Saturday, March 15, 2008

David Mamet

Ever heard of him? I hadn't... I have heard of his movies, but I didn't know his name. Maybe I am just not all that good about reading the credits on films...

But David Mamet is a playwright. His work has included Glengary Glen Ross, The Verdict, Wag the Dog, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna, and Ronin. He currently writes for a television show called The Unit. Many of his works are, according to his admirers, morally ambivalent.

Mamet recently, while working on a script focused on politics (November, Barrymore Theater, Broadway), started thinking more about politics. Best to just quote from his essay:

I wrote a play about politics. And as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics. This comment is not actually as jejune as it may seem. Porgy and Bess is a buncha good songs but has nothing to do with race relations, which is the flag of convenience under which it sailed. 

But my play, it turned out, was actually about politics, which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist, speechwriter.

The play, while being a laugh a minute, is, when it's at home, a disputation between reason and faith, or perhaps between the conservative (or tragic) view and the liberal (or perfectionist) view. The conservative president in the piece holds that people are each out to make a living, and the best way for government to facilitate that is to stay out of the way, as the inevitable abuses and failures of this system (free market economics) are less than those of government intervention.

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

Ouch!! Safe to say that his liberal friends aren't too happy with him right now. In fact, one liberal used-to-be admirer wrote that Mamet is free to do as he likes, but what worries him is the "effect on his talent of locking himself into a rigid ideological position." This seriously cracks me up, since what Mamet has done has unlocked himself from his previously rigidly held ideological position... but whatever. 

After a bit of discussion in his essay about his previously held belief in the "general goodness" of people, Mamet talked of his change of mind:

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

This is really good stuff!! The writer who used to be a fan and is now a critic of Mamet (based on political ideology alone) says at the end of his diatribe, "But his talent as a dramatist springs from his fascination with democratic speech and his own divided nature. He may pose as macho man but he has always shown an incredible awareness of human fallibility. I just hope that, in leaning to the right, Mamet doesn't destroy the very qualities that have made him America's best living dramatist." 

Whew!! You'd think he'd gone and gotten religion or something! It's amazing what divisions politics will create among friends... It seems to me that it shouldn't be a big deal if a talented person has different political leanings. Their talent isn't born of their politics. I cannot stand watching/hearing Susan Sarandon give her political opinions. But I think she's an amazing actress. I also watched Million Dollar Baby and thought it an incredible movie - well done, amazing. It also made my moral radar buzzer sound for weeks after I had seen it. The talent of the writers, directors and actors wasn't affected by the message of the film. The message of the film was just bad. 

Liberals and Conservatives alike could stand to be a bit more forgiving of their counterparts. Like a divorced couple, it's impossible to reconcile if we're refusing to talk to one another and using the issues of the day to get back at one another. Respectful communication is key. (That said, "respectful communication" cannot mean that one side feels disrespected if the other disagrees and thus has the right to stop all communication.)

I have often said, corruption is rampant - it matters not whether there's an R or a D after your name. It matters not if you're Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, or Muslim. Corruption is a human quality. End of story. This is why we have our system of government. This is why things aren't perfect in the world. 

Replacing our capitalist government with a socialist government won't equalize anything. It's impossible to equalize. It's impossible to be fair. Anybody who says otherwise isn't living in reality. But we should be willing to reasonably and rationally discuss these things with people who don't think like we do.

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