By Margaret Hedderman
Mike Daisey lied. He lied to NPR’s “This American Life.” And he lied to hundreds, if not thousands of theatre-goers in his monologue “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” But what is theatre if it is not a lie?
“The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is the critically acclaimed, massively popular one-man show that apparently revealed grosse injustices and human rights violations in Chinese tech factories that produce parts for iPhones, iPads and all the gadgets we can’t live without in America. All those audience members texting on their iPhones during the show should feel pretty darn guilty – especially because they’re texting during a show.
About two years ago, Daisey visited several factories in China where he was inspired to write a theatrical exposé of Apple. He wanted to inspire Americans to think about where their most beloved toys come from – and the effects they have on other people. In his monologue, he recounts meeting 13, 14-year old factory workers, a victim of hexane (an iPhone screen cleaner) poisoning, and several other jaw-dropping atrocities.
The New York Times was even so inspired by his story to investigate Apple factories on their own. The result: “Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad,” a serious look into the safety hazards of building Apple products.
But, as it turns out, the best parts of Daisey’s story weren’t actually true. Apparently you can make that shit up. In a sense, it was dramatized. Now, it’s not to say that Daisey couldn’t have met a fumbling old man, life ruined by hexane, but he didn’t in real life.
Obviously, the journalists who quoted Daisey and ran stories about him are quite mad. If you’d like to hear Daisey get reamed on “This American Life,” click here. But should theatre-goers be upset?
If “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was presented as a film, audiences would accept that the truth had been manipulated. But an audience’s suspension of disbelief is drastically different in the realm of theatre. While we can choose to believe that an empty black box theatre is a grand palace in India, we can also believe stories presented as truth are really the truth.
Where do we draw the line? Is it acceptable for Daisey to lie in order to raise attention for legitimate concern? Or should “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” have been presented as a dramatization? Would it have had the same effect? Isn’t it good that Americans think about where their products come from?