Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hollywood's Newest Neo-Con: David Mamet Chugs the Kool-Aid

John Doraemi

On the homepage of the Village Voice David Mamet (bio) goes on a keyboard rampage. That's right, Mamet preaches the glory of America, the free market, and the idiocy of the "Brain-Dead Liberal" view.

Mamet compares his neo-conning epiphany to that of Norman Mailer panning a play he didn't bother to go see, and then after actually seeing it, Mailer retracting everything and labelling it a masterpiece. That's Mamet's opening salvo. The "Brain-Dead Liberal" view, to which he tells us he once subscribed, isn't just wrong, it's so wrong that only a complete and total outright rejection can suffice.

The False Dichotomies

Mamet ought to know better than to put all of politics into a Coke v. Pepsi false choice. But several "tells" give us reason to question the depth of the man's analysis. While plugging his latest play:

"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." (Mamet)

I must say I found these pairings quite odd, and I was still optimistic that Mamet was joking with his blusterous attack on the "Brain-Dead Liberals." No irony was located however.

Mamet's first insinuation is that "reason" is the realm of the "conservative" view, and that "faith" is what drives the "liberal" view (flakily enough, at the end of the article Mamet assigns "faith" to the "mooing" of the "right"; so which is it?).

Mamet expands on these ideas, all the while implying that the pragmatic, realistic, fact-based approach is the conservative one. To that I will have to take exception.

Mamet says a lot, quickly, and he quickly descends into a blind, faith-based nationalism:

"...we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful
and privileged circumstances — that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it." (Mamet)

Well isn't that a mouthful? True to his style, and now true to his biases Mamet has just posted a Big Lie, practically daring us to dissent, daring us to correct the factual record.

"...under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances..."

I don't want to assume anything here, but I doubt Mamet's "privileged circumstances" are an acknowledgement of the imperial exploitation of the world at gunpoint. His "privilege" isn't an admission of the global chain of military bases on other people's territory, nor the overthrow of numerous democratically elected leaders who were then replaced by pro-US fascist regimes, nor is Mamet admitting to the international loan sharking by the IMF and World Bank, as debt slavery is ushered in to wrangle control of the economies of poor nations and to destroy their social services and safety nets in favor of "debt servicing." No, a powerful, loaded word like "privilege" needs a hell of a lot more exploration than Mamet (and other cons) are prepared to give it.

The biggest lie of the piece is wedged in here, tidily:

"...never have been the villains that some of the world and some
of our citizens make us out to be...

As one of those unstated "privileges," it goes without saying that Americans cannot be war criminals (villains), nor can they be held to the same standards which they hypocritically and regularly hold other nation's leaders.

In Mamet's Kool Aid inspired hallucinations, there aren't a pile of bodies over one million high in Iraq right now. Besides, it's a "hostile world," so even if there are a million corpses with "Killed by USA" stamped on their rotting foreheads, that is to be excused, or better yet just not talked about.

Mamet's blanket dismissal of any and all such great historical crimes is so dishonest, so jingoistic, such a bald lie that Mamet should be schooled in no uncertain terms on just how wrong his newfound (yet prepackaged) dogma actually is.

Mamet's next misunderstanding:

"...individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it."

Except the Constitution is in shreds! We've been screaming about it for many years now, and we may not be as "lucky" as the apparently naive Mamet would have us believe we are.

Since the late 1940's, we've suffered under the national security state apparatus and its related secret institutions which operate outside of the Constitution and the laws which govern the rest of us. The rise of unlimited electronic surveillance powers and the willingless of those in power to use assassination and terrorism, and to toss out many Constitutinally-mandated restraints on their power -- WITH IMPUNITY -- has fundamentally changed the nation. One could argue we stand in post-Constitutional America, right now.

Going back to Mamet's false dichotomy of conservative vs. liberal (his own definitions), he tries to frame the choices once again:

"...I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics,
government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other—the world in which I actually functioned day to day—was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other..." (Mamet)

This has particularly pernicious implications. Mamet has personalized his political diatribe, but the message is that those who criticize these venerable instititutions: government, corporations, military, don't have valid or important critiques, but are relying upon "magically" produced (bad) faith for their views. Further, that those who tune out of this magic-driven negativism are the real down to earth and reasonable people, who get along with each other the best.

There's a neo-con children's story plot in there somewhere. May I be the first to suggest My Pet Goat 2 as a title?

Wagging the Free Market Dogma

After a plug for Milton Friedman et. al., Mamet puts his cards on the table:

"...a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism."

I'd like to be magnanimous and say, "Forgive him, for he knows not what he says," but David Mamet is not stupid. He must have examined these issues to some extent to come to these highly public pronouncements.

I'm not going to spend a lot of words on the "free market" myths. But, are we now tossing out the minimum wage? Are sweatshops going to make a comeback? How about putting kids in factories, if we pay them in candy? Sounds reasonable. All those damned safety regulations have victimized the poor businesses who just wanted to exploit their workers, whether their limbs were chopped off in the equipment, or the fumes poisoned them, so what? They agreed to work there. It's a real travesty that businesses can't just use up people like expendable printer cartridges, and just toss them out the back of the loading dock into the dumpsters. Hey, their organs can be harvested and sold at a proftt, too! Right, Mamet?

There's a powerful response to the free market propaganda which has apparently captured David Mamet. Accept the free market principles that are espoused at face value, and then take the ideas to their logical conclusions.

