Mike Daisey, textbook liar or textbook artist?

As NYT journalist Charles Duhigg mentions on This American Life, a reporter’s job is to report the facts they find to readers and let them make an opinionated decision of their own.  Mike Daisey admits his monologue did not live up to journalistic standards NPR originally had him agree to, but Mike Daisey is not a journalist, he is an artist and performer.  Artists are held up to a completely different standard since their job is to express their creative skills and imagination, and sometimes an artist’s creative vision overshadows their ethics.

In high school, my improvisation mentor would drill in my head during my weekly lessons, “good artists take risks and learn from failing often, but if you own your fails and make people believe they were intended, you know you’re a great artist”, and if this is a true statement, Mike Daisey is a great artist.  If you have ever met a highly creative person, you know they think completely different and rationalize most things different than the “regular person” does.  Ira Glass and everyone at NPR has every reason to be angry and frustrated with Daisey, but I think Daisey’s incapability to flat out say, “I lied,” correlates with his incapability to degrade the purpose of his art to his audience.

As an artist, two things are key: audience and context.  An ideal audience is subjective to what kind of person an artist is as well as what they are trying to accomplish with their art. Some artist’s ideal audience is everyone and anyone who will pay attention, a huge theatre full of people or just themselves.  Other artists prefer their audience to be people who have prior knowledge and will understand their art or only people they know will appreciate their art.  Then there is the context of art, which is equally as subjective.  Some artists ideas are provoked by their interests, such as Dali’s “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory“, inspired by his fascination with nuclear physics.  Other’s create art that captures their frustrations, such as Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man, who uses Mr. Jones as a synonym for society.

One’s opinion on if the ends justify the means in Mike Daisey’s case depend on what perspective you look at this controversy from.  Taking this from a solely artistic standpoint, I would argue the purpose of Mike Daisey’s art is to take his opinion on his subject matter of Apple’s unethical supply chain issues and inform his audience of everyone and anyone who will listen, at whatever the cost.  This is evident from Daisey’s availability of the monologue to anyone who wants to hear or perform it as well as habitual lying to NPR when being asked about the integrity of his monologue. Artists are taught exaggeration is key to get a point across to an audience, and that is exactly what Mike Daisey did.  Maybe he only visited three factories and only talked to fifty workers, but the exaggeration in his monologue got the point across to his audience much more effectively.  In my opinion, nothing and no one is completely original. Some of the most influential artists throughout history, everyone from Mozart to James Cameron, took elements of other artists and elevated them to a main stream audience.  Even Apple’s first iPhone prototype took elements of competing technology companies. This is also exactly what Mike Daisey did, took news reports and stories from other people and elevated them in his art.

I think Mike Daisey and I have very similar ideas of how we want our art to be perceived.  As a musician, composer and performer, my ideal audience is anyone who will feel emotion from what I perform, even if it’s a different than what emotion I intended to provoke.  Whether they leave more joyful or frustrated, I just want them to feel something.  Last spring I was asked to write a composition for a band that visited Bucknell named Newspeak, who’s name is derived from the thought limiting language in Orwell’s 1984.   I hung out, conducted and recorded with Newspeak for a whole day which was a blast, and their guitarist had the craziest beard ever.  After writing bunch of different scores, I had trouble deciding which one to record given my limited time with them, but finally settled on the simplest and emotion provoking piece to my audience, Newspeak and myself.  You can download my audio engineered cut here.

2 thoughts on “Mike Daisey, textbook liar or textbook artist?”

  1. I agree that Mike Daisey is a very talented artist. He knew exactly how to use his storytelling to bring out certain emotions in his audience. I have no problem that Daisey embellished his story for to make it more emotional for the audience. However, I do have a problem with Daisey embellishing his story without letting his audience know that was what he was doing, and I especially have a problem with Daisey brining his story on a journalistic radio show. Regardless of how HE views the truth, he needs to consider how his audience will view the truth when he presents his story.


  2. What interests me as a (former) listener to TAL is that they themselves regularly blend journalism and fiction in the pursuit of great “stories.” What is a “story” exactly? Is it a mix of facts and narrative “truth” that correspond? If none of the facts in the story are correct, it fails. If the narrative truth is not consonant with the facts (like Apple saying that everything is fine at Foxconn), then it fails.

    They were mad about the presentation of art as journalism, ok. But, did the story fail? Was the whole story deserving of a retraction?


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