In recent years, writer/director David Mamet has migrated from a position of extreme liberalism (I’m not sure it was entirely extreme, but I need that for balance) to a position of extreme conservatism.
I have no problem with people changing their positions (except for Romney, who appears to have done it to win elections.) A sincere re-evaluation happens so rarely, you want to applaud the person for continuing to work at it. (Or at least I do.)
I am also undisturbed by erstwhile liberals turning conservative. Although I am somewhat mystified by how few converts proceed in the other direction. I am admittedly speculating here, but this directional disparity could be because an old person who turns liberal will still have trouble getting girls. So they give up on that dream, and go for lower taxes.)
What most ruffles my Pomerantzian feathers is “extreme.” (Regular readers knew that already.) To me, a switch from one pole of the political spectrum to its diametrical opposite is not ideological; it’s emotional.
I am a lifetime moderate. Maybe it comes from having no muscles, I’m not sure. (What’s the connection? Moderates are less likely to have to defend themselves. Nobody likes them, but they are relatively insulated from danger because the people on both sides who don’t like them hate each other even more.)
I perceive my moderate proclivities to be genetic. (And as such, I take no credit for this stance, though I honestly believe it’s the optimal place to be. However, like a person who grew up poor but didn’t feel poor, I may just not know any better.)
Extremism seems sweaty, irritating and unpleasant. You’re always getting upset. You’re screaming. The veins are constantly popping out of your forehead. And with all your passion and commitment, you end up persuading nobody but the people who already agree with you.
Moderation allows you to sleep at night. What does extremism get you?
Okay, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But what else?
Extremism is great for getting you attention. And it is an unquestionably powerful gust of wind beneath your wings. The problem – at least for me – is that extremism in arguments inhibits balanced thinking, leading to ignoring evidence contradicting your passionately clung-to point of view. So from a “credible argument” standpoint, as my daughter Anna used to say when she was three: No good, this one." Despite your enthusiasm, your conclusions are inherently suspect.
(What an extended setup for a rather minor issue. Maybe I’ll shorten it later. But if I don’t – because I fall in love with my writing – forgive me. I’m an old man with time on my hands.)
There is an interview with David Mamet in the April/May issue of Written By, the official periodical of the Writers Guild of America. Mamet is being interviewed in connection with the current HBO production of Phil Spector, which he wrote and directed.
Phil Spector is a “based on actual events” movie (my favorite genre, Press “Control – S”, for “Sarcasm”), chronicles the murder trial of record-producing immortal Phil Spector, for shooting a woman dead though Spector insists that she shot herself.
The point of the movie is a test of the legal concept of “reasonable doubt”, which, if the jury has it, is supposed to get you off. Spector’s defense attorney is convinced there is reasonable doubt in this case, and that Spector’s greatest obstacle to exoneration is that he’s “weird.” (Spector was ultimately convicted and sentenced to jail. The weighting of the screenwriting encourages the audience to view the verdict as unjust, the “Weirdness Factor” defeating the forensic evidence.)
In the Written By interview, Mamet’s interviewer, Richard Stayton, suggests that “critics will probably point out this movie demonstrates David Mamet’s pro-gun position”, to which Mamet responds, “Well, I’m pro-Constitution.”
Mamet then takes the opportunity to indict the (assumed) liberal filmmakers for wanting to have it both ways, saying,
“It’s incredibly hypocritical for lefties in Hollywood to talk about banning guns. If they want to ban the guns, they should take all the gratuitous guns out of the movies.”
One – maybe in their fantasies, a few extreme liberals dream of “banning guns” – meaning all guns – but that dream is no more likely to come true for liberals than (forgive the reach) the “banning all abortions” dream is likely to come true for conservatives. So we are deeply in “Straw Man” country here.
Secondly, gun violence, or something equally terminative, is, at least, in this culture, a dramatic necessity.
“She got a peanut caught in her throat, and she died. The question is, did she put the peanut in her throat herself, or did Phil Spector stick it down there?”
Not as compelling, right? Not to mention the geshrei that would arise from the “Peanut Lobby.” I see “Mr. Peanut” testifying in Congress.
Thirdly, commercial success requires a cathartic outcome.
“Two rival drug cartels confront each other, and they amicably hammer things out.”
Big Box Office in ”Quaker Country” maybe, but, nationally, a dud.
Finally – and I’m getting tired of saying this, so I’ll say it in four words:
Fantasy – Reality. They’re different.
Nobody watched more westerns than I did. Nobody played with more toy guns. Who makes the connection between pretend violence and actual violence? Crazy people. Everyone else? Enjoy Gunsmoke.
David Mamet ascended the Soap Box to decry the hypocrisy of the filmmaking community. First of all, this is not Front Page news. More importantly, when a writer’s mind becomes fevered with a one-sided perspective, they can produce nothing other than one-sided entertainment.