Hindsight is 20/20 and blah blah. It's easy for us to go negative on the much-besmirched character of Mike Daisey, the monologist who took on Apple and has come away just sounding butt-hurt that anyone ever tried to make him into a journalist. "It's theater!" is his basic excuse, and more recently, "My wife made me do it!" But we saw Daisey perform one of his other monologues, The Last Cargo Cult, at Berkeley Rep last year, and not only did it kind of annoy us, it left us feeling like we'd just been preached at for two hours by a sweating man sitting at a table whose favorite punctuation mark was the F-word.
We'll take a second here to give an SFist mea culpa and say that when it comes to his accusations about working conditions at Foxconn, where some of Apple's products are manufactured and which we've since learned he never actually set foot in we previously took his report at face value, and assumed, as everyone did, that he was telling the truth. Whether or not some of what he talked about like workers whose hands were so overworked at a young age that they were essentially useless by age 30 is actually true remains to be seen. (It at least seems clear that the working conditions are, in fact, a whole lot worse than they would be in this country, and that workers toil 12-24 hours a day, according to NYT reporters.) And the unfortunate side effect of being found out as a liar is that none of what you say then has as much meaning.
And don't get us wrong: We love fiction. Fiction can often do more good than non-fiction in garnering a reader's sympathy, and thereby keeping their attention and educating them about the world in a more meaningful way.
But our point in editorializing on Daisey here today, after much has already been said about him in the national press, etc., is to say that his style is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He's a preacher, a proselytizer, and he purports to SPEAK THE TRUTH even shout the truth, with a few "fuck"s thrown in for maximum effect. Many critics have said they like him, and most of them have called him persuasive and his monologues powerful. We will say we fell into a less enthusiastic camp after seeing him perform, mostly because we've never enjoyed being preached to. We are skeptical of anyone who wants to force us to listen to him for two or more hours, and to relay a message that he feels is so self-evidently important that he need not even stand up to act out any of it. (Now that aspects of Daisey's China story have been called into question, we're apt to question how much of the story he tells in The Last Cargo Cult is fabricated, but anyhow, the journalistic import of that piece is far less.) He sits at a table, with some notes in front of him, and he preaches. He weaves a good story. He shouts. He sweats. He asks questions of an audience that they may not be comfortable answering, for their own good.
Were these his only crimes, he could just be let off as a compelling performer, but perhaps an acquired taste. But now that he accepted the role of non-fiction storyteller and journalist, in order to bask in the national fame brought to him by This American Life, the impact of his work changes for the worse. He damaged not only his own credibility and we should note that in telling his tales on stage he does much to convince the audience that everything he's saying is fact but that of actual, committed journalists who have been trying to record the truth of the labor practices condoned by Apple in China. And all because he just couldn't give it to us straight.