(I've been putting this one off for too long. I can't drop it, try as I may to convince myself. It's just not droppable.)
Ah, Mike Daisy
. First you bend the facts of the case, then you defend the bending.
For those of you as late to this kerfuffle as I am, Mr. Daisy — a most entertaining chap, from what I've heard of his work on the radio — bagged the elephant, as it could be put in theater circles, convincing This American Life
to run a short version of his stage play on their show. It led to the most downloaded episode in the show's already heady history, grabbing over 880,000 downloads.
Then, just a few weeks later, came the retraction
. It turns out Mr. Daisy "embellished" his China visit account portrayed in his one-man show. Little details were "exaggerated" for the listening audiences to more fittingly adapt his trip to the "theatrical experience."
And after all that, instead of hanging his head in shame, he unleashes
on TAL in a blog post.
In the last forty-eight hours I have been equated with Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Greg Mortenson.
You forgot Milli Vanilli. More to the point, you forgot Andrew Breitbart.
Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.
Yes, Mike, that's the case. You just don't get it, do you? You see, there is a very real difference between fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction is verifiable fact; fiction is what people pull out of their ass. A key point here: it doesn't matter how much is fact and how much is ass-pulled.
Like racist policies in the deep South, transforming a work of fact into something pulled from an ass requires only one drop
Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of ass product. More than half the books I read are bowel fabrications of the highest quality, ones I enjoy greatly. Most of the movies, the same. Of the shit Orson Welles pulled out of his own copious ass, for example, I cannot get enough. (Well, except for a few. Not all his ass-pulls were great; some were shitty pieces. We all have them, and they should be flushed.)
Magician Jamie Ian Swiss has a phrase for pulling things out of your ass for entertainment: he considers them "honest lies"
, in that everyone watching or reading or listening (yes, most music lyrics are lies as well) accepts that the following is not necessarily true, but is instead meant to entertain.
Meaning when you get up on stage or in front of a microphone and portray some events that actually happened and intersperse events and observations that did not
happen — in other words to forgo any adequate disclaimer
about what the audience can expect — you are not lying honestly. You are inviting the audience to follow an account they will consider factual.
Meaning it better be
factual. Because, if you don't, everything you say will be called into question, and not just in Agony
Here's an example. A few years before this particular piece, Mr. Daisy produced something called Monopoly!
, a "devastating monologue about monopoly and its discontents," where Mr. Daisey "explores the warped genius of inventor Nikola Tesla and his war with Thomas Edison over electricity." Portions of this aired on another public radio show, Studio 360's "Nikola Tesla: Strange Genius."
With me so far?
Excerpted from Daisy's show was a passage about Edison's DC trolleys. According to the piece, these streetcars would occasionally start buzzing strangely; when this happened, all the locals knew from past experience some kind of violent electrical discharge would soon follow. If they didn't get away from the streetcar, a bolt might find a bystander and electrocute him or her. Daisy proclaims that this was the origin of the Brooklyn Dodgers' name, and invites skeptical listeners to "google it!"
Shortly after TAL
's "Retraction" aired, I did. At the Wiki
(as I write today), we learn that by "1890, New Yorkers (Brooklyn was a separate city until it became a borough in 1898) routinely called anyone from Brooklyn a 'trolley dodger', due to the vast network of street car lines criss-crossing the borough as people dodged trains to cross the streets."
I didn't think it necessary to do so at the time, but when I google'd the name origin a few weeks ago, there was a big red warning label on the entry questioning the veracity of some of the information provided, and (without letting the reader know what this was) noted that the questioned information had since been retracted. I'm willing to bet that information might have had some connection to Mr. Daisy's trolley bolts of death. After TAL
, someone thought to retrace all of his utterances, and to remove a bit of information that he himself probably lifted from the net without properly verifying it. In other words, thanks to the fact that Mr. Daisy said it, someone else thought it necessary to either prove or disprove, and now it's gone from the web. Scrubbed.
Thinking back, I realize I had heard Daisy on the radio many years ago. He did an interview here in Seattle just after his stint as a phone support guy at Amazon.com in promotion of another theater piece, "21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com." I laughed at his observations regarding that job, at the silliness of some of Amazon's policies, some of which I've heard first hand from friends. Now, I'm not so sure those stories, like the one he told about improving his caller response time (or whatever Amazon called it), were stunts he pulled himself, or stories he pulled out of his ass.
It's sad when people who used to be believed are suspected of uttering untruths. Think Dan Rather. Think most any oh-so-totally-not
-gay Republican "family values" lawmaker. Take as wide a stance on your performance piece as you think likely, Mr. Daisy, but you have failed. Worse, it's obvious to me at least that you care deeply about the conditions Chinese workers face as they labor to build our stuff. Consider this: though nobody seriously questioned the silliness surrounding GWB's ROTC service, the fact that the document hinting at such silliness was a forgery (printed, I'm sure, by Karl Rove himself) derailed not just Dan Rather's career, but also any
other reporter's pursuit to document W's shady past. CBS handed President George W. Bush authenticity and respectability he most assuredly did not deserve.
Back to Mike:
Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before.
One lie begets another, Mr. Daisy. One lie begets another. It may gall, but you did the galling
. You galled your audience. According to them, you lied once, so. . . . So if you hear about another Chinese tech factory explosion or mangled hand or chemical spill in the very near future and would like someone to blame, Mr. Daisy, perhaps you should find a mirror.