Empathy and Belief in Documentary Theatre: A cognitive perspective on Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
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In the spring of 2012, celebrated monologuist Mike Daisey was accused of embellishing the truth and misleading fact checkers on the Public Radio International program This American Life. Daisey had performed an excerpt of his theatrical monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs on This American Life in January of 2012. Three months later, This American Life aired a retraction episode, claiming that Daisey had lied about many of his eyewitness experiences. Following the retraction, a heated debate ensued about the blurring of lines between entertainment and journalism and about the implied contract between documentary theatre artists and their audiences. Daisey's belief that a work labeled fiction will not move audiences to empathy has been directly challenged by recent cognitive studies on fiction and empathy. By developing a narrative based on actual events, an artist can direct attention to factual evidence and even offer resources on acquiring factual information, rather than purporting to exist as actual documentary evidence. Artists need not fear that informing their audiences about their creative process will result in a diminished emotional response. The labels of fiction and nonfiction are too broad to properly inform audiences about an artist's process.