Mike Daisey

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne)

In 2011, Steve Jobs’ death made news around the world. In the spring of 2012, his name was back in the headlines, this time in a theater production. Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was heavily criticized for its description of a Chinese factory that made Apple devices. The production, originally advertised as “nonfiction,” came under fire as many learned that facts about the working conditions in the factory were exaggerations.

After some revamping and removal of certain embellishments, the controversial show is coming to the stage at 8 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Performing Arts Center.

The monologue intertwines descriptions of how Apple products are made in the factory in Shenzhen, China, with descriptions of the odd genius of Steve Jobs, going back and forth between startling facts about working in the Foxconn plant and how decisions made by Jobs affected these workers.

The controversy surrounding Daisey’s original production first emerged after Daisey read an excerpt of his monologue on the national radio program “This American Life.” The excerpt reported several details that were later proven to be false, including Daisey’s claim that girls as young as 12 were working in the factory and that the factory was guarded with guns.

Though Daisey drew criticism for his embellishment of the conditions at Foxconn, the factory that assembles all things Apple, the rebooted version of the show has garnered praise since it opened this summer. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote in his blog, “Version 2.0, in my view if anything, is more powerful, funny and engaging than the earlier production.” Isherwood also noted, “the details about the long hours worked and the spate of worker suicides at the Foxconn compound are still both disturbing and well-documented.” Reviewer Andrew Long of the Austin Chronicle wrote that it was a piece of theater absolutely worth seeing.

Despite its controversial past, Daisey’s monologue is particularly relevant to college students, who, as studies show, are increasingly using Apple products for studying and entertainment. According to an article published in 2010 by CNNMoney, 47 percent of college students use MacBooks.

“That statistic doesn’t really match with what I have seen,” business and Plan II student Diana Yang said. “Most of the people I know use MacBooks.”

Freshman Lindsay Richmond also said that Apple products have played an increasing role in her life. “I have a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, an iPod and my family has an iPad, not to mention the old iPods that I have had,” Lindsay said. Yang has around four Apple products as well.

The increasing dependence of society on products such as iPhones is a topic explored in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey, a self-proclaimed “Apple fanboy” says in the show, “I had never thought, in a dedicated way, about how they [Apple products] were made.”

“I think that it is important for consumers to know some information about how the products they use are made,” Yang said. Cindi Baldi, teaching assistant for the class, Organizational Corruption and Control, said.

“I’m all for the truth about [working conditions] at Apple coming out,” Baldi said. “However, I don’t think a monologue or something presented as theater is the right platform because even if the facts or stories presented have an element of truth, people are viewing it as entertainment and will subconsciously dismiss much of it as fiction.”

UT students will get the opportunity to learn a little more about Apple or a little more about entertainment, depending on their perspective, when Daisey performs Thursday through Saturday.

Photo Credit: Rory Harman | Daily Texan Staff

Somehow, it had gotten into the mind of Mike Daisey that a half-truth and a half-truth (along with buckets of other non-truths) equal a truth.

This past Friday, public radio show “This American Liferetracted a segment it aired in January adapted from Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In the show, Daisey described the dire working conditions of a Foxconn factory in China he visited in 2010 that produces numerous Apple products. The show helped stoke the flames of discussion about the labor that manufactures the products that many of us hold in our hands every day.

However, those groups of teenage Chinese factory workers Daisey talked to? The man who maimed his hand while working in the factory, and to whom Daisey handed for the first time one of those iPads he helped produce when he lost his hand? Lies; nothing but a few of the outright false, unsubstantiated, or embellished details Daisey created.

After airing, Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz noticed false information, such as the security guards who hold guns at the entrance of the factory that Daisey vividly introduces his segment with. Schmitz eventually opened up the avalanche of other falsities when he contacted Kathy, the translator who followed Daisey on his trip and confirmed the lies. According to Kathy, he met no underage workers. Kathy recalls the man with the maimed hand, but he had never said he worked at the factory.

Instead of the typical mix of stories, this week “This American Life” listeners were treated to a retraction episode, in which Ira Glass talked to Daisey and attempted to get the facts straight. One fact was certain: Daisey lied, and his biggest regret is that in informing listeners about the conditions of factories, he had presented the segment as journalism rather than in the “context of theatre” and memoir, where according to him, the tools of truth are different.

You could hear the anger bubbling in Glass’s voice when he talked to Daisey. It represented the anger of the thousands upon thousands of listeners who were horrified at the tales Daisey told of the factories. Daisey had breached the implicit agreement made between readers and listeners and the person who is informing any part of our reality (whether labeled journalism or not): here is the truth, the facts as we know them at this very moment.

What Daisey did was systematically ignore the truth in front of him and replace it with what he perceived was the reality. If the facts did not suit him, he created them.

Daisey’s non-mea culpa shows he just doesn’t understand. Memories from a memoir are false if they did not happen; they are simply imagination. A theatre show that describes an existing factory is false if the people and occurrences in the factory do not exist. If Daisey wanted to create action about factory conditions, he should have realized a real, substantial movement is built on the truth. Otherwise, the lie is just waiting to collapse.

According to the producers of “This American Life,” under no circumstances leading up to the airing of the show did Daisey admit to any falsehoods. That’s because he understood the only crutch that these concoctions were supported on was that they were real — real factories, real products, real people.

At the end of the day, Daisey’s actions are condescending. Like a movie studio that churns out CGI-infested films that are supposedly what audiences want, Daisey believed the truth could not stand alone; that he needed these crazy stories for his show to have an impact.

We as listeners, however, were not necessarily enticed by the segment because it featured his embellished details. We listened because we believed it to be completely true. Daisey fed into this vicious cycle that we would only consume that which is heightened and sensationalized.

But the fervor surrounding the retraction and backlash against Daisey is a rejection of that notion. The irony is that in fabricating these wild facts and attempting to bring awareness, Daisey instead has brought attention onto himself rather than on factory conditions. He undermined the very issue he supposedly wanted to help.

However, from the “This American Life” retraction episode to the flurry of articles and blog posts, the discussion over this issue is important because it focuses on what we want and need as readers and listeners: to be told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Published on Wednesday, March 21, 2012 as:Radio segment retracted after falsehoods revealed