May 22nd, 2013 | by REBECCA JACOBSON Arts & Books | Posted In: Theater

Live Review: Mike Daisey, Journalism

A love letter to journalism? More like a slapdash list of thin and mostly uninteresting ramblings.

hotseat_mikedaisey_3928MIKE DAISEY - IMAGE: mikedaisey.blogspot.com
Last week, I wrote that Mike Daisey was sucking up to an industry—journalism—that has pilloried him.

Tuesday night, in a monologue presented by PICA, Daisey didn’t really suck up to journalists. Rather, the monologuist—who weathered controversy after it was revealed that he'd fabricated details of a talk about Apple's Chinese factories that aired on This American Life—presented two hours of wooly and long-winded ramblings. Some of it was about journalism: how he self-produced a newspaper in eighth grade called The Night Writer, how the rise of broadcast journalism helped lead to the modern myth of journalistic objectivity, how he audited a journalism class with NYU grad students, how there’s not enough money to pay journalists to do their work, how journalists are simultaneously go-getters and resigned fatalists. Some of his comments could, perhaps, be construed as sucking up, or at least as acknowledging the cruddy situation in which journalists find themselves. Taking on the collective voice of journalists, Daisey said, “We didn’t sign up for this much fucking.” He went on to detail the “endless mountains of bullshit” with which journalists deal. 

And he went on, and on:

“Journalism is the nature of recording how the world is going into a shithole and we are powerless to stop it.” 

“Journalism is clearly a calling. Journalists are called to do something that our culture doesn’t care about and fucks over.”

“No form is more admirable at dissolving anything than journalism.”

“We have never expected to pay less for news.”

“It’s no better world where there are less journalists. You can’t say that about most industries.”

I agree with Daisey’s assessments about journalism’s messy business model and his characterization of journalists as plucky but world-weary. I agree that journalists are squeezed to do too many tasks and cover too many beats. I agree that journalism is of vital importance in our democracy, and that the gutting of papers across this country is sad and scary. But for a monologue entitled Journalism, Daisey offered little depth or insight beyond a few soundbites. And his tangents—about Dungeons & Dragons, neuroscience and memory, a middle-school teacher who died, even fluoride (“I’m with science,” he noted)—proved largely uninteresting. 

Daisey instead spent much of the monologue rehashing his TAL scandal and its aftermath. “This is not an apology,” he said. “This is a performance. An apology is not dramatically compelling.” Yet what Daisey offered Tuesday night was an apology in everything but name. And no, it was not dramatically compelling. “I should have been stronger,” he said. “I should have believed that the story itself would work.”

I didn’t need Daisey to say sorry. As he reminded us Tuesday, he issued a public apology on his blog more than a year ago. But I had hoped for meatier material and a more focused perspective—and wittier anecdotes, given that he can be a very funny performer. (I also could have done without his gloating about the role he played in expanding the public consciousness about the electronics industry.)

And I would be remiss, of course, to overlook the fact that Daisey devoted 10 minutes of his monologue to our hourlong interview. Daisey mentioned all three interviews he did with local journalists. He described his “very nice” conversation with The Oregonian and the “very nice” article Marty Hughley wrote. Referencing the long and largely unedited Portland Monthly Q&A that ran online, he noted, “I don’t know who would read that thing.” And me? Daisey said he knew from the beginning that it was going to be a “terrible” interview for two reasons: One, because I am not a theater critic. (Not sure where he got this idea. As WW’s lead theater critic, I’m one of those arts journalists living on the “island of delusions” Daisey so nicely described.) 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. Still, his account of our exchange was mostly accurate: I was insistent, he dodged, I persisted. I made cuts to our interview with which he disagreed. We swapped emails afterwards. I wouldn’t give him the audio recording. I characterized him as weaselly. He said he’s more of a plump otter. Big whoop.

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.

Exasperated, wiping his brow, he called it a "fantastically shitty conversation."

That's not unfair.
 
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