Moon #20: “Temperance Under the Gun”
“This is a story about the nature of stories. So if it ever gets a little bit meta… have another drink!”
You might notice a line bisecting Episode Twenty of Mike Daisey’s All the Faces of the Moon. It’s the line between the fictional and the “not fake”; between telling the future and making it; and between devils you know and those made from things that were never written down. But the line is indistinct, formless. It sometimes converges with other lines, like multiple streams of water being poured into a basin. Even so, according to Daisey, everything depends on how you define that line.
Last episode Daisey pushed the idea of fiction as magic and in this installment he spends a little time mulling over the finer points of that idea. He cites the ironically popular spam twitter feed @horse_ebooks, which up until the day of this performance had purported itself to be a random, but bizarrely poetic, collection of marketing mined from the internet by a spambot. (An example tweet: “How to use color to camouflage an eyesore… Where to get FREE plants four times”) Except, by chance or kismet on this particular day, @horse_ebooks revealed that it had been a hoax and all the seeming nonsense had actually been carefully crafted by humans. Though many were outraged by this revelation, Daisey points to it as an old-school “humbug” in the style of P.T. Barnum, where part of the magic of the showmanship was the illusion of reality. The trick was in convincing the audience that what they were seeing was actually occurring. Back in those days, Daisey explains, the eventual revelation that it was all a sham was “intended to delight,” but that’s not the case anymore. “We love authenticity,” Daisey says, “We love it when it’s real.” He amusingly observes that our anxiety for things to be factual is echoed in even our categorization of literature as fiction and non-fiction; essentially dividing the “fake” and the emphatically “not fake.”
In Luna Park, a fakish place based on a once-not-fake place, P.T. Barnum himself, who like many other showbiz ghosts lives on in this ethereal carnival, shows Jack and Mary Jane the face of the enemy. Literally. First Barnum explains that the thing that killed Jack’s father, the thing that I have called the Jungian Shadow and that he now names a “Gebbeth,” is distilled from all the nightmares of the 20th century that Jung didn’t write down. Though ferocious, it is really is nothing more than a directed weapon. It’s something that has been sicked on them. Barnum then mystically calls up the face of the older man who set the Gebbeth upon them, but neither Jack nor Mary Jane recognizes him. Since I have seen the final episode, I have a pretty good idea of who this is. Even so, it’s a devious use of the medium on Daisey’s part. If this were a movie, audiences would instantly recognize him. But both here and at the end of the episode, when this gentleman appears in person, Daisey uses his menacing anonymity to build suspense nicely.
Later, Jack and Mary Jane discover an artist’s studio full of paintings (Perhaps Larissa Tokmakova’s?) that depict and have possibly influenced key moments from the story. Again – the act of artistic creation works a kind of magic. Soon after, Daisey goes to confront Phil after learning of Gibbs’ death. We see Daisey coax Phil out of a bar by speaking aloud the story that would have led Phil to leave. He creates a story to create an event. He weaves something fake into something not fake.
During his initial discussion of the fake and the not fake, Daisey again calls into question the need for a hard line between them, at least in his own storytelling. Part One of Moon, he points out, ended with the revelation that Daisey had recently tried to kill himself and that soon after he encountered the physical specter of Death. Critics, he said, immediately distinguished the two events for themselves: clearly, the suicide attempt was something that actually happened to Daisey in real life and the encounter with Death was fiction. Reading back on my own review of Part 1, I am pleased to see that I at least gave Daisey the benefit of the doubt in my write up; I summarized both events as part of the story without getting into what might have been factually true. But if I am being honest, I must confess that I did draw the line there in my head. I too was convinced that one part was fake and that the other part was not fake. And Daisey is right to call it on us here – we all came into this story with our own baggage. We knew from his public apology that Daisey deeply regretted the snafu with This American Life and the Steve Jobs show, so when he gave us the information about the suicide attempt we all simply drew the conclusions we wanted to draw. Much like our contemporary theories about Shakespearean authorship or our concerns that hypothetical aliens might be warlike, our conclusions about what is “real” in this story say a lot more about us than they do about Daisey.
But Daisey is smart; much, much smarter than me certainly, as these meager (and belated!) attempts to chronicle this show have no doubt shown. He follows up this discussion by asking how real we needed his alleged suicide attempt to be. Suppose he hadn’t try to kill himself in this situation, but had sometime before? Does that make it any less real? Any more real? I like to believe that Daisey knew what we thought we knew we wanted to hear. He knew we wanted authenticity and decided to use that information to have a little humbug of his own. He’s not calling us out here. He’s really just saying “gotcha.”
Well, it worked. I, for one, am delighted. Obviously none of it was real.
None of it and all of it.