the truth of the matter

“The ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences.”
– Noam Chomsky

“Truth is the most valuable thing we have, so I try to conserve it.”
– Mark Twain

“The Truth is more important than the facts.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

I’m going to say it. There’s a bloody carcass in the middle of the room, and everybody’s pouncing on it. Mike Daisey said and did some things. Things – from his world view – that didn’t jive with much of the rest of the world’s view. Journalists and theater practitioners alike have weighed in. I’m weighing in again, hopefully for the last time.

Let’s try to forgive.

I know. Too soon. Some will forgive. Some won’t. But what if we did?

There’s a line. Everyone has it. I have it. You have it. It’s that line you won’t cross. We assess how much collateral damage one is willing to leave behind after one crosses “that line.” For some, they’d do anything for fame, power, or money. They’d do anything to get ahead. Kill. Maim. Torture children. And I’m just talking about FoxConn. Others will go to war to change the world. Our own nation does it time and time again.

But we collectively accept those lies. Those ‘truths.’ We allow politicians to tell us one thing one day, and another the next. We watch television and call it reality. We accept cock-and-bull from pundits and players looking to get paid for stirring up the pot. And Mike Daisey stirred it up.

Let Mike do what Mike does, I say. The karma he’s created is strong. He knows this indiscretion will follow him, so let Mike wrestle with his own conscience. We need to focus on how we can be diligent and smarter theater artists and administrators. This event can strengthen our industry, if we learn from it. If we take our eye off the ball because we’re nitpicking at each other over the way one man portrayed “The Theatre” in the mass media, we’ve got deeper problems than I thought. We must continue endeavoring to change the world for the better with our work.

This is the purpose of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: To change the world. Its message deserves to continue. The working conditions at FoxConn are much bigger than Mike, his few fabrications, or the theater arts. Many artists are preparing presentations of Mike’s downloadable monologue. When these performances occur, I hope they are presented in context. By providing context, the truth of the story lives on, preserving the facts, while informing the audience of the monologue’s mendacity. It’s how Mike must contextualize the story now, and this framework imbues it with integrity.

As theater practitioners, we want the world to notice us. We want so badly to carve out a niche for ourselves because the slices are so small. There isn’t enough for all of us to eat, so when one of our own falls, we leap on the carcass in front of us. But what does it say about us when we cannibalize our own? Certainly, this is a great opportunity to reflect and discuss ethical and litigious issues, but shredding Mike Daisey does little more than throw fuel on an already raging fire. Let’s quench the flames and choose to rebuild.

We’ll be stronger for it. And that’s the truth.

______

If you are in the New York City or Washington D.C. areas, there are two panels this week and next about these topics. Every crisis is an opportunity. Let’s use it to learn and grow.

Truth in Theater: A Conversation (NYC)
The Public Theater

Thursday, March 22 at 8pm
Seating is free but limited; for tickets, call the Public at 212-967-7555.
(This is not a Public production)
Convened by TONY theater critic Adam Feldman, the panel will discuss questions of veracity, ethics and artistic license in nonfiction-based theater. Participants include writer-director Steven Cosson (This Beautiful City), playwright-performers Jessica Blank (The Exonerated) and Taylor Mac (The Young Ladies of…), and critic-reporters Peter Marks (Washington Post) and Jason Zinoman (The New York Times).

Discussion at Woolly Mammoth Theater (Washington, D.C.)
Tuesday, March 27, at 7pm
Reservations are encouraged; for tickets, call Woolly Mammoth Theater at 202-393-3939
(This is sponsored by Woolly Mammoth)
A free and open discussion to the public. It will be hosted by Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director, and Jeffrey Herrmann, Managing Director. They aim to engage with the audience about this subject.

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the transmedia and transgressions of mike daisey

Everyone’s always asking the question about Alternate Reality Games:

“Do you let your audience know it isn’t real?”

Alternate Reality Games or ARGs are common lingo amongst any of you transmedia folk who read this; however, to most of my theater colleagues and the general public, ARGs are something new. ARGs are interactive stories using real world scenarios with other media platforms to deliver a story that may be altered by participants’ ideas or actions. Often, in the beginning of an ARG, one cannot tell what part of the game is real and what isn’t.

Mike Daisey Photograph: Kevin Berne

Mike Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs has been a news sensation sensation since last year. It brought attention to the poor working conditions for Chinese laborers in FoxConn factories that make most of Apple’s devices. Yesterday, the story surged again. This time, the news was about Mike, himself. In an episode titled “Retraction,” Mike admitted to “This American Life” host Ira Glass certain portions of his monologue are fiction. Now, the issue of truth – not only in journalism but also in theater – is being called into question.

The monologue – whether by design or accident – became transmedia with Mike’s appearances on multiple television shows, news programs, and his blog. Mike also did something he had never done before: He wrote down his script. Famous for only performing with an outline, Mike transcribed the monologue and made it available for download so anyone in the world may perform the text royalty free. This act for a playwright is rare. It’s benevolent, and it helped spread the story.

