On Tuesday of last week, Mike Daisey appeared at D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theater, ostensibly as part of a forum to discuss the theater’s decision to bring Daisey’s show back for a limited run this summer, but in fact it wasn’t clear what Daisey was trying to do. He offered an apology but didn’t explain what, exactly, he thought he had done wrong, beyond a vague statement that he had failed to live up to his standards (whatever they are). What was billed as a discussion of the issues never confronted the issue at the heart of Mike Daisey’s work, namely, what responsibility does documentary theater owe to its audience and the truth? When someone says they are using theatrical tools to express a larger truth, what does that mean exactly? How is it different from propaganda?
Two days later, the New York Times reported Foxconn’s announcement that it would sharply curtain working hours and significantly increase wages in its factories.
If you look at the time line, it does seem that Daisey’s work drew a great deal of public and media attention to working conditions in China’s Apple factories. His fabricated stories of his own experience, that he fraudulently presented to audiences as a true account, and that he used to push them to activism, may end up being the most influential cause of progressive reform.
The uses of propaganda. A charlatan’s last laugh. Mike Daisey’s story would make an excellent subject for a novel.