personalizing a story is a great way to create reader interest. Although, another way to capture reader interest is to promise a kind of revelation (of truth) for their reading time. In other words, introduce the story with a fascinating gripping lie and then spend the bulk of the piece exposing that lie. Simon Winchester, in his book “The Professor and the Madman,” does this masterfully. In my opinion, the best non-fiction pieces give proper due to both truth and rumor. Because there is, in fact, truth *in* rumor; but you have to play fair in exposing that highly fragile kind of truth.

    And if the harsh conditions at Foxconn are an actual fact, surely their revelation, properly told, is gripping enough in its own right. Isn’t it? Why the need to embellish what’s already sensational enough in its own right?

    Anyway.

  12. This whole Daisey incident is so compelling to me. While I agree that Daisey should have told the truth in what (to most) are non-theatrical situations (live interviews, say), I’m interested whether Daisey believed the interviews to be extensions of his stage show. After all, if you write a one-man show and ostensibly appear on stage as yourself, to what extent do the truth and lies that you tell onstage carry over to your personal life?

  13. Here’s the thing: criticism regarding Mr. Daisey and his monologue show should be taken in context. He has been publicly slandering a publicly traded company (consequences would affect millions), and in particular, a man’s reputation — late Mr. Jobs. In parts of his monologue, he would get personal and stoop to name calling Mr. Jobs as a jerk etc. He would recount the time an early 20 something Jobs had swindled his partner, the great Woz (Jobs has denied the accusation btw). That unspeakable crime against humanity in his youth ought to haunt Mr. Jobs more than Iraq’s WMD did Mr. Bush. Seriously.

    Simple fact is, and instead of giving him free passes behind truthiness and other inventive terms, Mr. Daisey is a liar who got caught in the act (pun unintentional). He is also someone who has exploited other people (i.e. from authentic Chinese maltreated laborers to AAPL shareholders in retirement funds worldwide), nothing to mention people’s reputation, for his personal benefit. In that, he is a hypocrite, and to many people that’s one of the worst forms of doing evil. Being evil while pointing fingers at others.

    Shame on him and those who would remain associated with this.

  14. Personalizing is useful as a device but it can go a number of ways, I would submit.
    A story doesn’t have to be about the author to be interesting but its easier to make it interesting if its about someone specific: put a face on it, is the simple idea.

    It could be Daisey or it could be the 12 year old girl that Daisey never met at the Foxconn factory. It’s just typically easier to keep things in 1st person for consistency, but it’s not necessarily any more compelling than a personalized 3rd person story.

    Another reason that higher levels of interest and truth value are attributed to first person accounts is because they’re (often) confessionals. The agony and the ecstasy is confessional for Apple and America, and yet it’s Daisey’s telling.

    Why would we doubt the truth value of a 1st person confession? Because, as with all narratives, we need to first ask one basic question: why are you telling me this story?

    Typically there is a personal motive to go along with that personal perspective, and as a result we find that much like as in war the first victim of autobiographical confession is truth.

  15. It’s not the theatrical versus the journalistic truth. When you’re writing about matters of world economics and politics having to do with labor standards… oddly focused on one company… I don’t think being on the stage made the standards of truth any different.

    In a fiction, your characters can be invented this way. But then you can’t do that corny Kermit the reporter routine about “here’s in yakking in front of a factory in China.” He owed us the truth in both cases.

  16. This is really, really good from beginning to “one last observation.” Thanks.

  17. One of the first things I heard in journalism school (Mizzou) was, “Your mother says she loves you? Check it out.” This American Life failed to do due diligence.

    Daisey is just a feckless fabulist with a hollow excuse for his malice aforethought.

  18. I think you’re too quick to assert that “no one thought that all of the workplace events recounted by David Sedaris in “Santaland Dairies” were literally true” … in fact, I recall a lot of upset and handwringing when people first started calling Sedaris out for his exaggerations/fabrications. The point is, it’s not so easy to say that you can write a semi-fictional show and everyone will love it the same as if they thought it was entirely true.

