Friday, April 6, 2012

On Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey a lying narcisist.  He managed to create a lot of fame with his "Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" monologue where he talks about a partially fictionalized trip to a Foxconn factory where Apple products are made.  My initial response to hearing his monologue was feeling that while I agree with his core message that the exploitation and harm done to workers by Apple and other firms is bad, I still found his delivery too personal and selfish.

We all know what is happening in China and throughout much of the world.  Globalization has brought untold levels of exploitation and environmental devastation and we all know about it.  Most of us accept it because we either don't think about it or we believe it is just a natural result of the free market and, as such, it's totally out of our hands. People feel this way because many treat the free market as some implacable force, like hurricanes or earthquakes.  Some even go so far as to rationalize it as a "choice" that "free people" make to live and work in these conditions.  All the same, we all know instinctively that what is happening is wrong.
We are all complacent in knowing that our demand for cheaper clothing and consumer electronics, fresh fruits and vegetables regardless of season, and so much else about our daily life comes at a great cost to the rest of the world.  I was able to forgive Daisey's pregnant pauses and desire to dramatize HIS personal feelings that HE felt about what he saw.  I would prefer that people were able to see the evils of globalization and be moved by those alone, but if it takes a bourgeois liberal to express his personal feelings about what he saw to make other people feel anything, even if it's just sympathy for Daisey, then that is better than nothing.

But then it came out that Mike Daisey lied.  He went from an obnoxious bourgeois liberal that used colonial prejudice to tell a highly personal story to someone that manipulated the truth to advance his career.  The problem is that Daisey only lied about how he saw these events first hand.  Everything Daisey spoke about has actually happened. The tragedy, exploitation, and horror he spoke of happened to real, actual people, he just never met them. For Daisey to insert himself into these tragedies is one thing, but to lie about his interactions only serves to cheapen the reality and to strengthen the forces that caused them to happen.

I always felt there was something off about Mike Daisey's monologue.  He spoke of his translator, and most other people he saw, in a way that dehumanized and simplified them down to a quirk or a physical attribute. I chalked this up to latent colonial prejudices or his desire to use short hand to at least give these people a single dimension, since it was Mike Daisey, not the victims of globalization, that was the real character, and victim, of his monologue.  Even if his monologue had been completely accurate, it was still filled with typical bourgeois narcissism.
It is, of course, silly and dishonest to focus on the lies of Mike Daisey over the evils of globalization.  While he would like to defend himself as a "monologuist" who tells "stories" and not a "journalist" (all of which seems to be trying to validate his being a liar), he does have a point in that the media, This American Life included, has made a bigger story of his being a liar than about the evils of globalization.  What Mike Daisey doesn't understand (and why should we expect a member of the bourgeois class to understand anything?) is that he made himself the center of the story from day one.  The story, the story he told on stage and on radio, was never about those that have been mangled by the gears of industrialization, but about his emotional reaction to what he saw.

It is ridiculous for Mike Daisey to be sad that his being a liar is now the focus.  Any attempt by him to shed light on Foxconn was always secondary to advancing his career.  If he truly cared about this cause, he never would have lied and would have done everything possible to make his monologue unassailable.  It is naive to think the neoliberal forces would not use his lies as a means to discredit him and to quietly ignore the very real evils he discussed.

This topic has spiraled out for me and I'll be touching on it again in the next few weeks.  I think this situation has brought to light many topics that aren't well discussed but are important.  It would be far too easy to beat up on Mike Daisey, as he continues to make himself an easy target, doubly so as he has apologized for "anyone who felt betrayed" instead of just coming out and apologizing for lying.

Moving forward, I'll be talking about alienation in our society and our need to feel emotions through proxy and the impossibilities of living an ethical life in America.

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