Friday, May 17, 2013

"Faulty Arguments"

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.    

My preference is the two-sided kind.  But I’ve never had a hit. 


Doug said...


I partly agree with you. I guess I'm sort of a moderate, too, but definitely lean to the right. (My right shoe always wears out sooner as a result, but I digress).

Your point is valid in the sense that making a World War II movie, for example, would require some use of guns. The soldiers could throw nickels at the Germans, but that seems a bit ineffective. So, yeah, some stories require guns.

I would agree with Mamet, however, in that some Hollywood types have taken to the airwaves to advocate for the limitation of gun ownership. Some of these selfsame celebrities have appeared in movies or TV shows that one could argue GLORIFIED gun use. If Actor X does a PSA on the evils of guns, but he owes much of his wealth to appearing in shoot-em-up cop movies, well, who helped make gun violence look cool?

Justa thought. Of course, glorifying gun violence is a slippery standard, kind of like pornography. It's difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

The American peopl are pretty smart, and they're pretty good about discerning hypocrisy, of which there may be a litte in Tinseltown.

Mac said...

Yup. The Mamets and others who get a Damascene conversion are what shrinks call "true-believer" types. I'm sure your wife knows a lot more about it than I do, but such people sign up to every single conviction that one political wing offers, and it becomes like a belief system that answers very question.

Then when they "flip," they entirely reject everything and sign up for the opposing beliefs on absolutely every issue - not one of their old views holds any truth whatsoever, they can't see them as just a different perspective - they have to see them as wrong, and believe it was total naivety that led them to those old views.

There's no nuance, complexity, ambiguity. In another era they'd have been devoutly religious, and on switching to a new religion, decrying the old one as the work of satan etc etc.

Rebecca said...

I'm with you, Earl. There are a great many people in Hollywood, and all over the country, who are actual gun owners and they would still like to see mandatory background checks, as well as the banning of automatic weapons.

Violent movies and video games are available all over the world, yet countries with stricter gun control laws have gunshot fatality numbers which are amazingly smaller than those in the United States.

On the same day of the Newtown massacre, a crazy guy went on the attack in China. But since he only had a knife, there was only one person injured. There will always be crazy people who can get hold of a weapon. But bringing down the body count from 20 to 1, especially when we're talking about children, is a worthy goal in and of itself.

And hopefully, with background checks, it will be a whole lot harder for crazy people to get hold of weapons.

As far as putting guns in the schools, and anywhere else, go on and search #GunFail. The number of incidents there may be surprising. You would see that:

The number of really young children who get their hands on guns and accidentally kill other children is so depressing.

The number of people in uniform who forget their guns in public places is also depressing.

The number of people with concealed carry permits who do the same is just ridiculous, as is the number accidental shootings at gun shows.

Too many people who have access to guns end up being responsible for an accidental shooting. That means too many people have access to guns.

I grew up with guns, both hunting rifles and handguns. I have no desire to make either of those things illegal. But there is no good reason for civilians to have access to machine guns. And anyone who says differently is either ignorant or an asshole. Probably both.

Canda said...

Let's take a look at moderation, and forget guns.

What chance does moderation have when political leaders rile up their base with their extreme accusations or changes in their beliefs?

Would President Obama have won if he pointed out that the top 10% of taxpayers pay the majority of taxes? Of course not. He had come out for gay marriage in 1994, was against in 2008 when he thought it would hurt him, and for it when the polls suggested it would help him.

Would Romney have gotten the Republican nomination by touting his record with health care in Massachusetts? Of course not.

The voters haven't shown that they'll respond to moderation. That's why you have the attack ads and the fabrications, so why be surprised at gridlock.