A JEWISH STAR: DAVID MAMET

Oct 4, 2013 by

A JEWISH STAR: DAVID MAMET

 

Marnie Macauley

 

The year 2008 was a very strange one for the Liberal literati of New York and Hollywood. It was the year they believed playwright, screenwriter, director, essayist, novelist, and poet, David Mamet, “outed” himself as a Conservative. For many of his peers, Mamet, might as well have declared himself a serial killer.

 

The “outing” came in the form of Village Voice op-ed piece called “Why I am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal.” It was followed by his 2011 book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, a tale of his bitter disenchantment with liberalism, his blog on Huff Post, and his frequent, outspoken interviews.

 

Clearly, Mamet isn’t a closet kinda guy … that is assuming there ever was one.

 

For the Great Mamet Observers and critics of all stripes, all hell has broken loose.

 

Hey, Mamet isn’t some “culture-lite” writer or aging actor trumpeting for an AK47 in every “pot.” This is a Pulitzer Prize winning guy, whose works include Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), Speed-the-Plow (1988), The Verdict (1982) and Wag the Dog (1997). His, has been a force of such magnitude that his dialogue; rapid-fire, edgy, cracking, naturalistic, intruding, often “vulgar” bears his name: “Mamet-speak.”

 

Predictably, “The Wall Street Journal” mostly sent roses, “The New York Times” and “The Economist” mostly sent thorns” (their reviewer called Mamet’s Secret Knowledge “baroque lucubrations” a “tedious and simplistic rant”), while unpredictably, “The American Conservative” went nay. The most famous of zig-zaggers, the late Christopher Hitchens (a known anti-Zionist for “intellectual” reasons), threw those thorns calling it  “one-dimensional,” “sloppy,” “shallow” “propagandistic” and “more boring than irritating.” (The book is still a hot seller on Amazon).

 

While he’s been embraced by many on the Right, remember where Mamet lives; in the largely liberal world of the New York/Hollywood “artiste.” Distilling the rhetoric, Mamet has not merely been accused of being a turncoat, but, among other things, nihilist, cultish, self-serving – and nuts. Here are just a few titles of rebuttal articles: “David Mamet’s Fatal Conceit,” “Writer David Mamet: Man overboard,” and “David Mamet Gets Lanced-a-Lot.”

 

And the Great Questions keep coming. “How could our Mamet, who won awards for his “leftist-leaning” anti-establishment plays and films do this — to us?!” “Why would he do this — to us?” And finally … “we’ll do unto you,” his critics ironically, sharpening their spears on the whetstones of words with the very chutzpa-hubris profundity they accuse Mamet of using.

 

With the “whys” wafting fast and furious the consensus is, it was  Israel and Judaism that ultimately “turned” him with the help of his rabbis, Conservative economists, and commentators.  But the roots are deeper, and follow a trajectory. However, regardless of your politics or his other views, it is specifically his position on Jews and Israel that we focus upon.

 

Mamet was born in 1947 in Chicago to Jewish parents. His father, Bernie Mamet, was an attorney who specialized in labor law. His mother, Lenore June (née Silver), was a teacher. His parents divorced when he was 11 and it was more sour milk than honey for David and his sister, also a playwright, who shuttled from home to home. Yet it was from this background, he honed his Mamet-speak. (We Jews have been known to be passionately “naturalistic” – and interrupt on occasion.)

 

Like many of that generation, he grew up around Yiddish-speaking immigrants whose goal was assimilation. He credits his current wife, actress, Rebecca Pidgeon, along with his second trip to Israel in 2002 as a guest of the Jerusalem Film Festival for “unearthing” his roots. The City was under siege by suicide-bomber attacks, and Mamet was deeply moved by the thousands who attended the festival despite the intifada and terrorism.

 

Even before what others called his so-called Conservative “epiphany,” and with characteristic openness, Mamet broadcasted his ardently pro-Israel stance in the Huff Post, and in his 2006 collection of essays: The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews in which he wrote: “I believe we have to be frank: The world hates the Jews. The world has always and will continue to do so.”

 

Enter the leftist or Individualist?

To accept all the “why” analyses to this writer smacks of sophistry. In fact, Mamet, who looped his way through odd jobs, started with bussing tables at Chicago’s The Second City, was not particularly political.

 

So, what the heck is going on?

 

Regardless of politics and labels, from the start, Mamet’s themes seem to lie passionately at the alter of individualism, which raises the question of whether his views on Israel and Jews was a “conversion” at all?