    Also, I think it’s fair to point out that Ira Glass himself has feasted for 15 years on storytelling of this very nature, and I’ll bet there are a lot of segments he’s run during that time that, if fact-checked as rigorously as Daisey’s was, would turn up similarly wanting in the accuracy department.

  19. I really enjoyed this. I especially liked the admission of feeling resentful toward Daisey’s early success. If it’s any consolation, not that you need any, you’re clearly a better writer than Daisey, who deals in cliches and seems not very capable of self-reflection.

  20. FYI, interview at the Sydney Opera House
    http://play.sydneyoperahouse.com/index.php/media/1483-mike-daisey-the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-steve-jobs.html

  21. Here’s the explanation the most people seem to be buying: Daisey just wanted so much to get the “message” out there, his “passion to be heard” was so great, that he lied repeatedly and loudly to anyone within earshot. Gee, what a shining act of altruism.

    Really? Are those the words and actions of someone who selflessly wants to share an important message? He has been dining out, literally and figuratively, on this particular set of bullshit stories for two years! Here’s the simple explanation. A morbidly obese, flopsweat-drenched doofus sees a wave of media attention headed toward a certain factory in China. He buys a ticket and makes up a bunch of crap to associate himself with some famous names. And he finally gets his wish: he’s invited to the prom: MSNBC, Real Time, NY Times, This American Life. That doesn’t make him a hero. It makes him an attention-whoring scuzzbucket.

  22. Thank you for the inside look and you’re correct, your personal connection did make this piece more compelling. Unlike Mike Daisey, you didn’t embellish the facts in order to make this blog post more sizzling. That’s the difference between integrity and having none.

    Mike Daisey can dilute himself into believing the “ends justified the means” but he lied for his own gain.

    I also agree that Ira Glass has gotten off easily by playing the role of victim. Too lazy or maybe he had another agenda to even bother to Google the Chinese interpreter like Rob Schmitz did.

    Shame on him.

  23. Enjoyed the insights.

    I’m currently amazed that Daisey hasn’t been more chastised than he has been so far. A lot of the argument goes, ‘ … well, yes he lied but a lot of the info about Foxconn checks out’. And the some of the individual incidents indeed DID happen and are documented. But the problem is that most of it is now 2+ years old. So, whats new? He presents the show not only as if he was witness to news events that he only read about, but presents them as if they were continually happening and were commonplace. I haven’t seen anything indicating that in the last year, and I’ve been looking. The Fair Labor audit will be revealing, even though some critics are already dismissing it.

    We need more articles that help us understand the lay of the land in the Chinese labor market … whats the range of earnings, what is the percentage of higher education, what is the cost of living, what are the opportunities for upward mobility for the average worker. This info is out there, but with all the focus on this one huge factory, I don’t see enough context to help us understand it …

  24. hat_eater is correct. Ira did explain his thought process. Grilling him would not have turned up any more information. There wasn’t anything more to say. That may not be enough for everyone, but whatever. Those people do not have to listen to TAL anymore. (Oh, and the next step, of course, is to have Schmitz grill all these commenters who are pissed at Ira Glass about why *they* believed the story and didn’t fact-check it themselves. It’s only fair … )

    Regarding the Santaland Diaries comparison, the difference is that Sedaris did not implicate specific companies in an effort to influence people’s opinions. He merely told a (really) funny story that was not in any way presented as journalism. He did not go on TV news shows as an “expert” on Christmas marketing at malls.

    (“Hey, not everything in that hilarious story you told was true.” “So?”)

    Daisey’s goals were noble enough, but he did more harm than good, and, yes, he really wanted to be part of something *big* and produce something big. As the final segment in the retraction episode showed, the reality is far more complicated — and maybe doesn’t suit a theatrical arc.

  25. Unfortunately the personalization lie does more than make it compelling (and untrue.) It takes an event that happens once and makes it commonplace.

    Sheer propaganda.

    Bad things happen in the best of places. But they’re not commonplace. And that’s all the difference.

