The Agony and the Ecstasy of Truth: The Time that Mike Daisey May or May Not Have Taken Me to Shenzhen


I’ll be honest, I’m a little late to the party.

I was sitting in Ilana Brownstein’s Modern Drama class about a year ago when she first told us about the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” (download the full script here!), although I probably wasn’t paying attention due to the fact that I had literally JUST BEEN GIVEN an iPhone as a birthday gift from my parents and I was in that sort of comatose state when you’ve just started using a new electronic devise and you’re looking at a small bright screen so much that it hurts when you close your eyes.  Not to mention that I was the first person in my social circle to have an iPhone 5, which made me hot shit, let me tell you (although now my best friend, roommate, and fellow blogger Michael John Ciszewski has upgraded to the iPhone 5s, which inadvertently reminds me every day of my now-obsolete possession).

All I really got out of Ilana’s shout-out that day was that Mike Daisey had written a one-man show about Apple and their questionable labor practices.  I definitely was not looking for a reason to be guilt-tripped into my putting my phone down, so I pressed refresh on my inbox feed over and over again until she started talking about the previous night’s readings–which meant I missed her mention the fact that Daisey had been accused of fabricating his experiences and that “This American Life” had officially retracted their episode featuring portions of Daisy’s monologue.

Which brings us to this past week, when, while paroozing the internet instead of getting dressed (you ever do that?) I discovered that the script “The Agony and The Ecstasy…” was free to download and available to all.

Two hours later I was on campus (in clothes) loudly reading segments to a group of friends.  I was riled up, practically frothing at the mouth, and wondering whether or not to take the urge to throw my iPhone off the BU Bridge seriously.

After I finished reading, a friend of mine calmly asked me “You know most of that is bullshit, right?”


What a let-down.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was so embarrassing, getting that worked up over a piece of political theatre that may not have had any validity at all.  As I listened to my friend explain the story behind NPR’s retraction, I felt betrayed, and most of all, stupid.

Later than night, though, I took my clothes off and decided to look into this story myself, and see what was true, and what wasn’t.

It turns out that the currently downloadable script on Mike Daisey’s website is a version called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: Version 2.0.”  Released after the “Retraction” scandal, this version is void of a certain five minutes that Daisey admitted consisted of fabrication.  However, after listening to “Retraction,” I discovered that the facts about the working conditions at Foxconn (where most of Apple’s products are assembled) are true, and that the falsehoods mostly stemmed from Mike’s own experiences while visiting China.

Which meant that after taking a huge sigh of relief regarding my initial reaction to the piece, I immediately screamed “WHO GIVES A SHIT?!!!”

Ira Glass, host of “This American Life” and its episode “Retraction,” kept referring to the original airing of Daisey’s play as a “story,” like it’s some kind of fucking news feature.  Well, news flash, Ira!  Mike Daisey isn’t fucking Brian Williams, he’s a theatre artist, and his play is a piece of THEATRE, and in order to convey truth, theatre needs to do whatever it can to get through to a 21st century audience, who, if not entertained, will immediately reach into their pockets and check their Instagram newsfeed until the houselights come up.

The greatest part about the theatre, and quite frankly, the reason that I’m a theatre artist, and not a journalist, is that it’s not just about facts.  It’s about so much more than facts.

It’s about truth.

And in his monologue, Mike Daisey shows us the fine line between fact and truth.  Near the end of the play, Daisey points out that even though he’s spent the past ninety minutes explaining the harsh realities of Chinese labor, none of his information is really new.  So, why is it so sensational?

Because I assure you we do not care.  In fact, we will do anything not to care, we will do anything to make a world, to shape the metaphor so that we will not see these things.  We do not want to see them.

And it isn’t ignorance.  Ignorance is a gift you only get to give yourself–once.

And there is no one out there in the darkness in the reach of my voice, no one watching me now, who came to this room tonight thinking,

“China is a workers paradise.”

You knew.

There.  A slap in the face to all we know and love.  Daisey isn’t lying about the conditions of Chinese factories.  And we know that–we fucking know that.  Daisey’s just pointing out that we, as a society, are blatantly ignoring it.  So why is Ira Glass getting all high and mighty and accusing Daisey of being a liar?  Daisy wrote a play.  Don’t get mad a play for not being a 100% factual account.  Get mad at yourself for buying into a massive corporation who exploits hundreds of thousands of poor workers just so you can email at your fingertips.

If the media, as loud and invasive as it is, can’t seem to get the message across–then it’s time to let art do the talking.  In an age where theatre struggles to be culturally relevant, Daisey seems to be one of the few to know how to get people to look up from their iPads and fucking listen.


2 comments on “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Truth: The Time that Mike Daisey May or May Not Have Taken Me to Shenzhen

  1. Not to be too nitpicky, but it’s “Daisey,” not “Daisy.”

    In any event, I’m glad you looked into it on your own. When I teach the controversy in my Politics and Theatre class (at a college in NYC), I find that most students have much the same reaction. First, they hear it was all a fabrication, and then they dig a little deeper and wonder what all the fuss was about, and why so many seemed so relieved not to have to consider the ethics of their purchases.

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