CBS News runs an Associated Press story here, Jiayang Fan at the New Yorker‘s “News Desk” weighs in here, and Daisey himself commented on the controversy during yesterday’s performance of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs; a recording of his comments is posted at his Web site here.
Some interesting observations have arisen; from half a world away, Alison Croggon notes her own reaction to the story:
… what’s mainly disturbing is the complacent acceptance of the “authentic” in the audience. Brecht’s practice was about stimulating the performance of thought, both in his actors and in the audience. This is the reverse of that: it’s about different kinds of authority which anoint the transmission of information with veracity, and that veracity then driving action. I am mainly surprised, perhaps because I haven’t seen Daisey in action, that so many people who ought to know better took Daisey’s monologues as literal fact, which suggests a shocking naivety: it’s like those people who send wedding presents when characters get married in soap operas.
In New York Rob Weinert-Kendt notes his. I agree with Alison, by the way, that a stage is not a newspaper, but a newspaper is a newspaper, news programs are news programs, and misleading and outright lying to journalists who are trying to determine the veracity of the events that are presented in these outlets is, as Terry Teachout said the other day, “unforgivable.”
Whether or not Daisey’s show would have had the same effect had he originally characterized it as “fiction” — or that old standby “docudrama,” “based on a true story” — is something we’ll now never know. I’ll only mention here that such self-defined fictions and novels have had real-world political effects, not the least of which arose from Upton Sinclair’s 1906 The Jungle, which despite being published as a novel, a work of imagination, eventually led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. Sinclair’s depiction of the conditions in Chicago slaughterhouses infuriated then-President Theodore Roosevelt, who dismissed the descriptions as “absolute falsehoods” — that is, until his own representatives were able to corroborate most of Sinclair’s accusations. (Not that Sinclair’s intention was to generate political action; not unlike Daisey, he said that his goal was to expose “the inferno of exploitation [of the typical American factory worker at the turn of the 20th Century],” and claimed that his work led to the controversy “not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef.” “I aimed at the public’s heart,” he mused, “and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”)
Many thanks to Alison for sharing my essay with her readers, and to those others who took the time to share their insights in comments to my original post on the matter.