Ben Ford

Lies, Damn Lies, Documentary Films, and Mike Daisy

By now you have all heard Mike Daisy’s story of his incredible trip to China and all the horrible things he witnessed at the Foxcon plants, which just so happen to be where the billions of Apple products are made, and I hope you now know that most of his story was false.

Mike Daisy lied to everyone. After being ousted, he states plainly that he crafted a story “in the context of theater”. Daisy is not alone, as many (if not all) documentary films tell stories disguised as truth. Many documentary films craft a story that is mostly fact, but often times key points of the film are untrue. Here is a few examples: King of Kong, Bowling for Columbine, The Cove.

Novels do this too, but as works of fiction, they state clearly up front that they are just stories. Upton Sinclair was an brilliant story teller, and his novel ‘The Jungle’ actually helped create social reform. His stories were fiction, inspired by real events he witnessed himself, but The Jungle wasn’t a news report and never claimed to be fact. There was a true story there; journalists investigated the situation and did report actual news of the conditions. When President Roosevelt himself sent investigators to the meat packing plants, they found conditions to be worse than then the book described. Social reform happened because Upton Sinclair’s novel told a fictional story about something true.

Television commercials are all made up, embelished, and fantasical. We don’t care and we certainly don’t beleive them because we know they are commercials. We expect a certain amount of fibbing in commercials. Whether it’s right or wrong, we definitely prefer the commercial version of what a BigMac looks like to the real version we actual buy. The bounds of these falacies are defined by our culture and our tolerence may fluctuate up and down on how far the lie can go.

It’s ok for novels, movies, commercials and lots of entertainment mediums to tell stories that entertain us. We know they are just stories because it’s made very clear to us. Where Mike Daisy and most documentaries go wrong, is that they put on the appearance of being factual. These crafted stories are usually so good we want to believe they are true.

The tradgedy with the Mike Daisy fiasco is that “This American Life” was involved and catapulted the story into the main stream as “news”, and although the show has done their part in correcting the mistake, I can’t help to think of the millions of people still thinking it’s true.

If it’s too good to be true and the story is just too perfect, it’s probably not all it’s cracked up to be. Being Hyper cynicle is not what I’m proposing, but a little critical thinking might be in order for all of us.