Saturday, March 17, 2012

OK, I love This American Life (TAL), but I gotta say this: Daisey's monologue was being performed on Broadway, and they asked him to perform an excerpt for their show. What part of "Broadway performance" did they not understand?

If what they wanted was a fact-checked investigative journo piece, there were several already out there on conditions at Foxconn and other Chinese high-tech factories -- they did not choose any of those.

They chose a performance piece from Broadway, then whacked it because (as in many other works of art, performative and otherwise) it was not fact and fact alone, but a conflation of fact, hearsay, emotion, conviction and concern. Daisey stands by his performance piece, and only regrets the context in which TAL felt they had presented it -- as well he might.

Mistakes were clearly made in the course of this whole episode; I'm just not sure they are the same as the mistakes that are being apologized for in today's TAL retraction of Daisey's performance on their show. They seem to be mistakes of communication between the main actors, and there's no way for me to get, for instance, inside Daisey's head and see if the communication mistakes on his side were 'knowingly made' because he wanted his performance to have the wider TAL audience.

I've heard the retraction broadcast and read the transcript. For the main actors seeking to deal with the fabrication aspect of the situation, the important matters are dealt with early, in sorting out the problems with Daisey's material; for me, though, the important matter is at the end, in this exchange between Ira Glass and reporter Charles Duhigg:

Charles Duhigg: So it's not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I'm a reporter for the New York Times, my job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me, let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.

And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.

So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you're carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah. [laughter]

Charles Duhigg: I don't know whether you should feel bad, right? I mean—

Ira Glass: But, but finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don't know, that's for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions [are perpetuated] because of an economy that you are—

Ira Glass: Right.

Charles Duhigg: —supporting with your dollars.

Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg: You're not only the direct beneficiary; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.

I don't know Mike Daisey, so I can't be sure, but it's my belief that his performance was intended to help make that point.


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