Mike spurred countless to act. But as puppet master, the beast got to big for him to wrangle. I’m not suggesting Mike started out with a plan to fool the world, but once people became mobilized, everything changed. Sometimes, people tell the stories they want to be true because it will change reality.

Going to the theater, whether for a live performance or film, we suspend our disbelief. We do this with books, games, and even campfire stories. We know there’s not really a boogieman coming to slash us in our tent in the night, but we still might lose sleep as our imaginations run wild. Even with true stories, we all know there’s a little embellishment tossed in for flavor.

When I saw The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, I never thought it was 100% true. I’ve worked with too many playwrights and solo performers to know personal stories are massaged, characters combined, and scenes interwoven to manipulate an audience’s emotions. I assumed Cathy, Mike’s translator who appears as a main character in the monologue, must be a composite of several translators Mike employed as he traveled China.

Still, I was converted. I became an evangelist for the cause. I did exactly what Mike wanted me to do. I posted Mike’s final plea to the audience on my blog. I emailed Apple CEO Tim Cook. I allowed the meme Mike dropped into my brain to grow into a belief and change me. That’s what good theater should do. It changes people.

But now, all the world’s truly a stage. Pundits and reporters are merely players spouting half-truths to advance causes. That’s what Mike did. He discovered a way to spill the story out from the theater and into the mainstream media to activate real change.

However, during the initial fact-checking of Mike’s monologue for “This American Life,” Mike continued the ruse, which was his horrible misstep. People are happy to be entertained by fiction. They’ll even be inspired by fiction to change the world, as I was. They just want to know whether they should suspend their disbelief or not. Mike didn’t offer that option.

In 2011, I saw another solo show based on a true story. When John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown played on Broadway, John included an author’s note in the Playbill about the authenticity of his stories:

“While based on truth, events within the play have been re-created for clarity. Some moments in the piece fall out of their original timeline to create a more streamlined narrative. One or two characters are an amalgam, but all are portrayed true to my remembrance of them. I had to change some names at the behest of my lawyer for litigious reason. Though all the dialogue is essentially true, it has been distilled and concentrated. I’m not a good liar, so it’s not dramaturgy, only lack of artifice.

I wish to transport you into my world as I saw it – rootless and undocumented. It’s my endless quest to examine my life, to create a history and legacy where there wasn’t one. I try not to judge those chemical and electric moments that have forged me as a storyteller as good or bad, but as stepping stones toward self-expression and self-fulfillment. I always felt that the more times I told my tale to as many people as I could find, I could exorcise the pain from my soul. I also felt that the admission of my culpability immediately absolves me of responsibility for the consequences. Being self-aware means one is not lying. And no one outside of politics likes a liar. Doing a live autobiography before one is dead is maybe an act of self-destruction and maybe an act of shedding an old skin. It’s an act of self-hate and self-adulation. It’s many contradictory elements combined to create an illusion of normalcy, which hopefully allows you to come with me on this journey toward a victory over those forces we don’t understand, called life.”

Mike has a two-line disclaimer in the Playbill for The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in all caps:

THIS IS A WORK OF NONFICTION.
SOME NAMES AND IDENTITIES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE SOURCES.

Changing names to protect the innocent is not the same as fabricating meetings with fictional FoxConn workers poisoned by the chemical n-hexane, used for cleaning iPhones. The difference between the two disclaimers is the lens through which the audience absorbs the stories.

One positive takeaway is the “Retraction” episode of “This American Life” is a solid hour of radio journalism. These days, when everyone is device driven and obsessed with retinal resolution, one of the earliest forms of media offered a riveting, revealing exposé. They shined a light on Mike Daisey’s betrayal of Ira Glass’ trust.

Ira even says to Mike: “I vouched for you.”

That means something. Especially to a journalist.

Context matters. Fictional stories can spread anywhere now and, too often, news organizations fail to vet them. One must be careful not to discredit one’s own cause. Even if Mike Daisey’s sprawling narrative wasn’t intentionally an ARG, there are many now who feel played. He stirred up the media, FoxConn, and the mighty giant, Apple. “This American Life” even continues to acknowledge this issue of poor working conditions in Chinese factories is not going away.

At the end of “Retraction,” New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg offered many facts about the working conditions. Then, Duhigg shifted to an editorial tone, impressing on Ira Glass:

“You are actually one of the reasons why it [the poor working conditions] exists.  If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.”

Sounds like Mike’s Agony Ecstasy meme survives, which is really the objective of his monologue. It’s also clear when telling stories based on truth, context matters. Whether it’s a stage play, film or ARG, letting the audience know a story isn’t 100% factual protects artists from a world of scrutiny and offers the audience an opportunity to go along for the ride with abandon.

