First off, I did not say Daisey didn't go to China. I'm saying that Picasso wasn't in Guernica and your attempt at analogizing the two pieces of art falls a tad short of the mark.
Secondly, there are parts of Daisey's show that were called into question as to whether or not they were true or happened the way Daisey initially said they did. He has removed six minutes of his show because of this. Let's be plain: he made up key details of his story to present a piece of dramatic theater. He did this under the misguided assumption that either A) it was OK to do this to bring light to a serious problem, or B) that no one would ever know the difference. Probably both.
I know of no journalistic standard that says that is OK to simply make something up because it helps prove a point, or makes for a dramatic moment in a story. Then again, maybe my communications degree is every bit as useless as I think it is as long as I continue to insist on taking certain parts of it seriously.
Granted, Daisey's piece is theater and not journalism - but by not clearing delineating between those two things he allowed clear falsifications to be presented as truth to many members of the media (who, in fairness to Daisey, swallowed the cock and bull hook, line, and sinker).
So, since you have spent time in a society without a free press (which makes me wonder how you were teaching journalism there), which is worse: not having a free press, or having one whose function is to produce propaganda?
Mat, it's been verified and corroborated a dozen different ways -- including by This American Life -- that Daisey spent time in China researching his piece and did impersonate an American businessman to gain access to the Foxconn factory to get a firsthand look at conditions there.
I don't recall Picasso giving interviews stating that he was in Guernica when it was bombed.
Hi Sybil, forgive me for not replying sooner. I was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon last weekend and only hauled myself out and back into Charleston a day ago. Your point is well-taken, and I largely agree with you. But I disagree with the notion that as soon as an artist decides to touch upon an “important” subject, he or she is bound to do so with journalistic accuracy. Shall we blame Picasso because his portrayal of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War in “Guernica” are not photo-realistic? Surely the tragedies of that war and the suffering it inflicted upon innocent civilians was of greater significance than the working conditions of some factory laborers in China. Yet we easily recognize the ridiculousness of expecting journalism from Picasso. The artistic expression in “Guernica” -- which exaggerates, condenses and reinterprets those events from 1937 -- is far more effective (now as it was then) as an artistic and, crucially, political commentary against the war precisely because of the way the artist manipulated the actual events.
I do not seek to compare Daisey’s art to Picasso’s. But the principle here is the same. My task in writing this article was to present a short profile of Daisey as an artist, not of Daisey as a journalist. Daisey is not a journalist. He has never claimed to be a journalist. He was not invited to Spoleto to perform journalism. I see no reason to hold him accountable at Spoleto to the codes of conduct of an institutional practice that has nothing in common with theater except that it shares with it the same medium of expression -- language.
Did Daisey, in his earnestness, make a mistake in agreeing to allow segments of his monologue to be aired on This American Life, whose ethic is one of documentary-style journalism rather than artistic expression? Absolutely. Has he acknowledged and apologized for that mistake? He has not stopped doing so -- he apologized again, at length, in front of an audience with Martha Teichner after his opening night performance here last week.
Like you, Sybil, I studied journalism -- I have a M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication. I also live in Vietnam, a Communist country with strict restrictions on the press and Internet, where I teach mass communications to Vietnamese university students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Saigon. In Vietnam I see every day what a country with no fourth estate looks like. In Vietnam there is no institution to shed light on corruption and abuses of power, no one to give voice to the voiceless. Speaking truth to power is illegal there, and the gap between rich and poor, influential and marginalized, grows greater every day. So I know as well as anyone how critical journalism is to individuals and to societies. I do not seek to trivialize it by choosing not to pour more gasoline over Mike Daisey’s flaming hulk for mistakes he made and has expressed contrition for. I only suggest that he is a mere human being, just as capable of making mistakes as you or I am, and that he should be allowed to step down off the pyre to practice his art as an artist with a conscience -- a rare thing in these times.
Regarding Aristotle’s ideas on the tragic flaw, I don’t think an awareness of it calls for much real cultural prowess. That’s the stuff of almost every high school Western Lit class. I noted that, for Aristotle, the tragic flaw was ‘often’ something of no great importance but, though seemingly small, leads to the character’s outsized downfall. For Daisey, that flaw was clearly a tendency to inflate the truth in his monologues, just as we all do when telling a story. But there was surely some hubris in this story as well. Appearing on This American Life? Improving working conditions for squillions of poor Chinese families? Becoming an internationally recognized monologist? Hard to say no to. In combination, these relatively minor flaws -- for an artist -- conspired to bring about a decidedly grim result for Daisey. That doesn’t make him the world’s worst person. It makes him someone who probably had very good intentions and who tripped on them in front of the world because of the kinds of errors that are common to pretty much everyone who has ever lived. That’s what I call tragic.