 

Emerging in the 1960s from the post-War vanilla fifties where conformity ruled, the turn to “New Leftist,” may have been as much a passion to shed the obligatory white bucks and roar, as it was to address smoldering issues of injustice and the Vietnam War.

 

And Mamet roared. His characters are often flawed humans caught in circumstances, desperate to emerge, to conquer, to be heard. The struggle of the individual fighting a corrupt system is the stuff of drama, not political dialectic. If it weren’t, Glengarry would be work-shopping to an audience of 12 in a loft on The Lower East Side of Manhattan.

 

Israel and We Jews have historically been a collective of strong, indefatigable individuals. Whether under the banner of “neo-Conservatives” or the old “New Leftists,” it’s this singular nature of our people that stand prominent. And it pisses people off.  Something Mamet himself has been known to do.

 

“Keep it Simple, Stupid” …

Not unlike his naturalistic dialogue, Mamet’s message is simple.

“The Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.”

“The Liberal West would like the citizens of Israel to take the only course which would bring about the end of the disturbing ‘cycle of violence’ …  abandoning their homes and their country … Is this desire anti-Semitism? You bet your life it is.” (Secret Knowledge)

 

The simplicity and absolutism of Mamet’s convictions, along with his disdain for the “on the other hand” perspective of some Jews (he accuses of “anomie”) and his peers toward Israel’s enemies have been ripe fodder for media and some intellectual “elite.” Says Mamet: “Most of the Western Press, European and American, pictures Israel as, somehow the aggressor, and the Israelis as somehow inhuman, and delighting in blood.”

 

So, why clutter simple convictions and bold-face evidence?

 

A May 2006 study of Saudi Arabia’s revised schoolbook curriculum discovered the following statements:

Eighth grade: “As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews.” Textbooks for 9th graders include: “The annihilation of the Jewish people is imperative.”

 

In May, 2010, The Global Muslim Brotherhood reported with glee, that the Hamas Deputy Minister, Abdullah Jarbu called Jews “foreign bacteria” that should be “annihilated.”

 

The Koran states: “Those who wage war against Allah … should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides …”

 

Mamet is saying: Is this not anti-Semitism? Is annihilation not the agenda? Does one need to straddle? Analyze? Pontificate? Debate?  When the pogrom comes, he predicts, even lapsed Jews will search frantically for doorways with mezuzahs.

 

And the result? “Keep it simple, stupid!” (Although he’d probably choose a juicier malediction, preferably in Yiddish.)

 

Far less often is he quoted as also saying: “Some of the allegations against Israel are substantial.  … Sometimes it’s in the right and sometimes it’s not. Well, of what country is that not true?”

 

The man who many critics have anointed a worthy successor to Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill, has created a fray and enters laughing, much like, well, a  wildly talented, 65-year-old Bart Simpson. Hey, he’s been “frayed” before.  “I’ve been alienating my public since I was 20-years-old …!” he says.  But Mamet, who directs films and wrote the screenplay for the 1987 smash The Untouchables, knows in some circles he’s become “untouchable” in Hollywood. Says Mamet: “All of a sudden, kaboom, half the country won’t speak to me anymore.”  He doesn’t give a damn. He’s content to be with family and a few old good pals such as Jonathan Katz and William H. Macy. As for the public? “No one’s gonna catch cooties by seeing a play from an opposing point of view,” he retorts.

 

His most recent play, The Anarchist was skewered, while down the street a revival of Glengarry was booming.

 

Art, politics, or both?

 

Perhaps Mr. Mamet can reframe The Anarchist for those who find his views on Jews and Israel “simplistic,” and call it The Delphian, adapted from a recent September 2012 Piers Morgan interview with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Link: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53ldtzriCMs).  In Mamat-speak:

 

Morgan:      “Should Israel be wiped off the map?

Prez:           “No. … um … ‘eradicated.’”

Morgan:      “Then you mean –

Prez:           “ … killing of women and children in the U.S.A –

Morgan:      “but we’re talking about –

Prez:           “ Extremism …”

Morgan:      “ … and if there were two States … would you support –”

Prez:           “You put your views in my mouth — ”

Morgan:      “And the Holocaust … wasn’t — ?

Prez:           “I pass no judgment! Scholars must conduct research.”

 

How “simple” the adversary.

 

David Alan Mamet is a Star of David — for his courage, his stand-up roar, his artistic and political risk … and for his bottom lines:  “We’re human beings only when it suits the world to treat us as human beings. There’s a pretty good book on the subject — the Torah.” – David Alan Mamet

 

photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc

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