No doubt, Mike will rise up to tell a new tale. He’s a storyteller. It’s what he does. I’m sure he’ll come up with a hum dinger.

::

To download the transcript of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs GO HERE

To listen to “Retraction” on “This American Life” with Ira Glass GO HERE

a new direction for apple #occupytimcooksemailbox

I finally got over to The Public Theater and caught Mike Daisey’s new monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The monologue alternates between the life of Steve Jobs and Mike’s own experience visiting the Foxconn factories in Shenzhen, China. He reveals how he pretended to be an American businessman to gain access and observe the atrocities, including child labor, 12-15 hour work days, and nets surrounding the buildings to catch workers attempting suicide. It’s a harrowing tale, and you should check it out before it closes on December 4th. If you’re a user of technology, it will change the way you think about, well…almost everything.

A few days after I saw Mike’s show, I discovered Brad Pitt making this statement about the Occupy Wall Street movement:

“If we were inventing the automobile today, would we invent it on a system that relies on a finite fuel source that pollutes the environment and we have to fight wars for to protect…? It makes no sense for us today. We would develop it like our laptops and our iPads. So, to start questioning…and I think what you’re seeing in America is questioning a system that has not served us very well…”
– Brad Pitt

Clearly, Mr. Pitt does not know how companies make our laptops and iPads. Nor do the majority of Americans. As a country, we take and take, but we rarely ask “where is this coming from?” Mike’s monologue not only challenges us to ask this important question, but it further implores us to examine this meme he’s placed in our minds and do something about it.

As part of Mike’s show, I received a sheet of paper suggesting ways I can make a difference. I’ve done these. I’ve written Apple CEO Tim Cook and asked him to consider shifting how Apple creates its products. I’m waiting until my current mobile device is literally on the precipice of death and my contract with my wireless phone company lapses before buying a new device. This way, I pay as little to these corporations as possible and I minimize the hype surrounding the devices. I’ve educated myself, and I’m telling you. Look beyond the face of your mobile device or computer and try to see the thousands of faces of abused humans who created them.

Mr. Pitt is right about one thing. The Occupy Movement that started down at Occupy Wall Street questions and confronts injustices and imbalances in our system. In light of yesterday’s eviction from Zuccatti Park, I’d like to propose a new place to occupy:
Tim Cook’s email box
.

This technology is here to stay, but the horrors of Foxconn and other technology producing companies don’t have to. I implore you to look at what Mike shared with me below and find out for yourself.

Mike Daisey, Photograph: Kevin Berne

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
That lies in your hands. If you choose not to ignore what you’ve learned tonight, here are some concrete steps you can take.

You Can Speak To Apple
Apple’s new CEO is Tim Cook, and his email address is tcook@apple.com. He receives email sent here, and he and others at Apple sometimes respond. Don’t abuse this email address. Please be firm, polite, resolute, and clearheaded. Cook made his name at Apple by establishing Apple’s supply chain in Southern China as it exists today – everything you’ve heard about tonight springs from initiatives he spearheaded in his years as Apple’s COO.  You can expect him to tell you about Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report, a document written without any independent verification or oversight whose accuracy has been contested by a number of human rights organizations. Ask Cook to take the lead – Apple could be the first electronics manufacturer to allow independent, outside verification of working conditions in factories. They could reform, and in doing so begin a revolution in working conditions for millions of people.

You Can Think Different About Upgrading
When Apple releases their next amazing device, you can ask yourself if you really need to upgrade immediately. Instead of pumping money and support into the electronics industries, you can step back and try to only upgrade when it is truly needed, and drain some of the mania out of our endless upgrade cycle. Choosing not to participate is not only ethically defensible, but economically sensible—we pay huge premiums to buy brand-new technology at the moment it is released, and for many users it would save money if they weighed the human cost of each piece of technology, and became more stringent in their purchasing. You can push back.

You Can Connect and Educate Yourself
Like the beginnings of many movements, awareness counts. Making people aware of labor conditions in China, and the systems we’ve created to feed it, is an ongoing process. Organizations like China Labor Watch (chinalaborwatch.org) and SACOM (sacom.hk) work to track and hold accountable our largest corporations which routinely abuse, poison, and exploit China’s people to make electronics. Apple is hardly alone—every major electronics manufacturer uses the same inhumane labor practices in the creation of their products. We are advocating for pressuring Apple specifically because they are industry leaders, but some may wish to call Nokia, Dell, Samsung, LG, Motorola and others.

You Can Tell Others
This is a monologue—a single voice telling a story of a single experience. But if I have opened a door for you, consider opening a door for others. We do not like to think about our relationship with China and the true cost of our labor, but that silence can only exist if we are complicit with it. Talking about it, thinking about it when making purchasing decisions, and understanding it is not just symbolic. In world of silence, speaking itself is action. It can be the first seeds of actual change. Do not be afraid to plant them.

Spread the virus,
md