Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One More Daisey Update

I'm going to give this one its own post, mostly because I doubt anyone is taking any notice of the other updates I've been slipping into the original post.

I just read Yet Another Commentary on the Mike Daisey/Apple/Foxconn/NPR controversy. I like this one because it not only gets into the metadiscussion of journalistic ethics and such, but also suggests some ideas about the role of narrative and story in forming public opinion:
But facts are not truth. Facts do not, in and of themselves, have meaning. Facts only add up to something — literally make sense — when they are embedded in some kind of framework or narrative that fits into our cultural identities and ways of seeing the world. That’s how humans are built to learn, going back to the Stone Age. So “telling a greater truth” is a thing of real value, not some theatrical pretense. Helping people understand and contextualize events, work through the meaning and resonance of the facts, is a humanistic endeavor, and in today’s fraught and complex world, there’s never been a greater need for it.

Much of the mainstream media seems to have forsworn that task. But “just the facts” is a pretense. There is no such thing. If the story, the narrative framework, isn’t explicit, it’s implicit. And if it’s implicit, it usually reflects status quo interests. I see no particular nobility in that.

So a lie isn’t OK in service of telling a greater truth. What is OK? How do we value the benefits of storytelling — meaning and resonance — relative to the benefits of precision and rigor? There are endless fuzzy borderline cases, bits of approximation, generalization, interpretation, or poetic license. It’s too easy to say there’s no tension.

He then goes on to discuss the specific issue of climate change, and why change deniers feel more strongly about the matter (he posits that it's because they've been given a coherent story). Since that one is near and dear to my heart, I thought I'd pass it along. I like the notion that storytellers are important.

Theme Park Madness

I think I have recovered from the extended family vacation enough to write about it.

Don't take that the wrong way: It was a great trip. But there was a lot of it. A whole week with the extended family in the Greater Orlando Area. Which means theme parks, mostly. A lot of them. I suppose it was fortunate that it was late winter, so the parks weren't open terribly late and we could actually sleep and recover.

I'd been to Orlando before, but never for recreation, so this was my first chance to experience the plethora of parks available. We managed to hit a different park every day, which was pretty cool. Here's the overview:

Sunday: Universal Studios Florida. I had been to the California version of Universal Studios many years ago, but this seemed much more developed, both thematically and in the overall detail of the attractions. Unfortunately, it was a windy day, so the one big roller coaster was not operating. Most of the rest of the rides are variations on "motion simulators," basically moving seats with immersive movies. I quite liked the Disaster ride, which is set in San Francisco, but the most impressive ride overall was the Simpsons ride. It's long and funny and very true to the show.

Overall I have to say this park appealed more to the older members of the crowd, but everyone had a pretty good time.

Monday: Universal's Islands of Adventure. Quite a variety here, ranging from stuff for the little kids based on comic strip characters and Dr. Seuss stories to adventures like Jurassic Park and the Lost Continent and the thing people really wanted to see, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was really impressed with the attention to details in all of the areas. We managed to score early-admission tickets, which enabled us to get to Harry Potter first, before the lines got long.

Tuesday: Disney Magic Kingdom park. It's kind of disorienting for a group like ours that's very familiar with Disneyland, because it's similar, but different enough to be a bit confusing. It was a big treat to ride Space Mountain again, and we rode Pirates of the Caribbean several times. Big Thunder Mountain was closed, though. And there's no Matterhorn! On the plus side, they have the old Carousel of Progress ("There's a great big, beautiful tomorrow....") and the Country Bear Jamboree. Good memories.

Wednesday: Break from theme parks for a day. Some of the party went fishing in the flats on the Atlantic coast. The rest of us slept in, then headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where we had a nice nature walk and went to see some manatees at Haulover Canal. Then off to the beach for a bit and dinner at the famous Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville, where we ate a LOT of shrimp.

Thursday: Disney Animal Kingdom park. This is a fun park, very different from the Magic Kingdom, and at least partly aimed at a wider age spread (i.e., a little older). First thing in the morning we ran to ride Expedition Everest, which is a very good roller coaster. My daughter and I hit that four times in a row before there was any line to speak of. Good stuff! Nice animal exhibits. We had a good, full day here.

Friday: Epcot. I have kind of mixed feelings on this one. It's meant to be sort of a future-oriented simulated world's fair. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to make anything futuristic that doesn't get out of date really quickly. I did quite like Spaceship Earth (the big golf-ball thing), and the Energy Adventure was a really interesting ride. Most of the other rides were fairly unimpressive, and the Test Track really didn't do much for me at all.

Saturday we only had part of the day before flying home, so we hit Islands of Adventure again to get a farewell cup of butter beer and enjoy some of the bits we had to rush through before.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Retraction

Since I've mentioned Mike Daisey and his appearance on NPR, it's only fair that I point out today's development:
The public radio program This American Life on Friday announced it was retracting the entirety of an episode it aired on the reportedly deplorable working conditions at a Chinese factory owned by Apple supplier company Foxconn, because the episode “contained significant fabrications.”

The original episode, “Mr. Daisey Goes To The Apple Factory,” which aired in late January, featured the supposedly firsthand account of American theatrical performer Mike Daisey traveling to Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen, China.
Pretty stunning stuff. I look forward to hearing more about this.

Daisey has a response on his own blog, too:
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.
While I'm on the subject, here are a couple of recent articles discussing the notion that Apple could make its spiffy devices either in the U.S. or at least while protecting workers. One is from The Nation, the other from Grist.

I'm pleased that people are at least talking about this stuff now. Too bad it has to be so contentious.

Update: Lengthy piece from The Atlantic discusses how Daisey's behavior has damaged his cause. I have mixed feelings. Certainly the situation is bad enough that the case for change can stand on its own. If Daisey's show were the only source of information on labor abuses in China, it would be far more serious. But plenty of independent investigation has also pointed to the issues. So yeah, it's bad to promote your cause with untrue information, but if anyone dismisses the issue because of that, they are also making a mistake.

Update 2: Tom Tomorrow cites a NYT piece on the controversy today.  They venture into the question of what constitutes journalism, among other things. The discussion gets interestinger and interestinger. Everybody is coming down hard on Daisey, but no one seems quite sure how to treat This American Life.

Update 3: Commentary from an actor who has performed Daisey's show about Steve Jobs and Apple. All interesting, but particularly this:
But let’s get a hold of ourselves. Should we really be discussing “the abuse of the performer-audience relationship” in the same breath as the real, tangible abuse of Chinese factory workers? Shouldn’t This American Life feel just a little bit silly devoting a solid hour, full of probing research and revealing details, to both of these abuses equally?

The brief piece on Marketplace could have been followed up with a footnote on the TAL website, and perhaps an audio insertion at the top of the original piece, and everybody would have been happy.

But to drag Daisey into a studio and grill him for four hours about what he did actually see and what he didn’t– it’s called “burying the lede.” For apparently hell hath no fury like a public-radio storyteller scorned, especially when he’s got the huge, sanctimonious club of “journalistic ethics” at his side.
I'm glad to see all the discussion. This is the first contribution I've seen that seems to grasp some of the larger facts here.