Good point! By the time i read the whole thing, I entirely forgot the opening quote, in retrospect used more to show cultural prowess than to illustrate an applicable point. Clearly incongruous with the rest of the argument!
I concur, Stephanie. "Hallelujah" sends chills up my spine whenever I hear it. But you haven't lived until you've heard it live. k.d. put on a great show. Only problem is it ended way too soon.
Smart, well-written comment, Sybil, though I think you went a little soft on Patrick. ;-)
"...a fundamental character defect, often something of no great importance..."? Make up your mind, is it fundamental or is it unimportant?
He "appropriated his wrongdoing"? I don't think you know what "to appropriate" means...but if you do that's just sad. (It means either to set aside for some special purpose or to claim as one's own.) The man outright lied, claimed he was telling the truth, and doesn't seem to understand why this might not fly in a journalistic milieu...and you seem to think this is somehow okay? And that Ira Glass is some kind of bully for taking exception to having been deceived? Really? That is just sad.
My objection is not to artistic exaggeration in order to get a point across, it's to justifying lying as a matter of course. If Mr. Daisy had not intentionally deceived the folks at This American Life I would have no problem with him. He's an excellent monologuist and his points have merit. Unfortunately, yours don't. Despite what you may think, "Art" and "Science" are not in opposition. (Ever heard of Leonardo da Vinci? You have? How about Joel Sartore?) False dichotomies are the bane of Western thought.
I don't know how I missed this..... it sounds as if it was a great show, kinda pissed-off that I missed it! (at least it was sold-out) =)
I enjoyed this heartfelt tribute to Mr. Robeson, and how the writer relates Mr. Robeson's struggles with those of today:
I saw this show on opening night. It was really powerful and worth your time during a busy Spoleto season. One thing Duffy Lewis doesn't say in the review is the Mr. Aluko had a Q & A session with the audience afterwards in which he answers questions about Mr. Robeson and what he did. Mr. Aluko wrote and stars in this production. Not bad for a guy whose professional training is as an architect from Nigeria! The show is about the man and his music is used to help explain his life. But this isn't a one man "Showboat". There is humor and angst. This show does what all good theater ought to do. It does entertain, but more importantly, it makes you think. Go see the show.
it really is hard to find funny the depths & lunacies of faith, maybe this is healing for some escaping from the cults, but many Atheists I know will skip this
Thank you for all of your great coverage of our show - and all the others in Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto! Your paper has been unmatched in the scope and quality of festival coverage. We LOVE the City Paper!
Everyone should also go see "Perfectly Normel People" at the Footlight Theater!!!
OMGosh, I have waited years to hear that perfect, bone-chilling, heart-melting voice in person! Counting the hours until Sunday night!
Smart, well-written piece, Patrick, though I think you went a little soft on Daisey. No one thinks that Sedaris is a journalist -- and after all, he is telling stories about his own life, so who cares what he embellishes. To the contrary, Daisey's most recent piece is about one of the most important and neglected issues among the topics involving global capitalism and corporate responsibility -- namely labor, production, and environmental conditions in places where Americans have their stuff made for cheap, with huge consequences. In a world in which corporations are essentially uncontrolled and left to dismally thin ethical guidelines, with critical fallout for people and the environment, it is important that stories investigating such issues clearly separate truth from fiction. In bolstering his investigation of Foxconn and his findings with fictional, albeit compelling, characters and facts, Daisey diminished the gravity of the facts -- which need no fictional bolstering -- and helped people dismiss them, doing a disservice to an enormously important issue. There are topics whose gravity requires no augmenting, such as diamonds funding civil wars, human trafficking, child slavery in the production of chocolate, the environmental fallout of industrial and pharmaceutical production. I am not sanctimonious about this, but no, truth has no agenda -- truth simply is. I am long gone from journalism -- but yes, I am a Columbia J-School graduate and I am proud to have learned that a really good fact-based story needs no lies. Certainly, this one does not.
They read what they want to and are exceptionally thin-skinned.
For the record, the word arrogant is not used once in the review. Sheesh people. Can't you read?
