Daisey’s work, which combines personal insight, historical digressions and gonzo journalism, has propelled him across the world, from the South Pacific island of Tanna to the site in the New Mexico desert where an atomic bomb was tested. His style is pugnacious, but he’s also funny and touching.
His latest monologue includes no disclaimer that it’s a mishmash of truth and fiction. In it, he describes traveling to the Chinese industrial zone of Shenzhen and interviewing hundreds of workers from Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. Daisey says he stood outside the gate with a translator and met workers as young as 12 and some whose joints were damaged because they performed the same action thousands of times a shift.
“I talk to people whose joints in their hands have disintegrated from working on the line, doing the same motion hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times. It’s like carpal tunnel on a scale we can scarcely imagine,” he says, according to a transcript of the show. Later in the monologue, he says he met workers poisoned by the chemical hexane, used to clear iPhone screens.
But “This American Life” reported Daisey’s Chinese interpreter disputed many of the artist’s claims when contacted by Rob Schmitz, a China correspondent for the public radio show “Marketplace.” Among them, the translator said guards outside the factory weren’t armed, Daisey never met workers from a secret union and he never visited factory dorm rooms.
“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” he told Glass. “But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
Apple’s popularity among consumers and investors alike has only grown while Daisey has been railing against the company. Since Daisey’s one-man show hit the stage in the summer of 2010, Apple has sold more than 74 million iPhones, more than 35 million iPads and more than 29 million iPods.
Propelled by the surging sales of Apple’s devices, the company stock price has climbed nearly 70 percent to create an additional $220 billion in shareholder wealth. Apple now reigns as the world’s richest company, with nearly $100 billion in cash and a market value of $546 billion.
Daisey’s embellishments threaten to set back the efforts to improve the working conditions in China and other countries where many trendy gadgets are made, said veteran technology analyst Rob Enderle.
He fears Daisey’s tainted credibility will embolden more U.S. companies to turn a blind eye to how the assembly-line workers are being treated in the overseas factories run by their contractors. “It will make it more difficult to correct these labor injustices in China,” Enderle said. “Daisey tried to make this out to be an Apple problem, but it really wasn’t. It’s a China problem.”
Daisey _ a performer in the vein of Spalding Gray and John Leguizamo _ has performed the monologue for more than 50,000 people from Seattle to Washington, D.C. He was expected to take the show on tour after its run at The Public Theater in New York ends Sunday, but that’s now in doubt.
In a statement, The Public Theater said the show would be performed this weekend as scheduled.
“Mike is an artist, not a journalist,” the theater said. “Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”
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