You Never Were, Dave: a response to Mamet from 2008

In a Village Voice piece published back in 2008, the talented writer (but abominable person) David Mamet explained to us why he’s no longer a “brain dead liberal”. I’d heard that line before from any number of newly minted property owning Yuppies and was astonished to learn that Dave thought he was being original. Here is what I wrote in response, and sent to the Voice…it wasn’t printed. I have added and emended to reflect my own experience acting Mamet.

David Mamet, in his March 11 2008 essay “Why I am no longer a brain dead liberal”, makes some elementary mistakes.

Did JFK “start the Vietnam war”, Dave? No. Although Kennedy was a schemer, a private and rather conservative and wealth-dominated press having elected him and not the more principled Adlai, Chomsky points out that the war started on Eisenhower’s watch.

Mamet claims that the USA has a lot of “social mobility”.

Social mobility in the USA in the large is nonexistent, and more so if you’re not white. Most of the guys who were flogging real estate alongside Mamet in the 1970s, on whom he based his play Glengarry Glen Ross, are either still hustling, or pushing up daisies. Their children after them are bike messengers and count themselves lucky to escape the general corporate curse, in Chicago and elsewhere.

But most of all, Mamet’s attempt to play Paul at Tarsus, to experience a conversion, and to have us all applaud him is as ancient as a vaudeville joke.

That was no lady: that was my wife. I was wounded at Inchon! Have a scar? No thanks, I don’t smoke!

Mamet is behind the curve, if he’s trying to be fashionable: saying one’s no longer a liberal, but one is still a hip and funny guy after all, has been the rage for a very long time in behavioral sinks including the fashionable arondissements of New York and Chicago. My drinking buddies at the Old Town Ale House pulled that shit all the time in the 1970s.

Even a waterfly like Dennis Miller pulled that stunt after he became wealthy. It’s an old shtick: there’s a sign on a casino in Wisconsin: enter a Democrat, leave a Republican.

In a behavioral sink, in the fashionable arondissement, it’s a great line for picking up a drunk chick in my direct experience, but merely because, as Sue Sontag pointed out, Fascism exerts a sort of Fascination, especially on drunk chicks.

The ape in all of us, and the ape in chicks, comes out after a few blasts. That’s why the devil’s advocate, like Christopher Hitchens, is in demand. He makes us hard. He makes them wet.

Also, his adepts can emerge from the fashionable bar and step over dying children without remorse. It’s a skill that before the 1980s, that watershed, was cultivated in Calcutta…not the USA.

Do the math. As early as 1961, the “proletarian tough guy”, Bertolt Brecht, who used leftie politics to be able to treat people like shit, was already growing stale. The ape in all of us (with whom Mamet has more than a nodding acquaintance) needed a new way to display his dominance.

In America, behind as it was in fact the curve, this was a gesture that had appeared in Europe forty years before. I refer of course to the neo artistic conservatism of Eliot, Prokofiev and Picasso, who after their embourgeoisment “revived” traditional forms, in effect licensing the revival of traditional beliefs in a selective and stylish way, which is why you then get de Lempicka and Dali and Riefenstahl…hip and Fascinating Fascism, in a word.

The fact being that David Mamet, any more than Dennis Miller, never was a “liberal”. “Liberals” were the sort of guy who bravely went to fight Franco and returned to be harassed by HUAC. “Liberals” were the sort of guy who faced down the bosses, the mob, and Stalinists in labor unions. “Liberals” were gals who fought for reproductive freedom and got shit for it. “Liberals” were college administrators hounded to hell because they simultaneously maintained the rights of their draft-age students to protest the war AND the university to function without disruption by either cops or weathermen SDS punks.

David Mamet instead was damaged goods when he burst on the scene. He’d seen, as I saw, the dark side of man in crappy little jobs at crappy little firms which he portrayed in Glengarry Glen Ross. As a result, his plays, while they work as theater (especially when you get a talented guy like me to play them), are unreadable and foul on the printed page. Furthermore, there is in his work a psychotic split between the essays, which are urbane and sensitive, and the plays, which are excessively violent and usually sexist.

