Life as an Extreme Sport

Mike Daisey and a Redemption of Chances

Yesterday, the internet did one of its fountain eruption things, when The Verge wrote an article about the new Mike Daisey show Yes All Women.People, I have a name. It’s not “Twitter critic.” Especially given you’re embedding my tweets right there! The internet wasn’t shy about telling Daisey what they thought of his utilizing what was a powerful hashtag for his new monologue, and I was one of the people who stepped up to tell him just how unimpressed I was.

To my utter surprise, Daisey listened. Not only did he listen, but within about an hour of our talking, and a few hours, at most, of the noise made by the general internet disapproval machine, he apologized and changed the title of his show to one I suggested: Yes This Man.

Easypeasy, furor over, let’s move on to the next thing that needs changing?

Well, not so much. A lot of people feel that Daisey’s history means this situation should be evaluated differently than if it had been someone else; for those of you who are not aware, Daisey made news a few years ago when it was revealed that his monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” contained material that cauld not be fact-checked, some of which was eventually acknowledged to be fake. Since then, Daisey has removed roughly five minutes of contested material, and continues to perform version 2.0 of the show.

It’s not an unfamiliar story, and like every other time it’s happened, when it was revealed, people were pissed. People were pissed enough that, for some people, Daisey will never be redeemed, regardless of what he does, and his latest monologue, which he says will talk about how the world is built “on the subjugation and ownership of women, and how men perpetuate that violence,” is just further proof that he will attach his name to whatever he thinks will make money.

I don’t fault people for this, and if they don’t want to give second chances, well, there’s reason.I think the notion of harm comes into play here, and in particular who was harmed. In Daisey’s case, ultimately I think his misdirections and lies hurt him more than anyone else, except perhaps TAL for lax fact-checking. That separates him out from someone like Jonah Lehrer, whose harm, I’d argue, spread much further out than just him.

The thing is? People aren’t strict Dungeons & Dragons alignments; good people can do bad things, and bad people can do good things. In this case, Daisey actually did listen to the outrage and fury of women (and allies) who felt he was co-opting the hashtag for his benefit. Whether you believe that he actually thought that titling his monologue “Yes All Women” instead of “#YesAllWomen” would allow him to comment and explore on the space opened up by the topic, or you think it was just grabbing at current events, you can’t deny that he did change the title of the show when he spoke to the people actually upset about what was seen as a co-opting of an important hashtag.

Mike Daisey did a good thing. He did what we want people to do when a minority group yells up to the majority and says “hey wait, NO, that’s uncool.” He listened, listened some more, engaged, and then apologized and acted.

Does this mean Mike Daisey is a good person? No clue; I don’t know Daisey. But I’ll give him points for issuing a decent apology and being transparent about it. While his apology isn’t perfect, it does hit the four requirements for a good apology: recognition, responsibility, remorse/regret, and remedy (which I’ve written about here). At the same time, I do know that I’m not impressed by how his website glosses over the controversy he was embroiled in a few years ago, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, once trust is broken it can be difficult to regain. I’d certainly be hesitant to take anything Daisey says at his word, and I probably wouldn’t seek out his company.***see below

History has many examples of good people doing momentarily stupid and bad things;My husband’s career is at least in part based on this; scientists, bless, tend to be motivated by the noblest reasons to do the stupidest things. in this case, we have someone who is at least morally ambiguous for many who did something good.

And that? Is a good thing. We, feminists and allies, need to leave room for people to make mistakes and make amends. We can’t yell at someone to change, see them make the change we wanted, and then go “oh sorry, now we’re going to attack you for something else because really, we just don’t like you.” I mean, by all means, don’t like someone all you want—that’s none of my business. But I grow concerned when a tool for change (like advocating for feminism) is turned into a weapon in a war of dislike.

It’s pretty important to look at what the motivation for anger is: are you mad that he used a bad title? Are you mad that he co-opted a hashtag? Are you just mad at him for existing? Each of these are different angers, and each one is going to have a different response. And by all means, be mad at him for existing if you are, but don’t conflate that anger with the small, immediate, and effective bits of anger that got a title changed and a monologue clarified.

***I spoke to Jessica Goldstein for Think Progress this morning, and her story can be read here: Mike Daisey Learns Yes All Women is Not A Title for a One Man Show. Been a while since anyone has interviewed me, and I’m pretty okay with how it came out. I also think Daisey held himself pretty well, and he has an excellent point about the difference between theatre and journalism. So, I take back what I said: next time you’re in Philly, Mike, drop me a note and lets grab a beer and talk.