Apple critic Mike Daisey is as hot as ever
Public ridicule for embellishing and fictionalizing details of suffering at Foxconn plants that make Apple products has done little to slow down the career of the theatric monologist.
NEW YORK -- The next stop on Mike Daisey's career path was supposed to be obscurity.
Instead, the monologist and Apple critic has never been hotter.
Daisey is the monologist who wrote and stars in the one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In January, he went on "This American Life" radio show and told a compelling story about how he saw great suffering among the workers who assemble iPads and iPhones in China. Unfortunately, many of the most compelling details of his story were embellished or flat-out fictional.
Critics predicted that as a story teller and political commentator, Daisey's credibility had suffered irreparable damage. But Daisey refused to slink away.
On Tuesday night, Daisey moderated a panel about theater as protest. The free-to-the-public event was part of the Pen World Voices of International Literature. The 50-person seat room was packed, and some fans were turned away at the door. Organizers said they suspected that it was Daisey's celebrity that drew the crowd.
Daisey told fans at a reception following the event that in the wake of the "This American Life" controversy, not one theater that booked him had cancelled. He said that he's got work lined up for a minimum of two years. He also described the uproar as "painful."
If you're a Daisey critic, you probably should have seen this coming. There were signs fans were willing to forgive Daisey immediately after 'This American Life" ran a cringe-worthy episode that amounted to a retraction of its initial report and a public rebuke of Daisey.
That same weekend, some of the people who saw Daisey's final show in New York in March gave him a standing ovation. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak even told me in an interview that Daisey was a hero for bringing attention to the worker's plight in China.
Why the forgiveness? Some at the theater said -- embellishment on the part of Daisey or not -- The New York Times verified some of the conditions that Daisey described in his monologue. Some simply said he's smart, funny, and a great performer.
During Tuesday's panel, the discussion turned to the importance of theater as an influence on political and revolutionary movements. One panelist looked at Daisey and told him that revolutionary theater demands sacrifice. He asked Daisey what he was prepared to give up.
"For me," Daisey said, "I would have to say it's my reputation."
The crowd laughed and applauded. But he was then asked if he was prepared to give his life. Daisey didn't blink. "In my cultural context, that was not on the table because if it had, some people would have chosen that for me."