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March 12, 2008

David Mamet: Why I Rejected "Brain Dead Liberalism" and Am Now a Conservative Something So Horrible I Dare Not Give It a Name

He doesn't say conservative -- at least I don't think he does. But the Village Voice piece he penned is apparently being slammed by everyone -- smells like a movement Drudge-o-lanch -- and it's damned hard to get from one page to the other.

The best bet at the moment is Hot Air's excerpts. I'll put up my own when the damned site is accessible.

I've long been a fan of Mamet's; I even thought he was worth interviewing back when he was a stone-cold liberal. Well, I didn't interview him really, but I would have liked to have.

His output is uneven and he veers from brilliant (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Spanish Prisoner) to compelling (Oleanna, The Winslow Boy) to strangely engaging though badly, badly flawed (Spartan) to disposable and derivative of his earlier works (Heist, playing an awful lot like House of Games.)

On the plus side, even when his movies or plays aren't very good, they're not very good in an interesting way.

Anyway, obviously, I'm a fan. If we had done a celebrity political draft I would have tried to get him by the the fifth or sixth round (of course I would have to grab more famous, prettier spokesmen first), so this is pretty cool.

I'm reading his piece and I'm amused at how obvious and naive his epiphany is... but that's sort of the same for any fledgling conservative. It's still cute to see him take those first tentative baby steps we once took ourselves.

His big thing is the liberal belief in intrinsic human perfection, coupled with their paranoid/demented belief that "everything is awful." Which is, of course, a perfect contradiction and a childlike conceit -- it's the stance of the disappointed utopian who, emotionally upset that not everything is perfect, begins claiming that everyhing is terrible.

Harlan Ellison, who's a bit of jackass, did make the now-so-obvious point that while 50's utopian science fiction was hopelessly naive, 60's and 70's dystopian science fiction was no less naive. In fact, they were both animated by the same childish conceit in human perfectibility. But whereas utopian science fiction boats of human perfectibility, the angry, paranoiac strand of dystopian fiction is simply the petulant overreaction of a teenager to disappointment and veering wildly in the opposite direction -- but impelled by the exact same jejune motivation. If humans aren't perfect or at least perfectible, well than damn it, they must be total shit.

Conservatives, who embrace the "tragic" view as Mamet terms it (I would call it the "realistic" view myself, but then, I'm not a dramatist), are less childish in their starting conceits. We believe that people are selfish, self-serving, self-interested, self-obsessed, and only vaguely self-aware. It is the nature of all of us. And we do mean us; when we speak of human failings, we are really not, as the liberals are, speaking of other people only. We say "we are all selfish and flawed' and we do in fact mean we.

So for conservatives, the question isn't "Why is the world so awful and cruel?" The question is really "How do humans, especially those in the west and particularly those in America, manage to get so very, very much right so much of the time?"

A different set of starting assumptions creates wildly differing expectations and thus wildly different judgments.

Again, this is so obvious to most of you as to be beneath mention. For me, who once took the trip from liberal to conservative myself (in college, I subscribed to The Nation, yo), it's a nostalgic. Oh yeah, right: I remember first realizing that too, etc.

And I also remember the days when, while I would no longer call myself liberal, I also fiercely resisted the label "conservative." Mamet still seems to be resisting that hateful label himself, imaging a third way in between goof-joke liberalism and the faith-based hatred of conservatism, but... he'll get there.

Most of us do.

You have no idea of the power of the Dark Side.

Some Quotes: Again, this stuff may strike you as somwhere between "duh" and "fucking a-dehrrr."

I took the liberal view for many decades, but I believe I have changed my mind.

As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.

These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me. We were riding along and listening to NPR. I felt my facial muscles tightening, and the words beginning to form in my mind: Shut the fuck up. "?" she prompted. And her terse, elegant summation, as always, awakened me to a deeper truth: I had been listening to NPR and reading various organs of national opinion for years, wonder and rage contending for pride of place. Further: I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as "National Palestinian Radio."

This is, to me, the synthesis of this worldview with which I now found myself disenchanted: that everything is always wrong.

But in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.

And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

More at the link, of course. Fair use can only be pushed so far.

PS: In that old post of mine I took a shot at him for always casting his wife Rebecca Pigeon in his movies. I had to. He does that more than Brian DePalma used to cast Nancy Allen.

It's not that she's a bad actress -- she's great in The Wislow Boy and amazing as the sexually-forward socially-awkward Nancy Drew good girl/bad girl in The Spanish Prisoner. (I kind of fell in love with her there and for a while was fond of quoting her oddball catchphrases, like "Well dog my cat" and "Just shows to go ya.")

It's just that she's always in there, so that it becomes sort of a drinking game prompt.

Plus, well... while she's great when she's good, he often puts her into roles she's just not well-suited for. I didn't buy her for a second as the flinty-tough jaded semi-whore in Heist, for example. She wouldn't have passed a screen test for that, not because she's untalented, just because actors have a type and Mamet tends to cast her both in-type and quite a ways out-of-type. Meg Ryan wouldn't have worked in Basic Instinct, after all.

I guess an overfondness for and excessive belief in one's wife isn't the worst flaw in the world.

And, I guess, it should be said he almost always has Ricky Jay and/or Joe Mantegna and/or William Macy in his movies, too, suggesting that at least they gave him a couple of handjobs at some point.

Ed "Al Bundy" O'Neill, too. What's up with that?

Since We're All Quoting It... Here's the Alec Baldwin scene from GGR.

Fun fact. At least I think it's a fact. This wasn't in the original stage play. I think he added this for the movie either just to extend the running time or else because he thought he had to juice up the desperation/intensity thing.

How the hell could the play exist without this scene? It seems impossible to me.



Language Warning.






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