Chicago Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Canceled After Mike Daisey's Work Called Into Question

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16 Mar 2012

Mike Daisey
Mike Daisey
Photo by Stan Barouh

The Chicago Theatre and "This American Life" have canceled the April 7 Chicago performance of Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs following an report that portions of the monologue were fabricated.

Daisey earned acclaim for the monologue that takes a hard look at working conditions within Chinese technology factories – including Foxconn – shedding light on the human cost of demand for ever-evolving high-end gadgets in the technological age.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is currently playing a return engagement at the Public Theater through March 18, where it previously enjoyed a critically acclaimed, extended run last fall.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs also helped fuel momentum via national media outlets, which have also covered Chinese labor conditions. One of the programs was "This American Life," which aired a segment devoted to Daisey's piece in January. In a press release, "This American Life" revealed that the segment was very popular, with 888,000 downloads and 206,000 streams to date.

In a blog post, "This American Life" executive producer Ira Glass characterized The Agony and the Ecstasy to have contained "significant fabrications." He continued: "We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth." 



Daisey's account, according to "This American Life," caught the attention of NPR "Marketplace" China Correspondent Rob Schmitz, who reached out to Daisey's Chinese translator to substantiate Daisey's personal stories of his encounters with laborers. The translator disputed portions of the information Daisey presented, including claims that he visited a factory in Suzhou and a gripping account of a factory laborer who sees a working iPad for the first time.

You can read the full details of the account here via "This American Life." In addition, "This American Life" invited Daisey back to follow up on their latest report. Daisey addresses issues raised by Schmitz and Glass about whether he misled the public. The podcast will be available for download March 18 here.

Daisey issued the following statement on his blog:

"I stand by my work," he said. "My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

"What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theatre are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed 'This American Life' to air an excerpt from my monologue. 'This American Life' is essentially a journalistic – not a theatrical – enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China."

The Public Theater also issued a statement regarding its production of The Agony and the Ecstasy, which has been very popular with audiences.

"In the theatre, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth -- that's what a storyteller does, that's what a dramatist does. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs reveals, as Mike's other monologues have, human truths in story form.

"In this work, Mike uses a story to frame and lead debate about an important issue in a deeply compelling way. He has illuminated how our actions affect people half-a-world away and, in doing so, has spurred action to address a troubling situation. This is a powerful work of art and exactly the kind of storytelling that The Public Theater has supported, and will continue to support in the future.

"Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn't his personal experience in the piece."

In recent weeks Daisey also made a transcript of the monologue available for download and performance via his official website MikeDaisey.blogspot.com. Since its online publication Feb. 21, over 60,000 people have downloaded the script, with performances scheduled to roll out across the country.