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Monday, December 12, 2011

David Mamet's Trivial Pursuit

The overall decline of American conservatism is evident and it is particularly so in its literature.

Few books these days have titles like The Road to Serfdom, God and Man at Yale, or Suicide of the West. Now they have titles like Demonic, See I Told You So, or David Mamet’s coming out party, an article entitled "Why I Am Not Longer a Brain Dead Liberal."

As a general rule, one should probably be generally skeptical about anyone who has any sort of late-term conversion experience. During the 2008 Republican primary battle, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee questioned Mitt Romney’s sincerity on abortion when he quipped how odd it was that Mitt was sixty years old before he considered the question of when life begins. Similarly, one has to wonder why David Mamet was in his late fifties before he started thinking about the nature of government.

In Mamet’s case, he has today become a conservative much like the old Trotskyites became neoconservatives, which is to say he has not really undergone a significant transformation but has just changed names. I’m afraid I have to agree with Scott Galupo, reviewing Mamet in The American Conservative that Mamet may no longer be a brain-dead liberal but he has become a brain-dead conservative.

Many people have told me that David Mamet is a tremendously talented playwright. Maybe so. I’m not a playgoer so I’m going to have to take their word for it. But reading his first political book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, does not make me want to dig deeper into the Mamet canon. In reading Mamet’s book, one has to wonder how he can be such a well-respected playwright because this book would not have passed muster with a proficient English teacher.

There is incessant capitalization of non-proper nouns: “The puritan has become, of late, the totalitarian, where every last thing, thought, and utterance in the Liberal Day must be an assertion of some Liberal Value; One-Worldness, Compassion, Conservation, Equality.”

The pages are littered with annoying parenthetical statements that distract from the flow of the narrative. On most pages there are starred (*) passages and daggers in place of footnotes with more parenthetical stories, many of which are not pertinent to the text. When the reader is done with these annoying asides, he has to re-read the text in order to remember just what the hell Mamet was saying in the first place. This makes what could have at least been an enjoyable read a hassle. The only respite in actually reading The Secret Knowledge is that the chapters themselves are not long. But in reviewing this book, I’m at pains to figure out what point Mamet was trying to make.

It’s not stretching too much to say that the main points of the book can be summed up like this: Liberals are a tribe and they really hate Israel. Why was David Mamet contracted to write this book? Don’t Ann Coulter and David Horowitz already exist for the purpose of peddling this gruel?

If one browses through Mamet’s index, he sees that “Israel” receives as many references as nearly any other topic in a book with the subtitle, On the Dismantling of American Culture (emphasis mine). This is odd because it seems that for all his concern about liberals destroying American culture Mamet is disproportionately preoccupied with a foreign country.

As a Jew it’s easy to see that Mamet would be concerned about Israel and I don’t mean to fault him for his concern. But if I, as part Norwegian, wrote as extensively about Breivik and his contempt for multiculturalism and Norway’s political class as Mamet does about the Israelis and Palestinians I would expect someone to question whether I had dual loyalties.

Indeed, Israel is the tantamount moral issue for Mamet. He presents this far-fetched hypothetical of guilt-tripping and Godwin’s Law:

“Our American plane has been forced to land at some foreign airport, by the outbreak of World War III. It will not be allowed to depart. Two planes are leaving the airport; we must choose which we want to board. One plane is flying to Israel and one to Syria, and we must choose.

“That’s where sympathy stops.

“No one reading this book would get on the plane to Syria. Why? It is a despotism, opposed to the West, to women, to gays, to Jews, to free speech. It is a heinous Arab version of National Socialism, dedicated to the murder of every person in Israel. And yet one may gain status or a feeling of solidarity by embracing the ‘Arab cause.’”

There is no context, just moralizing condescension. Which liberals support Syria? Am I missing something? Just as for neocons it’s always 1938 or 1939, for Mamet it is always Israel=good, Them=bad.

In the end, The Secret Knowledge doesn’t leave the reader with any new information or unique insight. Liberals will hate it because Mamet is a turncoat and conservatives will love it because the author confirms all their prejudices.

It will be worthwhile to see if Mamet writes about politics and American culture again after a few years. It will be interesting to see if he’s learned anything by then.

Carl Wicklander,
Regular Columnist, THL
Articles | Author's Page | Website

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