On my birthday, between A Noise Within’s The Illusion (very nice) and Ensemble Studio Theatre’s The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King (outstanding in every way), I killed an hour with This American Life on the car radio. You know the episode; the one every theater person’s so upset about. The Mike Daisey Rapes Himself of All Credibility episode. Yeah. That one. Several excellent writers in these very pages have weighed in on the subject, but nobody’s said what I think. So I’ll say it:
Who gives a shit?
Aren’t we a little bit old to still be caught up in all this brouhaha about “truth?”
Now, Ira Glass has every right to commission an investigation of Daisey’s reportage for TAL. It was Ira’s credibility (I call him Ira; you can too) on the line even more than Daisey’s, and when some well-informed China journalists got on his case, of course he had to do something about it.
But as for the rest of us? Get a hobby.
Dylan Southard came closest to expressing my way of thinking, and with more intelligence than I intend using here, when he listed 5 things more important to theater than truth. Which brings up my first problem with everybody’s conspicuous outrage about this schlub:
#1: IT’S FUCKING THEATER. Bending truth is the nature of show business; if it weren’t for smoke and mirrors, we’d be carnival buskers with no bearded lady to hawk. What part of “make-believe” are we not getting, here? Remember: Richard III was a real guy with no hunchback, who very likely did not kill his nephews, and wasn’t even all that terrible of a king, as Plantagenets go. Shall we send Shakespeare to WPBS in Chicago for a little public pillorying?
But there’s another reason, more to the point of the ostentatious whining I keep hearing:
#2: IT’S NOT REALLY THEATER AT ALL. What Daisey does is tell ostensibly true stories that promote various liberal agendas. His career has been built on examinations of American institutions he finds objectionable, including Wal-Mart, the Department of Homeland Security and the regional theater system. The “truth” of his tales is a supposition on the part of the audience, because it’s the gimmick that makes his stories at all interesting. He’s more an advocacy journalist, therefore, than an actor or performance artist. So if he tells lies, does that make what he does into theater? No, just bad reportage. In a sense, although he works on stage, he is a yellow journalist far more than an actor or performance artist. So every dilettante with one toe on the boards can stop saying Daisey besmirched our collective honor. He wasn’t one of us when he was attacking Apple; he was more like Mike Wallace – a sensationalistic journalist, by the way, who has yet to be brought to heel for his own excesses; why? Because he’s beloved of millions? No: because he doesn’t cop to it.
Do you not expect a professional troublemaker to make trouble, whether he can find a legitimate gripe or not? Do you expect that a guy who makes his living rooting out dirt is going to fly to China and not find any and write off the experience as a failed fact-finding mission? And anyway, the essential truth of what he was saying remains, as underwhelming as it is: yes, Mike, corporations send work to China because the rules favor them there. He lied about the details only; and so what Daisey should have said to Ira Glass, and to the rest of us, was this:
“It’s all true, every word. Kathy’s a liar, and this interview is over.”
He didn’t, though. He folded, and so we get to vomit our indignant bile all over him because he folded. If he had toughed it out, instead of squirming mealy-mouthed about kinds of truth and degrees of omission, the whole thing would have gone away. But that’s the worst thing I can say about him: not that he’s a liar, or a cheat. Who cares about that; I think the producers of Rock of Ages are much bigger liars when they say they’ve brought a musical to town.
No, the worst I can say of Mike Daisey is that I’ll never rob a bank with him, ’cause he’d give us all up as soon as they put the lights on him.
About the Author: Jason Rohrer was educated in California, New York, Russia and Bulgaria. He reviews film and performing arts for stageandcinema.com, contributes to American Theatre Magazine, and co-hosts the podcast Jason and Todd Talk through Lousy Films. He tweets as @RohrerVacui.