David Mamet, culture warrior

“Poor young radical becomes rich old conservative” is strictly dog-bites-man.

A few years ago I saw Alan Alda on stage in David Mamet’s Glengarry, Glen Ross. Somehow I had managed to miss seeing either the play or the film before that. Alda was great (I really want to see Jack Lemmon on the film version), and the plot was fascinating, in a sort of sick way, but I couldn’t figure out why Mamet wanted me to be sympathetic to the plight of a bunch of sociopathic con artists.

Now I understand. Mamet is angry about being forced to trim the hedge around his mansion, and can’t imagine why anyone might be angry about being ruled by George W. Bush and his fellow torturers.

I hope Mamet and Andrew Ferguson and Newt Gingrich will be happy together, far away from the rest of us.

Footnote to editors “Poor young radical becomes rich old conservative” is strictly dog-bites-man.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “David Mamet, culture warrior”

  1. Lemmon said the challenge of playing the part of Levine was to not make the audience like you, because in fact he’s a terrible person.

  2. Mamet was always a pig, much like Tom Wolfe, and frequently a terrific observer of humans, much like Tom Wolfe.

  3. I can’t believe you haven’t seen Glengarry, Glen Ross. It is an amazing film. Quality work. It is hard to resist the temptation to post a link to Alec Baldwin’s soliloquy here.

  4. Some would argue – and this isn’t my argument – that people who participate in the liberal arts education system, especially at private schools, are engaging in a similar sort of fraud. Just sayin’.

  5. Now, wait a minute here. I go to a ton of theater, and I admire Mamet for a certain kind of bracing, intelligent play. Among theater-goers, I probably have a lower estimation of him than most. He’s often very glib and he’s way too interested in the con (certainly in his movie output), which just isn’t that interesting as an ongoing subject for artistic exploration. But when he’s good, he’s pretty good.

    But any left-leaner who took Mamet as some kind of interesting political bedfellow is simply an idiot, pure and simple. He always had a pretty harsh, brutal Darwinian outlook and never seemed to have any interest in weakness as something that might elicit empathy (attn liberals, this is supposed to be your thing). He’s “macho,” remember? He uses curse words a lot. He rarely has interesting women in his plays. He’s probably a sports fan (well hell, so am I). As with Dennis Miller (pretty much same deal), the conversion to conservatism (if such it even be) isn’t so much a change as a confirmation of something that was there all along. If you’re a liberal and you’re looking to David Mamet, of all possible people, for political support, then you deserve what you get.

  6. Malcolm, you’re almost entirely correct. Harvard, where I did my graduate work and taught for several years, and will be teaching again as a visitor at the Law School in January, is a “government school” in the sense that it was founded by the authority of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, though it has been privatized since. And of course the University of California, whose faculty and graduates have won 118 Nobel Prizes – more than any other university system in the world – is entirely public.

    But Haverford College, where I did my undergraduate work, is entirely private, if you don’t count Pell Grants, student loans, and NSF and NIH support. So it’s not quite right to say that I’ve spent my life in government schools.

    Still, no doubt my connection with dull, bureaucratic public education explains why I’ve had to turn to the government-established Oxford University Press to publish my latest book: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (forthcoming next month). The publication of When Brute Force Fails by the non-governmental Princeton University Press was, no doubt, an error.

  7. Martin is quite right about Mamet. I remember going through a similar realization about Tom Stoppard, a favorite playwright of mine who just isn’t, much as I’d like him to be, on the left just because he’s so damned funny.

  8. Yeah, Stoppard’s awesome but he explicitly defined himself as a conservative playwright in the 1970s. If you can get ahold of the New Yorker profile on him that appeared in the 1970s, this is abundantly clear.

  9. Mamet’s Stanford speech is a road production of a show he’s been performing for some years. See, for example, his article from three years ago, “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal’,” Village Voice (11 March 2008). His “conservatism” and Stoppard’s have little in common.

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