Yes, they portray real life. But to make Mamet work as an actor I had to put in Adorno’s unimaged redemption by tearing up the worthless check, saying Kaddish, responding to Roma and exiting with dignity. I had to fight for this shot of redemption saying this, insofar as it’s about Levene, is not the Jew of Malta, it’s the Merchant of Venice. I had to do this in excess of Mamet’s probable intention. Mamet probably wanted this shtick out, I put it back in, and more than one audience member said I was the best actor in the damn show.

The problem is that recognizing the ape should mean doing something to recover the glassy essence but it seems that a sort of American Kristallnacht made that shtick not the sort of boffo box office that Mamet wants above all. Culture asks us to identify with Levene. Entertainment asks people to identify with Alec Baldwin’s Blake and “third prize is you’re fired”.

You do have to be careful. I didn’t want the audience to sympathize with Levene…just identify with him to some extent.

Mamet has refused to give permission to an all-female group to put on Glengarry Glen Ross although structurally, the absence of sexual difference in the all-male play means it would work as some sort of all-gal lesbo mud wrestling match. Mamet in other words has a serious problem with the Goddess within him and for this reason his plays, rather than healing the very real wounds of people who haven’t made the big time as he has and still are flogging real-estate, subject them to sales presentations which, instead of avoiding the abuse in Glengarry, vomit little chunks of it, because the lead shitbag has seen the film and he thought Alec Baldwin was sooooo cool.

My fat pal Adorno discovered this, but as Falstaff said, wisdom cries out in the streets and no man pays it mind. When Adorno helped to make anti-anti-Semitism films for the B’nai Brith and Anti-Defamation league in the 1940s, audience testing discovered that the audience just loved the funny anti-semite. When Francis Ford Coppola tried to portray the lunacy of war in Robert Duvall’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”, the “smell of napalm” became a cool catchphrase in countless dickless offices.

Third prize is you’re fired, CHUMP. And Dave, you’re not a liberal? I’ll alert the media.

You never were, Dave, you never were.

Fascinating Fascism puts butts in seats whatever the intention of the *auteur*. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t drive Martin Sheen to drink in the Phillipines so that idiots could drive to work with The Ride of the Valkyries on the eight-track and riff out on the smell of napalm in the morning and vote for Reagan, but that’s how it works.

Mamet may say, well, screw you, art for art’s sake. But, hey, ok, and fair enough: screw you, Dave: your essay wasn’t art for art’s sake. Sure, it doesn’t promote virtue and happiness and healing. The problem is that it positively, in a gesture that isn’t l’art pour l’art, promotes badness and sadness and more and more of the same rather more illiberal shit.

I haven’t seen Mamet’s new play. I don’t get out much. But it sure sounds like he really sticks it women and liberals. Boy, that guy can sure speak truth to powerlessness and kick people when they are down. Boy, that Mickey Spillane sure can write.

Paddy Chayefsky, in a forgotten teleplay, has the guys standing around the neighborhood. They celebrate the writings of Mickey Spillane who shows you what to do with dames, especially Communist dames and maybe liberals too. Mike Hammer shoots her in the stomach and when she’s dyin’, she says, aw gee, Mike, whydja do that and he says cause he wanted to.

Of course, Paddy Chayefsky, a liberal, saw through the guys on the street corner and has Marty call the ugly dame who likes him and whom he likes and get a life. He could not see the destruction, primarily at the hands of the denizens of the fashionable arondissements, of the New Deal which empowered guys like Marty to have a life, a destruction which killed my relatives in Jersey as they expired whimpering in a physically and psychologically toxic dump, although he did see clearly enough as the screenwriter of the film Network where we were headed.

In David Mamet’s pseudo tough essay, we get Spillane “Lite” and we’re supposed to think this is quality shit. It works as theater but as opinion, well, Dave: as they say in the Army, opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one.

I dunno, whaddya wanna do tonight?

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