"There’s an ancient law of parsimony called Occam’s Razor, and it calls for a simpler explanation rather than a complicated one."
And then you go on for seven more paragraphs?
In the fall of 1967, the late American film critic Pauline Kael began her review of that year’s “Bonnie and Clyde” with this sentence: “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on?” Ms. Kael was defending “Bonnie and Clyde” from other film critics’ detractions, in particular a condemnation that the film was needlessly violent.
When you place yourself within the line of sight of the public eye, it can feel like placing yourself within the line of fire – a prospect with its own brand of violence. When you suck in your breath and go ahead and do it anyway, you’ve joined other brave and ballsy artists who make a difference in our lives by expanding the horizons of our views of the world. I’m proud of Mr. Justin Nathanson for manning up and doing it anyway.
I’m a friend of Mr. Nathanson’s, but I’ll show my artistic impartiality by saying I agree that certain scenes could have been whittled down in time. I also agree there are scenes that were completely unnecessary in my mind’s own eye.
However, I do not agree that Mr. Nathanson was arrogant in highlighting locally grown and sustained coffee shops and restaurants. There’s an ancient law of parsimony called Occam’s Razor, and it calls for a simpler explanation rather than a complicated one. In this case, Mr. Nathanson simply filmed the places where he spends his time. The reviewer has over thought in this instance and I find her comments malicious and full of a need to control. I wonder if she feels it necessary to break into visual artists’ studios all over town and pull their paintbrushes from their easels if they choose to illustrate local establishments? This is his film of Charleston. When artists paint and writers write and filmmakers shoot, it is not their duty to think of their audience. It is their duty to think of their own wild hearts.
I also strongly disagree that the film was in any way arrogant and I very strongly object to the blatant inference that Mr. Nathanson himself is arrogant. On the contrary, I’d argue that his viewpoint was deeply personal and marked by humility. I noticed only two images in the film of his wife, Mrs. Erin Glaze Nathanson, and his camera shied away from these images or darted away from her quickly, as if anticipating his apology to the audience for including her at all. In others example of “darting,” there were several scenes in which he ran joyfully, with childlike wonder, down a pier, or through his apartment, to give the audience the gift of birds in flight, a gift I can say I accepted with gratitude.
In fact, “grateful” is another good word here. It is how I felt as an audience member, and it is how I believe Mr. Nathanson showed the truest part of himself. It is a simple fact that for the most of his life, he lived and worked both in the North and the West, and yet I felt a love of Charleston’s landscape and people in his chosen images and cinematography that those of us who are from here would be lucky to cultivate. It would make us happier people. Mr. Nathanson showed me parts of my hometown that I have never seen and will likely never see again. Most significantly, he showed me ways of seeing familiar places and people in new ways.
I also think the reviewer ignored the collaborative nature of this film in accusing Mr. Nathanson of arrogance. Never in this film’s marketing, nor in Mr. Nathanson’s interviews, did I feel that he expressed that this was solely his film. In fact, over and over again, he credited Entropy Ensemble’s Andrew Walker and the musicians performing as his teammates. This was never more clear than when he took a standing ovation with them, not apart from them. This is not arrogance, this is thankfulness.
I have dreamed, for the last three nights, of surfers and birds in flight – images directly from his film. These images have reminded me of why I live in a town that can be spoiled by a suffocating economy and small-minded people. Narrative was not needed here; these are dreamscapes – Mr. Nathanson is culling from art house films that I would suggest Ms. Pandolfi take time to view.
To reference another comment made here, I don’t agree that artists in this town are self-important and afraid of a critical review. I think they are frightened, as I am, of a review that is not well-thought out, which automatically carries its own kind of pretension. Mr. Nathanson was jumped on for making this film, but I will take my gloves off and ironically express my gratitude to Ms. Pandolfi. She may have expressed a viewpoint I believe is shortsighted, but she began a dialogue, and to me, that is the critic’s chief occupation. It is the only task of a critic where life can survive and bloom again. It is the only critic’s duty that matters.
To conclude - yes, Mr. Nathanson can face a firing squad and I believe he can take a bullet between his teeth. I, for one, was glad he handed me a love letter to read in order to remember the beauty of my town. This love letter will be a historical Charleston document that will be forever preserved by museum curators and librarians and it is a historical document that Charleston is not used to in its technological cleverness and collaborative spirit.
Thank you, Mr. Nathanson, for joining a league of fighting artists and giving us something that will last as long as human hands care for it.
And I can’t wait for Part Two.
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