    Propaganda like this is the tool of the devil. Of Hitler and McCarthy. And the KKK.

    And with his relationship with the truth, I could write the same play on the AMERICAN workplace. And if the Soviet Union still existed, they would.

  26. I still haven’t heard the TAL story about this.

    I don’t know why but TAL drives me bonkers and I often want to punch certain narrators (Ira Glass-ALWAYS) while also being strangely riveted by it and unable to leave my car.

    Honestly, I’m not sure I care so much about accuracy in that show. Maybe that’s part of the issue as well–why he did it.

    God, I can see my kid growing up to do this. She’s 8. She elaborates falsely all the time. Now I am unable to condemn this behavior. Isn’t that absurd? Some people just get carried away.

  27. David Sedaris has been quoted as saying the following. Are your stories true? To which he responded “True enough” A story about working at Santaland is a lighthearted piece that was mainly a self-deprecating tome about the author. What Daisey did is just disgusting by claiming things as horrific as armed guards, permanent joint damage, cameras in dorm rooms, underage workers. His deception will only hurt the real humanitarians who aren’t producing shows Off Broadway but who work tirelessly for the rights of workers. He is so self-serving he just harmed the cause he claims to champion.

  28. In all the brouhaha about the Daisey, there is one lie that keeps on coming up and was repeated in the Retraction story by Glass & the NY Times reporter, and repeated here again by yet another Steve – viz. that slavery and worker exploitation on this scale doesn”t exist right here in the food old USA. Read up and learn about migrant workers in the farm industry, the exploitation of “illegal immigrants” in the food industry etc etc. The whole “look at them awful Chinamen” while ignoring what goes on right next door, makes me want to puke.

    And sorry, there is no pass for Daisey. When I heard him the first time I felt he was narcissistic liar who only cared about himself, not the workers he talked aout and the complexity of their lives. So I am not surprised it was all made up.

    And finally I love TAL and I love Glass. He could’ve and should’ve presented this as a semi-theatrical piece like the Santaland one. But he got caught up in that favorite US pass time – deicide.

  29. Mike Daisey, the inexplicable rising “theater star” oft-quoted for his “observations” about corporate malfeasances, has just been outed by PBS’ “This American Life” as a liar. His monologue rant against Apple, “The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” has been revealed to be filled with BS, stuff he made-up.

    Mike Daisy was an actor desperate for attention even when he foisted his first “monologues” in Seattle at the Open Circle Theater. Maudlin stories about his fat, his family and his pathetic “romantic” life weren’t filling enough seats, and lardy, sweaty, shrill actors have a fat chance making a living via traditional avenues, playing fictive characters in “plays” or “movies.” His solution was clever–pick a hot topic–and use it to attract attention to his “work.” First time out was to pick on Amazon.

    By choosing to fill his “theater” work with stories about brands, he could co-opt the brand’s fame–a theater marketer’s dream, replete with almost self-writing press releases that themselves create news by masquerading as announcements of heroic, out-of-the-box “investigations” by an otherwise unremarkable, grossly obese “actor.”

    Daisey could have written a “theatre” monologue about an actor so morbidly obese that he had no prospects in film, TV or theater, but his “character” would be then a loser, no hero, in a tale of failure. He HAD to find a way to cast himself as a dashing leading man, despite the fat, sweat and chicken voice, and faking himself as a brave, investigative “truth” finder was a stroke of genius–who might begrudge him this little fantasy, especially since he’d only besmirch corporate brands? He knew his audience: theatre fans, ie a dependable smattering of liberal, knee-jerk gossips already suspicious of corporations, Israel, capitalists, etc. By naming his fictive leading man “Mike Daisey” and by not qualifying his work as “fiction” (and that is the word and definition you’ll find he avoids in all his tremulous replies to PBS’s Ira Glass, for by larding his now-exposed lying as “theater” he hopes to squeak by–all theater is assumed to be “fiction,” no? No? Were he to sub-title his work, for example, in this way: “Steve Jobs – a fiction” he might deflate his marketing angle–would folks come?!–but most importantly, he would destroy his personal illusion whereby) he creates a grand fantasy in which his fictional hero “Mike Daisey” saves not only poor, abused children and the crippled, he saves “us,” the world, and he gets to privately thumb his nose at us as well?

