The Playgoer: Mamet Comes Out

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mamet Comes Out a conservative.

Kind of.

As if this is a surprise.

I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace.

[...] I began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.

At the same time, I was writing my play about a president, corrupt, venal, cunning, and vengeful (as I assume all of them are), and two turkeys. And I gave this fictional president a speechwriter who, in his view, is a "brain-dead liberal," much like my earlier self; and in the course of the play, they have to work it out. And they eventually do come to a human understanding of the political process. As I believe I am trying to do...
Well that's probably the most thought anyone has yet given November. (Haven't seen it myself.)

On the proper role of government, a natural metaphor occurs to the dramatist:

But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?

I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.

The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor.

So there you go--he manages to insult both directors and liberals in one fell swoop. Well played.

Actually I imagine he might win over some playwrights this way!

You can read those pontifications and more--some related, some not, all plugging his show--in a big bad Village Voice essay.


Anonymous said...

Y'know, perhaps I'm so jaded that I read his apologia as warmed-over La Bute. Like, Mary, we knew you weren't a drag queen anymore when you couldn't fit into the freaking gowns....

His work barked his political preferences long before he felt empowered enough to perhaps exploit a market for serious conservative plays (supplemented by his TV and film work). His beliefs about actor training reminded me of Robert Wilson, in the worship of the near-autistic and the emotionally ungenerous.

*Now* will y'all listen to critics who see how women are disposable in his work? How his stage language can no longer hide the hollowness of characters?

Playgoer said...

Former "Wonkette" Ana Marie Cox offers a nice riposte over on Swampland today...

"David Mamet writes about becoming a conservative, with surprisingly little attention paid to how his place in the world -- as opposed to his thinking -- may have changed over the years. He actually makes the argument that his thinking hasn't changed at all, he's just stopped fooling himself that his views were compatible with liberalism... Stopped conning himself if you will. He further asserts that plays are made better if they lack a director; just like how societies are made better without government! This is something only a writer could say. I asked a theater person friend what happens if you remove a director from a play, and he said, "you are left with a passel of self-absorbed actors run amok." Not a bad description of what happens without a government in place, as well.

It's all rather twisted. I'm looking forward to the third act, when it turns out that Bush was in on it all along and that Rebecca Pidgeon just painted all of the red states to look like lead."

Anonymous said...

Actors aren't all self-absorbed, BTW... now directors, that's another story...

PeonInChief said...

Thomas Sowell?!!! He was influenced by reading Thomas Sowell! That's pathetic.

Sowell used to be published in my local paper. I read it for the logical inconsistencies, errors of fact, and to confirm my view that conservatives get to publish whatever they want and no one ever edits them.

Ken said...

I've read (and made) a lot of comments on the Mamet essay on various blogs, and ultimately this whole thing is the proverbial tempest in a teapot. Mamet did not stop being a liberal, because he probably never was one. He always (I gather from reading interviews done over the span of his career) seemed to have a "social Darwinism" approach to life: extreme competition, where you sink or swim, with no one available to bail you out. He sees himself as a self-made man, a proud autodidact, so it's no great surprise that he would make a pronouncement that we're all on our own in this life, and therefore intervention from government is silly and only delays the inevitable. The fact that he is today a world-renowned millionaire culture hero who is comfortable and connected enough so that all his needs are taken care of is probably the main reason he looks around and assumes the same thing can happen to all of us, and thus any kind of safety net is pointless. Good for him, I say. I'm not yet convinced.

On another note, I love many of the man's plays, but his essays on the theater (particular on the training of actors, and the general use of directors, designers, etc.) are largely nonsense. Tough-guy talk that if actually put into practice would make for dreadful productions.

Anonymous said...

Mamet's a genius!! His essays on acting and the Theatre are brilliant. We should all pay more attention.

Tim Slagle said...

I LOVE some of these responses: He's rich, he's over the hill, he admires Thomas Sowell (and you know HE was bought off by the fascists).

What is it with Liberals and the ad homeniem attack? Nowhere is a rebuttal to some of his finer arguments, about how America is closer to a Marxist utopia of a classless society, than any of the Nations that were founded on Marxism.