When actor Mike Daisey first began performing his off-Broadway monologue "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" back in January 2011, it would have been impossible to imagine that several of the "significant fabrications" penned into his description of what he saw first hand during his visit to Cinese factories would ultimately become the centerpiece of his own agony.
While working conditions at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China are far from ideal when compared to Western standards, Daisey took artistic liberties by stretching the truth about Apple's number one manufacturer of iPhones and iPads for dramatic purposes. The kind of truth that rapidly sold tickets and filled seats night after night. It's regretful that Daisey chose to drag the fantasy of theater onto national radio for This American Life.
If you have not yet listened to the 57 minute retraction episode aired by "This American Life", you should. The Mike Daisey interview is equal parts compelling and uncomfortable as host Ira Glass confronts the actor about things he never saw and met people he never met in China, although weeks earlier he presented those same accounts to Glass as fact. You can view the complete transcript here.
Mike Daisey: "I think I was terrified."
Ira Glass: "Of what?"
Mike Daisey: "I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything."
Daisey makes it clear in his follow-up interview that "the work" he was presenting on stage, part fact and the most dramatic pieces steeped in his own fabrications, would be ruined if the real truth about Foxconn workers was unpacked. The most riveting moments in his story would have no longer carried weight. Like the one about the worker whose hand was destroyed while assembling iPad devices.
It's yet to be seen if Apple will hold Mike Daisey accountable for his actions — serving as a cautionary tale to other writers and actors who feel compelled to embellish the truth in order to make their work matter as we have witnessed in this American lie. I could not imagine a more dramatic end to a story where the obvious hero becomes the villain hiding behind a veil of misinformation.
"I really regret putting the show on This American Life and it was wrong for me to misrepresent to you and to Brian that it could be on the show." said Daisey.
"All I can tell you is that I stand by what I told you before – that I stand by those things. And I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that’s happening there. I stand by it in the theater." added Daisey.
"Stay away from fact amending. It's easy to blur and twist. Just tell it like it really is. "
"What’s wrong with a little fantasy? To show the way things ought to be? Why should I comply to the silly limits of real life?"