Friday, June 01, 2012

Mike Daisey presents a bold, updated performance of his infamous work. | Charleston City Paper:

When it came to the scenes that were at the heart of the whole TAL scandal, Daisey presented them almost as they had been originally, and it was strange hearing him say those same words that had incurred the wrath of Glass in what was practically an NPR interrogation (who knew public radio was capable of such things?) As Daisey related after the show in his conversation with CBS's Martha Teichner, he and his collaborator and partner Jean-Michele Gregory cut the contested material — only about six minutes out of the two-hour show — and added in more than they removed. That added material, which addresses the controversy in a subtle, yet effective way, is some of the strongest in the monologue. "Why listen to me?" Daisey asks, after relating some of the horrendous conditions he saw at Foxconn in Shenzhen. "Maybe it's not true." Maybe, he continues, our iPhones and iPads and laptops are made by a happy bunch of Oompa Loompas who just love assembling tiny parts over and over and over again. And then he gets deadly serious. "We know it's true. It's just that we will do anything not to see it."

In that sentence is Daisey's victory, and our shame. Because he's right, isn't he? Who in America isn't aware that industrial working conditions in China seem to run the gamut from highly unfair to downright abusive? Who hasn't heard of the deadly chemical exposure, the collapses from over-work, the grimy cement-block dormitories? Hearing him speak those words with the conviction that he does forces a confrontation with the true heart of the TAL debacle. What do we think matters more: details such as the precise number of factory workers Daisey spoke to, or the working conditions that now are on their way to being improved? Daisey's passion and conviction make the obsessive fact-checking that TAL's Glass and his team undertook seem like nitpicking (especially since Teichner and CBS also independently verified many of his claims for a special in early 2012, and found no fabrications). It makes the Glass that we heard grilling Daisey for 15 excruciating minutes seem like that petty bully, oblivious to the greater questions of truth and fiction that were playing out right under his nose.

It is a testament to his skill as a monologist that Daisey is able to take the scandal, which burned red-hot for weeks, and turn it on its head. Though Daisey may not see it this way, the controversy was a real gift: it pushed both him and his audience members into thinking more deeply about the nature of truth, which seems to grow more elusive the older we get. So often, we do our best not to see it. So often, truth is more than just the facts — it's the human drama that emerges from our interactions with each other, our memories, our own intuitive knowledge.