    Why would he do that? Because I imagine he assumes most of us look at him and without the heroics, just see a fat, strident man. “You assumed I am just a smug, grossly sweating, obese, actor doomed to minor character roles,  horribly undisciplined as evidenced by my apparent inability to respect a meal or exercise plan and thus in complete betrayal of my actors’ “craft” (wherein “actors” treat their bodies as “instruments” and thus physically train and regiment toward accomplishing “range” with their instruments), but you are mistaken–I am a hero who toils in the darkness to find “truth.” You have misjudged my sweat and fat, especially the sweat, as it spills from the heroic effort to bring you truth.” That’s Daisey’s subtext, an illusion designed for himself first–if we accept that, the rest is…gravy.

    Tag it as fiction, not only is the actor revealed, an unattractive, limited craftsman fated to be typecast as a “glutton” in films like “7even,” so is his “theater,” an odd animal believed by Daisey to exist outside the comprehension of those who respect honesty, revealed to be just another self-aggrandizing screed, a charlatan’s circus act with little aspect of “art” after-all.

  30. This is a cheap hatchet job, despite the fact that Daisey made up half of this crap.

  31. Nicely written. I too am a monologist who once temped at Amazon, doing QA on the pre-release Kindle. I’ve done 3 “12 Minutes Max” pieces at On the Boards in Seattle, and have a new piece I will probably do in my house.

    “If Rob Schmitz, the reporter from Marketplace who ruthlessly grilled Daisey, had done so with Ira Glass as well…You said that when Daisey didn’t provide contact info…you should have killed the show. And yet you didn’t. Why?”

    Glass basically answered this. Check the audio. He said he ultimately trusted Daisey, etc…

  32. I think the general consensus here is that there is no harm in embellishing an inoffensive stage anecdote but when those stories veer into accusations and condemnations with real world consequences, the facts have to be spot on and provable.

    And as one commentator also pointed out, selling a journalistic report that is not based on fact by making it more personal, engaging and emotional is the first step on the slippery slope to propaganda.

  33. I was also at Amazon in customer service in the late 90s, with Daisey and Mr. Baldwin here. Like Matthew I also held a secret and petty grudge against Daisey for penning the Amazon book I was sure I was the one to eventually write. I should say I also hold a grudge against Mr. Baldwin, who discovered this thing called “blogging” a few years later, and urged me to do the same, which of course I did not follow up on, and he did, and lo this decade later the always funny and informative Yeti is still going strong. So nuts to you both!

    (Also, perhaps in some fairness to Daisey, and given the nature of this topic, I should point out that Mr. Baldwin’s representation of his own time at Amazon is also somewhat “truthy” — he didn’t so much “work” at Amazon as tinker with PERL scripts unrelated to his job, and run around jabbering about Settlers of Cataan or some other Germanic diversion until you finally relented and went out to a public house and played it just to shut him up already. All I can say is thank Odin for Mac & Jack’s Amber Ale and White Russians, which got me through those many tedious evenings. But that’s beside the point.)

    Anywho, I think in Daisey’s “21 Dog Years,” which I also saw pretty early on, in the back room of a coffee shop in Belltown if I recall correctly, he tells of at some point graduating from Customer Service to Business Development (Biz Dev in the local parlance) which is where he probably claimed to see Jeff almost daily. Who knows, perhaps he did. (Though, I also eventually moved “up” in the company to the corporate side of things, as a copywriter in Marketing, where I sometimes did work which required Jeff’s direct review, which through appropriate hierarchy I got his feedback on, and STILL never saw him outside of completely random passings, or at the company picnic.)

