Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Things I wish I'd blogged about, # 2: Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey's back in the press at least a little bit, after inviting loads of web journalists (I can only assume Gawker's Adrian Chen was not on his list) to his revised remount of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. For those who don't know or remember, an excerpt from his one-man-show was featured and then retracted in embarrassment on NPR's This American Life after several fabrications were discovered in its content.

One of his upcoming revised performances at Woolly Mammoth in DC includes a Q&A with Steve Wozniak after and costs 100 bucks. At that price maybe he feels a need to hustle a little extra for coverage.

But then Daisey's always hustled. It's one of the things I admire about him. He's a constant, shameless self-promoter. And why should there be any shame in self-promotion? Who else is going to do it for you?

It's funny the level of suspicion we apply to the notion of self-promotion. The very phrase -- shameless self-promoter -- as if one should be ashamed of drawing attention to one's self. As if shame is the normal, appropriate response.

Is this just a basic Judeo-Christian notion of self-denial festering in our culture? I feel rather deeply this aversion to selling myself. It takes real effort for me to hustle -- for jobs, writing opportunities, you name it. In some regards I've gotten better at it as I've gotten older, or learned to care less, or at least understand its necessity.

But it must come naturally to Mike. He's great at email blasts. He's got a cool blog and a robust Youtube channel. He's aggressive in comments of blogs that write about him, whether in wry or confrontational (and let's face it, ugly) fashion.

And that's where I get hung up on his This American Life appearance, his mea culpa, and all the rest of it. I get that he's passionate about his activist theater, but the one commonality in all of his work is the POV. Solidly his. Sitting behind a table, telling his stories about his observations, his interviews, his experiences, his life. His interest in the welfare of Chinese workers in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. His intervention in domestic disputes in The Last Cargo Cult. His righteous indignation about the inadequacies of the American theater in How Theater Failed America. Promotion of all of these concerns is self-promotion in his case. It also seems oddly solipsistic, all things considered. He even makes comic reference to this, addressing his audience in The Last Cargo Cult (or at least a performance of it reviewed by Jason Zinoman) with the following:
“You are nothing to me,” he says, scowling. “You sit there in the darkness, strangers to me. You listen, and you laugh. You are a job. And you will be replaced.”
But I digress. My point is that if Daisey truly is an activist, then his voice, his face, his persona are part and parcel of his activism.

Now one could argue that people use their personas to advance altruistic agendas all the time, and what's wrong with that? But doesn't altruism preclude self-promotion? Is it really only because of speaking (theatrical or actual) truth to power that Daisey lied to TAL's fact-checkers about his translator (to me the most audacious lie) so they wouldn't kill the story? I'm glad he apologized for misleading everyone and I certainly was never furious or scandalized by any of it (because wouldn't that be so boring), but after saying he's sorry with lines like these--
I speak about truth because it is what I aspire to. All my stories, even when I’ve fallen short, have been attempts to experience the truth with my audiences.
--he really would've impressed me if he'd just owned up and said, "I know I shouldn't have done it, but hey, it was This American Life! Do you know how major that is? And come on, if you were in my shoes and could come out of it charging $100 a ticket and rubbing elbows with the Woz, would you have fessed up?"


Mike Daisey said...

Zinoman fatally misunderstood that moment, and omitted the beat that followed about the utter necessity of communion.

I hear your argument. If it was all a game of poses and gestures, that would be a cool gesture. Thing is, I'd have to be cooler to pull that off. And the truth is messier and more uncomfortable, so while I'm sympathetic, I can't just roll in a devil-may-care way.

Maybe someday. Life is long.

Kyle said...

Thanks for the comment Mike. Break a leg.