Sorry y’all: I’ve been trying to keep up at least a weekly presence on this here blog but I missed yesterday due to a Mac-to-PC conversion fail and my thoughts on Maggie Walker’s “Sweeney Todd,” Theatre IV’s “Stinky Cheese Man,” and Triangle Players’ “Next Fall” are now being reconstructed by a diligent but slow-moving team of squirrels working in the bowels of my laptop. I’ll get them posted tomorrow.
In the meantime, I’ve been following the dust-up over the Mike Daisey monologue show with much interest and was finally able to listen to the “This American Life” retraction last night.
I don’t know if anyone else out there in Richmond theater land is as interested but there are intriguing definitional issues being discussed here, all with the backdrop of our tortured relationship with China as the context. I’m a long-time fan of This American Life and I heard the original broadcast of Daisey’s monologue. It is a very powerful story and taps into some of the main reasons I have been so interested in China for the past 6-7 years.
When questions were raised about the truthfulness of Daisey’s account, it took the whole subject to another level for me. The irony is that, while Daisey’s monologue explores the way an American company exploits Chinese workers, the resulting fabrications show that Daisey himself was exploiting the situation in China for his own gain, that is, to develop a powerful – and lucrative – performance piece. So while we could be spending time looking at this messed up economic and cultural relationship we have with China, instead the focus turns to more esoteric questions about what is truth and what responsibility an artist has to label what he or she does.
These are certainly interesting questions. But, in the end, I think Daisey blew his credibility by not coming clean when asked directly about whether something was truthful or not. Sure, an artist has license and, in the context of a stage show, may wander freely from the strict bounds of journalistic integrity. But still, I think when someone is fact-checking your piece and you outright lie, it no longer becomes about the freedom of expression of an artist. It comes down to a person simply not having integrity.
Those are my thoughts on the Daisey question. If anyone cares to hear my thoughts on broader questions about China, buy me a beer sometime and we can talk (don’t everyone rush to get in line at once!) And whether anyone buys me a beer or not, I’m posting some thoughts on the shows I’ve seen lately tomorrow. Because, instead of having to choose between journalism and theater, I’m still playing at being a theater journalist. I'm hoping that'll work out for me in the long run.