David Mamet’s “unexpected” right-wing conversion has elicited some fairly entertaining rebukes and laments, but it’s all a load of bullshit grandstanding. The only shock is that Mamet didn’t own up to it sooner. He was a misanthrope when he made his first big splash with Sexual Perversity in Chicago (which many of you know as About Last Night…, about as botched a stage-to-screen adaptation as Richard Attenborough’s A Chorus Line), and he hasn’t softened on people too much in the interim (there’s warmth in The Winslow Boy, but it’s all Rattigan’s).
That Mamet will no longer pop up at Ariana Huffington’s house for Democratic Party fund-raisers is of no consequence to me; my only concern is that this splashy declaration might drain Mamet of his wit. Consider this summary of his latest work:
“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, and in which I believe I may be succeeding…”
He goes on to quote cite former newsman William Allen White’s devastating “and yet” assessment of liberalism before wrapping up his sprawling essay with a tidy, unearned bow of a final paragraph (in terms of theme, the piece is as precisely reasoned as Oleanna – which was, at least, intentionally muddled). But, again, I don’t care that the left has lost Mamet to the faux-pragmatists of the right (really, it’s only fair; their combined IQ took quite the tumble when Bill Buckley called it a day); it’s the fact that, in stating his newfound allegiance, he’s succumbed to earnestness. “And they eventually do come to a human understanding of the political process?” What hot horseshit is that, David? Though I expect this “understanding” to be (typically) disomfitting, that doesn’t change the fact that such a clean summary is antithetical to the harsh Mamet-ian worldview;
And there’s the trouble with modern conservatism: once you’ve decided that self-interest is preferable to practical selflessness after you’ve cashed those million dollar paychecks, life gets too simple. You may believe that you’re honoring the get-ahead will of the common man, but you’re really losing touch with him. Then you get comfortable, settled, content. And when a writer gets to be any of those things, they’re no longer useful.
The best thing about Mamet’s first-phase conservatism is that it troubled his consciousness; his characters vigorously and vulgarly pursued their bliss at the expense of all those around them. And those with anything resembling an ethical code took it in the shorts. For Mamet, this was grist for vicious satire; the “understanding” was both a punch line and a punch in the gut.
Now, it’ll be what? A bemused shrug? A clasp of calloused hands? A clink of Lite Beer bottles? Mamet’s Village Voice essay reveals a man exorcised of conflict, and this is a dangerous thing. Those opposing ideas of which F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke have been silenced; though Mamet may have purchased a spiritual equanimity, it seems very likely that he has sacrificed his ability to function as a first-rate dramatist. I hope I’m wrong.
A final, spectacularly unrelated thought: the German title for A Force of One ist…