    But I agree with Matthew on his general take: exaggeration, some liberties, and truthiness, which, given it was a first-person theatre piece, no harm no foul really. Though I’ll add another criticism: it was all just a bit precious, especially for anyone who actually worked there. Even the title – I mean come on, “21 Dog Years”, referring to the 3 measly years he was employed? It wasn’t a coal mine fer Chirssakes.

    You have to realize the context too – Seattle and Wall Street and everyone it seems at the time were talking about Amazon and Bezos and “what’s the boy genius really like” etc. So, given all the media attention, it could sometimes feel like you really were in Oz, working on the Wizard’s secret new machine. The term “Kool-Aid” was pretty casually used internally with regard to getting with the Amazon vision, and to some extent almost every employee had to drink at least some of it, and most did gladly, but not a single person I ever interacted with, from the lowest CS rep to executive VPs, had it go to their head like Daisey claimed to.

    The main thing that bugged me about his show was that it was billed, and performed, like “finally, a true insider’s look into the crazy-mad workings of the Internet darling Amazon where dot-com riches are dreamed up and dashed blah blah blah.” First, I don’t think that story could really be summed up or told that neatly. And second, if it could, Daisey was not in any position to tell it — he was a customer service nobody who became a business development nobody, and and then left to do something else, just like 99% of the people who worked there, including myself. When leaving the performance I remember overhearing some of the non-Amazonian audience chatter, most along the lines of “Wow, I can’t believe all that!” and I was thinking, “Good, don’t, because it’s pretty much bullshit.”

    This is not to disregard his first person rights in telling a story, or his skill as a storyteller. But his role within the company – and what he said Jeff and the company meant to him and other workers – were both, it seemed to me, to be exaggerated to the point of being completely contrived. And the thing is both of those contrivances were absolutely necessary for the theatre piece to work. He presented himself as some pure and moon-eyed anti-corporate artiste who was doubly-seduced into the company by the morally opposed sirens of “We Are Changing the World!” and “We Are Getting Rich with Stock Options!” and then was horribly, and very personally, let down when he learned that what he was doing was actually pretty much a job. Boo hoo.

    One of the tropes he used throughout the Amazon show was reading very dramatic emails he wrote to Jeff about how much the company meant to him, or how much it didn’t, and how much all this how-muchness meant to him as well. I have not seen the Apple show, just read about it, but I find it interesting that the jist of the Jeff notes, and how he talks about his “relationship” with Steve Jobs; the armature of “truthiness” that is required for each show to work as presented; and the need to not merely observe or comment but to (mis)place himself as an ego at the center of real events, are all similar.

    (If that sounds a little harsh, here’s a transcript of the first talk he gave following the This American Life retraction – it’s long, but even a casual skimming reveals the fantastic gymnastics he needs to employ to try to save both his face and his ass at the same time:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/mike-daiseys-first-public-talk-after-the-this-american-life-retraction/254799/ )

    I don’t have anything against Daisey really – I used to read his blog, and thought it took a lot of balls to move to New York and do theater full time. Though it’s kind of interesting to have a little personal experience with this story, given it has raised so many questions about “truth” and the like in modern media, which I think are important and worth debate, and the one theatre experience I did have of his work I immediately thought was a little phony.

    But it’s not like this sensibility of a deeper “emotional truth” is new, and I think where Daisey really goes off the rails is somehow needing to appear like he just discovered it, and by-golly now has to do the right thing and get the message out there no matter what. You can’t possibly write, perform, and produce a theatre piece all over the country, including New York, for profit, and be that naive.

    The last line of the first chapter of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has the 1st person narrator, Big Chief, saying, of his story to unfold, “It’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” And George McGovern’s campaign director called Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, ‘72″ “the most accurate, and least factual” of all the depictions of the election that put Nixon in the White House for a second term. But the difference is both the Chief and HST got dirty in the telling of their stories, and yet did not cast themselves as either the hero or the victim. I think emotional truth is worth finding and telling, but not at the expense of reality, or the dignity of one’s audience, or for one’s own aggrandizement, which it seems many people feel happened here.

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