I’m a little behind on the times, so I actually didn’t even get a chance to listen to this until the big retraction hit the news a couple of days ago.  I listened to the retraction on This American Life first, and then felt compelled to listen to the original monologue (even though it’s no longer on This American Life’s website, I instead found it here). In hindsight, I’m actually kind of glad that I did it that way because it allowed me to look at the original work in a slightly different light – not allowing it to build up and then later tearing it back down, but instead I guess sort of setting my expectations extremely low and then moving forward from there.

And I don’t necessarily mean that in either a good way or a bad way, but … well…

The problem is – it’s an extremely compelling story to listen to. Mike is clearly an expert on stage, and his delivery just drives the story in a way that you feel every emotion that he wants you to feel as he meticulously paints this picture on the canvas through just his spoken words. I haven’t necessarily heard any of his interim monologues, but I actually was first introduced to him a long time ago when his first book about working at amazon.com sort of hit it big, and I remember that story being a tough one to put down. There’s no denying that he’s an exceptional storyteller, which frankly is what makes my next statement so hard…

It takes away from the strength of his presentation in my eyes if I can’t honestly trust in the words that he’s saying.

If I had just listened to that first podcast, it would be hard to refute the allegations that shit be fucked up over at Foxconn and that us Americans truly need to take a hard look at our dependence on their electronics and the unseen ethical costs that go into their creation, thousands of miles around the world and otherwise completely and unequivocally sheltered from we, the consumers. He says many times that he’s not a journalist, but a theater performer … but his words come across as those of a documentarian, shedding light on this important cultural oversight. When he stands there and tells us that So-and-So told him about the Hexane being used to clean iPad screens that’s actually poisonous to the workers, as an engaged member of the audience I expect that the conversation actually took place and isn’t just a passionate story based on reports in the news about the chemical…

Embellishment by way of dramatic pauses and passionate delivery is one thing, but to literally stand on stage and say that something happened that didn’t actually happen … how are we supposed to trust the rest of his content when it comes to light that select stories may have been embellished to varying degrees to help get his point across???

When I’m watching a documentary, there’s simply no room for fiction…

And so what sucks is that here we are on the other side of the wave with an incredibly moving story that I don’t even know what to believe because I can’t even guess which parts are embellished and which ones are for real anymore. On one hand, it’s perfectly logical to think that vendors such as Foxconn may very well be acting in an unethical manner by pushing workers too hard under poor conditions for minimal wages at best … but when you can’t really even trust the person telling you the story, what recourse do you have left except to shrug your shoulders and say, “Wow, that really sucks … if it’s actually true.” I can’t get passionate about something that I doubt, and I won’t join others in trying to stand against Apple if I don’t have a reasonable assurance that the facts I’m hearing are, in fact … well, facts!

Talk about a lesson of warning to writers, journalists, and pretty much everyone who tells stories to an audience – not even just in the context of the theater … if you’re trying to sell a documentary-style perspective that will empower your audience to become passionate themselves about an important cause that faces the world today in a big, bad way, for god’s sake make sure what you’re telling people is actually true. Because with attention itself being so tough to grab in today’s modern world, trust is way too fragile of a necessity to your work to risk juggling it on words that don’t exactly represent the reality in the picture that you’re trying to paint.


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