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Daisey, Daisey…

Fargo, the Coen brothers admit is not based on a true story, despite opening with”This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”  If you change the date and the place to China, and 2010, the same could be said for Mike Daisey’s monologue, and his subsequent report that was subsequently retracted on This American Life. 

He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “he says it’s a kind of magic.”

According to those in the know, this was apparently one of the more emotional points in Mike Daisey’s stage monologue, The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.   Emotional, dramatic, the performance formed the basis of an NPR report, Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.  There was only one thing wrong with it – what Mike told NPR  wasn’t entirely true.  Actually not true at all.  In fact it was so not true that This American Life not only retracted the story, but made a story about the retraction of the story.

I think that one takeaway from this particular China story is how American “news” broadcasters leapt on the monlogue and presented Daisey as a journalist rather than a performer who used dramatic license to tell a story.  About things that didn’t happen.  NPR is guilty as hell, and they managed to take their own gullibility into a very well deconstruction of how they were duped.  Statistician guru Hans Rosling once commented that the worldview of his students at the Karolinska Institute corresponded with the reality of the year that their teachers were born, and it’s that ignorance that Americans have of modern China that Daisey exploited with his stage show.  The story he concocted had almost everything you needed – illegal unions banned by the state, workers that made machines they could never afford to buy, child laborers, guns and mysterious Chinese woman called Cathy.  Or Anna.  Probably Cathy.  No wonder NPR smelled fresh meat.

Lots of other bloggers have pointed out that if it wasn’t for Mike Daisey, then America wouldn’t have taken notice of what was going on at Foxconn – the apparently endless suicides that plagued the company for a good long while, and the fact they did in fact hire around 91 underage workers in 2010 – then things wouldn’t have improved at the factories.  The sad thing is that now the story isn’t about factory conditions in China, it’s about Mike Daisey, despite his protestations that we are losing sight of the bigger picture.  Daisey has returned to the stage with a modified version of his monologue, adding a disclaimer that the performance is only based on a true story, and actually isn’t.  The odd thing is that by becoming the story, Daisey is just as guilty as Apple in terms of exploiting anonymous Chinese workers for his own gain.

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