Mike Daisey: How the metaphor has shifted

Mike Daisey: How the metaphor has shifted

As far as I know, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, John Leguizamo, Laurie Anderson, you name it– NEVER had to address, with such nationwide scrutiny, the question of truth in storytelling like Mike Daisey has this last week.

And this is not an issue that’s going to go away anytime soon. The cat’s out of the bag. This is about more than Daisey’s most famous work. This is about all his work, and the work of all who labor in the industry of theater.

In his now-infamous monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” (TATESJ), he makes reference to a phenomena wherein the course of human events is irrevocably altered by a “metaphor shift.” As Daisey puts it, “If you control the metaphor through which people see the world, then you control the world itself.”

Now the act of storytelling is finding itself in undergoing a metaphor-shift of its own. Mike Daisey (with the unwitting but necessary help of Ira Glass) has single-handedly changed how we will sit in a theatre and listen to a story (a tradition that pretty much pre-dates Apple and everything else).

Many recent commentators (myself included) have been making references to the “unspoken contracts” between writers and readers, composers and listeners, monologuists and audiences, and, at the puritanical apex, journalists and Truth; because, by definition, a journalist’s only audience is “Truth”– which is all well and good for those who adhere to the notion that a story is only valid if it is triple-checked for accuracy against an unyielding standard of objective reality. But for the rest of us, anything beneath the “journalist” rubric has always seemed to mean, “I like the truth, I prefer the truth, but if I don’t get the truth, a well-told lie will do the trick. Just don’t tell me that it’s going to be a lie beforehand. Wait till after. If ever.”

But want to see the new metaphor at work? Just watch the first minute-and-a-half of this video, which captures Daisey in a monologue called “The Last Cargo Cult.”

This is only one of his over-a-dozen monologues. He’s performed it many times before “TATESJ.” I assume he wanted to perform it many times in the future.

But watch the video. In the first 90 seconds, you will feel just how much the metaphor has shifted, under Daisey’s feet, under Bogosian and Anderson and Leguizamo’s feet– no one is exempt, now and forever.

Click play with the following thoughts in mind:
1) Mike Daisey has now been revealed as someone who will lie in monologues about personal observations; and,
2) One of the This American Life accusations that everyone remembers: Mike Daisey lied when he said the guards at Foxconn carried guns. Keep that in mind as Daisey recounts the weapons the pilots carry in this story. Then scoop your jaw off the floor as he touches on an audience’s relation to the “Truth.”

Listen to that audience. They seem so… credulous. A more innocent time.

Is there any monologue Mike, or anyone, can do now that won’t be somehow compromised by the new metaphor that we now find ourselves in?

Storytellers, stay tuned.


About Lance Baker

An actor and director in Chicago and on the road.

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