I’ve never reviewed any of Mike Daisey’s works on this blog, which is kind of amazing. I’ve referenced him twice — once as a great storyteller in my review of LeDeuff’s book on Detroit, the other as an insightful commentator on Apple’s production process in Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. Those are fitting.
I don’t think Daisey would describe himself as an author. I first encountered him years ago listening to a book he wrote, 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, where he described his work in that company a generation ago. It’s pretty good, reflects the culture as I understand it, and comes from an earlier monologue Daisey performed about his experiences. Because Daisey is a monologist, the writer and performer of one-man plays where he speaks directly to the audience. A comedian and a dramatist. A showman.
Daisey has other fantastic plays (or stories, or monologues) too. Great Men of Genius explored obvious role-models for Daisey — Brecht, Barnum, Tesla, and Hubbard. Elsewhere he has explored his life working as a temp worker at technology companies beyond Amazon, the story of Walt Disney in American Utopias, and most famously — Apple.
I got to see a very early performance — if I remember correctly, the opening night — of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. It was a brilliant combination of the history of Apple, and Daisey’s experience speaking with factory workers who actually assembled Apple devices in China. I remember his description of the world created by hand, of never meeting a factory worker who felt underpaid (but meeting many who did not feel they were treated like human beings), and the “armed men” guarding the factory.
My ears perked up. “This is theater,” I thought,” this is using an incorrect detail to express a correct reality.” Guards in China often have a military appearance, often guard things surrounded by high walls, broken glass, and barbed wire, often are intimidating — and almost never have guns. Daisey captured the feel of the place. By incorrectly reporting a fact.
What happened next was fascinating. Mike Daisey was the focus of the two highest-rated episodes of This American Life to that point — his story, and the retraction. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “When theatrical monologist Mike Daisey delivered an adapted version of his “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” on “This American Life,” the episode was presented as a documentary. The problem: Much of it wasn’t true.”
Bad Faith intertwines this tale with the dissolution of Daisey’s marriage. I wasn’t surprised by that one. Recent performances where he described his personal life were uncomfortable, even if he seemed not to realize it or his circle of friends saw nothing wrong. The disaster of Daisey’s personal life is unique to him. The pain he experienced during its destruction, and remaking, is not.
To this Mike adds a third thread, a route and unoriginal series of criticisms against Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and capitalism in general.
I liked Bad Faith. Listening to Daisey retread Agony and Ecstasy, but with the distance both in time and by the collapse of his marriage, you could see the growth of a man who had been degenerating for some time. I wish Daisey well. I don’t think his life since gaining so much fame has been good for him. I hope the next chapter is better.
I listened to Bad Faith in the Audible edition.