Listening to Mike Daisey’s responses in “Retraction” made me cringe. His long pauses followed by short answers made listening to the interview with This American Life uncomfortable. The problem with Daisey’s monologue is simple (at least in my mind) – he mixed truth with lies. I’m a firm believer that people know when they are telling the truth and when they are telling a lie. When Ira Glass asks Dasiey to clarify shady parts of his monologue, such as the ages of workers he interviewed or whether the guards carried guns, his long pauses and seemingly voided answers made the interview process exhausting, as Glass would describe during the show.
Some might argue that Daisey just took his time to answer the critical questions that Glass asked him, however I firmly disagree. Have you ever been accused of lying but known deep in your heart that you told the truth? I have – and there’s no way I, or anyone else in their right mind for that matter, would respond the way Daisey does. His answers make the story even more difficult to believe because he lacks simplicity. Truth is simple and well-understood. Lies are complex and difficult to understand.
So, was Mike Daisey an unethical liar? Ironically, this is a difficult question to answer. Personally, I believe Daisey when he says that his monologue was his best work, and that is why it was so hard for him to answer some of the questions that Glass asked him. I believe that he did indeed experience and witness some of the things that were in his monologue, but that he also drew from other articles and instances that had nothing to do with Foxconn and put them into his elaborate story. Therefore, I think the right thing to do would’ve been to explain to his audience that it’s a fictitious story BASED on true events – not non-fiction like he initially described it. He could have even done this after the fact, with his interview on “Retraction” and I think he would’ve been fine. Instead, he chose to give shady answers and not fully come clean with what happened, resulting in unethical behavior.
If I told you lying was good for you, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But in my personal experience, lying is an appropriate response to particular conflicts – I’m not lying. Simply put, we lie because it works. This contradicts pretty much everything I was told by my parents growing up. It was always “tell the truth” and “never lie.” However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to learn that lying serves me better than telling the truth. Now, before anyone judges me, it is necessary to clarify what I consider lying or in what situations I might lie to someone. I’ve lied most often by omitting the truth, embellishing stories, or agreeing with someone when I really don’t. A simple example is telling my parents I got home from a night out a couple hours earlier than I actually did. The reasons for this lie include avoiding punishment (for my sake) and reducing my parents’ stress (for their sake). So is lying wrong? Most people would probably say that lying is always wrong, except when there’s a good reason for it – which means that it’s not always wrong. Although it may not sound good, we all lie to some extent in our lives. When we do it well, we get what we want. We lie to avoid awkwardness or punishment. We lie to maintain relationships and please others.
Mike Daisey’s “Retraction” episode is a unique case because he clearly embellished facts and made up a story in which he intentionally duped his audiences into believing. His reasoning/excuse/retraction is that he is an artist, not a journalist and so he shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a reporter. Throughout his “Retraction,” he constantly denies having “lied” but regrets not informing his audiences of his fictional work, which is billed as “nonfiction” on the program. It is clear to me that Mike Daisey lied despite his denials. The question now is whether he is an unethical liar. Does he fit into the category above where it is okay to lie? This may sound strange but if he had not been caught it would have been okay for him to lie. Bear with my reasoning. His monologues were beneficial to society. They exposed wrongdoing on Apple’s part even if the specific facts were embellished or made up. People were made aware of a serious problem and appropriate responses were made. But then when it was revealed that Daisey lied, it partially undid what he had set out to accomplish. As a result, society did not benefit from Daisey’s work.
Obviously, Daisey should never have allowed his work to be represented as journalism. Surely, he could have insisted it be represented as theatre, or parody, or exaggeration. But he did not do this. However, the fact remains that Apple still has poor working conditions that are unacceptable. The retraction is about what Daisy said he personally witnessed and has nothing to do at all with what actually happens in the factories. It really is important that we forget all about Daisey’s exaggerations when it comes to Apple’s factories. Daisey’s retraction should tell something about Daisey and not Apple.
Now things get complicated. You heard This American Life’s podcast focusing on Mike Daisey’s monologue-play and the issues it raises about Apple, China, worker rights, us as consumers, and globalization. Continue reading →
I doubt that I was the only person to pause the podcast just a minute in to ask Siri where she was manufactured. Maybe it makes me a cynic—I didn’t really believe the story the guy was telling. But then it turns out that I have reason to feel that way when I have the conversation I had with her. She was in denial. Even after I made it clear that I wanted to know where she was manufactured, she again, only tells me she was designed in California (conversation pasted below). This conversation went on for a few minutes. Then I realized I was getting mad at something with absolutely no emotions. We use these things and they make us happy (and frustrated), but technology itself is emotionless. However, Mike Daisey reminds us that the people who make these things do, in fact, have emotions, and it is time someone takes notice of them. However, I highly doubt I will see “Made by people” replacing “Made in China” on the back of an electronic device anytime soon.
It is appropriate that I am writing this on the day that something miraculous happened. Only in my wildest dreams could something like this occur— I get a text message from my dad. At 53, he is in his 30th year running his own business, but he is only in his 6th year of knowing how to open his emails. He does not own a laptop, has a nokia flip phone, and is right there with the big group of senior citizens in central PA who is constantly complaining that our local newspaper is going to an online edition and cutting its paper edition to just 3 days per week. But tonight, when I opened my phone and read, “What time is Bu gm 2mrw night?” I was kind of in shock. It made me realize that this world seems to be moving on the technology train on a one-way track, and you can either hop on or be left behind. It is for this exact reason that I wonder if Daisey’s and other similar reports will ever provoke any meaningful change.
As great as listening to Daisey was, it was almost as interesting to listen to his audience. His humor brought deafening laughter. But more strikingly, his vivid recollections of the hardships, for lack of a better word, that these workers had to deal with had the audience so silent you could hear it. I would have blended in nicely with that audience. I can only speak for myself, but I really believe that if more people were made aware of this story, and ones like it, a difference might be made. The only issue is that Apple and these other companies are continuing to get bigger. But the question I pose is: will growing bigger give them a larger shield to hide these problems behind, or will growing bigger make their problems bigger and more exposed?