Monday, May 27, 2013

Last week I performed a one-night only event in Portland of a new monologue called JOURNALISM. A few observations on the nature of journalism taken from the experience of being an unusual figure doing an unusual show:

Journalists are not the mainstream. We announced the show exactly two weeks before it happened, on a Tuesday night, with no publicity beyond the announcement, mailing lists, and social media. We sold out our entire floor, and had well over four hundred people turn out for this one night event. There was a standing ovation and such, and I only mention it because from the reviews you would think the show was performed in dour silence while people threw objects at me.

This doesn't mean that these people are "idiots" who don't know about my scandal—it means they know, they read my apologies, they decided how they felt about it, and they are coming to hear a story. And there are a lot of them.

Journalists create quotes when it serves a purpose. This piece by Ramona DeNies opens with a quote from the show—but it isn't accurate. It's paraphrased, poorly. I've seen this for years—because the work is extemporaneous, journalists want to quote, but they paraphrase, then they put the words in quotes because it fits their style. It's appalling, but it happens to me constantly. What's interesting here is that it even happens when I do a show about the nature of journalism—you'd think they might be really careful about such things in that case, but not always.

Journalists, like storytellers everywhere, love a straw man argument. Later in DeNies piece she starts a bit of repartee with:

"For a performer who belittles nitpicky factuality in favor of “larger truths”…

Except I don't. I didn't "belittle" that on my TAL appearances—in fact, I agreed with Ira that they are important. I didn't belittle them in the performance last Tuesday in the least—in fact, I went on at some length about their importance. But Ms. DeNies knows this—she's just setting up a corollary so she can say that I *do* care about coverage of myself, which she then proves with another quote that vaguely resembles what I said onstage, but isn't actually at all what I said.

Journalists, very predictably, like gossip. DeNies brings up my Wilamette Week interview, where Rebecca Jacobson spent a big chunk of her available space relating my response to responding on the Portland Mercury blog. Even as I was doing that interview, I knew as we were speaking about it that there was a 100% chance it would be in the piece—and, predictably, that's how it closes. DeNies is even more predictable and goes back to the well again, talking about how I talked about my interviews before the performance:

"Notably absent from this rundown: a rancorous Portland Mercury chat thread fueled by Daisey's own participation—for which he later blamed NyQuil."

Except, of course it is not "notably absent"—I very specifically talked about the interview as a kind of performance, with its own rules, and then spoke about three interviews I did for the show they are seeing that evening. Why the fuck I would talk about online chat threads with anonymous commentators? I was talking about journalists…and for the record, I didn't "blame" Nyquil. I think Nyquil was a contributing element, though not as much as the two lines of coke I did to balance out my buzz before diving into the thread.

Journalists love and hate being part of the story. Rebecca Jacobson had the experience of being implicated in the show as I dissected the slant and creative choices in her framing of our Q&A. She responds to this by getting huffy about how I didn't know she was the theater critic, which I never cared about, but then wondering:

"Two, Daisey said, I have never seen him live. This fact he got right—but why it would predict a dreadful interview, I’m unsure."

As I said in the show—it doesn't predict a terrible interview, but it is not a good sign. In the same way that book authors are not terribly excited about speaking with journalists who have never read their books, or musicians don't enjoy interviews with people who have never actually spent any time with their music, it's not fun to speak with someone about your work who has never experienced your work in a city like Portland, where I have been coming regularly since 2005. I would normally never reveal this feeling, as it would be gauche, but that's why I had that feeling.

She did state that my account of our exchange was "mostly accurate"—but tellingly, she doesn't actually reveal to the reader what issues I highlighted and underlined from her original Q&A, and appropriates my own joke about weasels and otters. She is a good journalist—she sacrifices not an inch of her narrative authority. That's fine, of course—but if you read the first Q&A, and then saw the show, and then read this, it's transparent how she's working the text.

Journalists like to project. Jacobson ends with:

"Yet Daisey clearly felt a sense of ownership over the interview, and maybe even some sense of gratitude for the material it had provided him."

What's happening here is pure projection. Jacobson is naturally unused to anyone contesting her ownership of a story in any way; in her world, and the world of many storytellers, they own the story and the subject and are unused to being confronted. And interview is a conversation between two people, and belongs to both those people.

And for gratitude…well, I don't think it'll ever be performed again, but sure. Though to be clear—I'm the monologist. I could have talked about all sorts of things. The arts journalist is actually the one covering the artist—they feel like arbiters, but they are the ones looking for material.

Ms. Jacobson, you're welcome.

Some journalists are conflicted and can't tell the story they feel. Winston Ross turned in a notably jangly and disjointed piece to the Daily Beast on the evening, during which PICA staff members claim he was using his laptop in his seat during the performance to take notes (!) and getting into a disagreement with them in the hallway about re-admittance. While it's true that Mr. Ross doesn't normally cover theater, that's a pretty strange account to hear about any journalist.

The next day we got in touch via Twitter, and I then received a long email with the subject "What I Didn't Write", which goes into some length about his feelings about me, about investigative journalism, and a number of other things. It was heartfelt, open, and in almost every way superior to the article he turned in—which makes one wonder what kind of frameworks the Daily Beast wants in their stories, or the ones any journalists sets up as they tell stories.

Mr. Ross wrote me about a number of things I had actually brought up directly the night before. Like a lot of things in life, he may not have been willing to hear them in one context, and as the performance settled in him they come back. Others are legitimate beefs. It was good to see that it touched him, and gave me some hope.

Some journalists get it. I spoke with a journalist after the show who has been in the business his entire life, who thanked me for the piece and felt like parts of it struck home. Another former editor and reporter turned in this review, reflecting on their time in the business—it's far more interesting than the rest of the writing.

I'm beginning to suspect a kind of generational gap—Johnson and DeNies are young, and many of the journalists responding most to the piece from its first flight are much older and more secure in what hierarchy there is. Ross is older than they are. All the journalists older than Ross came down in a very different place…though most of them haven't been public about it, which is telling.

I think the first performance of JOURNALISM was less a theatrical show and more of an event; I knew going out there that what would happen would be for that night alone, and whatever happens to this piece will grow from this beginning. It was incredibly moving for me to see PICA and so many men and women in Portland come out and really support this first gesture—thank you very much for your generosity of spirit and your time.

Onward and upward,