In "Liberals and Libertarians", Ernest Partridge does just that over at The Crisis Papers. The central point of divergence between the Libertarian variety of free marketeers and the "Brain-Dead Liberal," is:

"...the liberal, while not hostile to free markets and private property,
insists that both must be regulated and occasionally be curtailed 'in the
public interest.'" (Partridge)

The "public interest", the "public good", or the "commons" is denied in the free market ideology. It does not exist. Any attempt to protect "the public" from private interests is labelled illegitimate at the outset.

Partridge lays out two cornerstones, which presumably fit into both ideologies:

"The answer lies in two principles endorsed by both liberals and libertarians. First, the 'no harm principle:' 'the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised ... is to prevent harm to others.'(J. S. Mill). And second, the 'like liberty principle:' 'Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.'(John Rawls)" (Partridge)

Partridge then exposes how the free marketeers betray these principles.

"The liberal will argue that the libertarian fails to recognize the full implications of these principles, for, if he did, the libertarian would find that an unconstrained free market results in harm to others and to a loss of their liberties. Furthermore, unconstrained free markets are self-eliminating, since they lead to cartels and monopolies. Thus the necessity for regulation and anti-trust laws." (Partridge)

See the full article for more examples and for the logical refutation of the half-baked Libertarian ideal.

More RightSpeak

Mamet meets Reagan?

"What about the role of government? Well, ...tallying up the ledger in those things which affect me and in those things I observe, I am hard-pressed to see an instance where the intervention of the government led to much beyond sorrow." (Mamet)

Could it be that poor David Mamet doesn't want to pay his taxes?

When you step outside of the personal observations "which affect" Mamet himself, the Social Security system keeps millions of elderly Americans alive, off the streets, and hopefully away from the cat food aisle. People who rely desperately on that government program, and on the Medicare program and others, would experience the greater "sorrow" should they be cut. This is not a blanket endorsement of unchecked government spending, but rather an acknowledgement that government services and safety nets actually DO help people, despite the endless drone of the free marketeers and their disparagements.

The right wing "regressive" assault on the word "liberal" is addressed by Ernest Partridge in his article, Newspeak Lives!

"The rhetoric of contemporary politics has not infected the pages of Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, which thus defines the political sense of "liberal:"

"Favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc.; specifically, favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual... "

Webster's also notes that the derivation of the word "liberal" is from the Latin liberalis: "of or pertaining to a freeman." -NewspeakLives!, The Crisis Papers, December 18, 2002

Partridge proposes his own dichotomy of terms: Progressive vs. Regressive.

The regressives wish to turn back the clock on workers' gains, environmental protections, social safety nets. Their ideal is something like the Gilded Age of the late 1800's where rapacious capitalists are completely unrestrained in their exploitation of human resources and the environment we must all share.

Sorry, Mamet, we've been there, done that. It sucked. They are doing it to various degrees, and in various "third world" nations today. I sincerely hope the exploited continue to organize and to resist such industrialized barbarism. Certainly we don't need more of it here.

On "class," Mamet minimizes its relevance:

"Do I speak as a member of the "privileged class"? If you will—but classes in the United States are mobile, not static, which is the Marxist view."(Mamet)

This dismissal, by the self-identified privileged one, relies on associating the discussion with Marx -- instant points in red-scared America. Mamet sees himself in a position to dispatch Marx with a few keystrokes, and to move along without any substantive discussion of class on the political processes.

In response to his smarmy dismissal: No. "Classes" aren't "mobile." Individuals are. The ruling classes continue subverting democracy and propagandizing the masses. That isn't changing. Some individuals win and some lose, but the fundamental structure is in no way "mobile."

The myth of the bootstrap-pulling entrepeneur who gets rich (retold by Mamet) is most notable because of its rarity, not because it's the norm. It is the rare exception, not a plan for the general population to follow. That fact is always lost on the right wing true believers, yet the tale remains in their stale can of old standbys. You would expect more from someone of Mamet's stature.

He repels down into a dark chasm...

Lastly, Mamet has self-identified as Jewish. This is always a touchy subject, but one I find relevant. Mamet has made it relevant:

"I found I had been—rather charmingly, I thought—referring to myself for years as "a brain-dead liberal," and to NPR as 'National Palestinian Radio.'" (Mamet)

This implied bias in favor of Palestinians at NPR ignores the reality and turns it on its head.

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting ( has studied this very issue, and has shown the opposite bias at National Public Radio:

"While on the surface that may not appear to be hugely lopsided, during the same time period 77 Israelis and 148 Palestinians were killed in the conflict. That means there was an 81 percent likelihood that an Israeli death would be reported on NPR, but only a 34 percent likelihood that a Palestinian death would be." (FAIR, The Illusion of Balance NPR's coverage of Mideast deaths doesn't match reality)

In another FAIR "ACTION ALERT", they write:

"For NPR, Violence Is Calm if It's Violence Against Palestinians (...) In fact, in the three-week period that Gradstein referred to, at least 26 Palestinians were killed by [Israeli] occupation forces-- more than one a day."

So, it is clear that Mamet held a bias "for years" based on a fiction (a non-existent pro-Palestinian bias at NPR). Was the problem that NPR reported Palestinian casualties at all?

I would be remiss if I left my final observation on the cutting room floor. Although David Mamet doesn't use the word "meritocracy", his throughline seems to "mesh perfectly" with this myth, which is one of those old right wing standbys.

The film and television broadcast media in the United States, for which Mamet works successfully, and has risen to the "privileged class," is not quite a meritocracy, as most people know, yet don't feel comfortable acknowledging.

Jewish decisionmakers make up a disproportionate amount of the "above the line" positions. This over-representation is staggering, given that by population the number of people self identifying as "Jewish" is between 1.6% and 1.8% in the US.

Hollywood is easily majority Jewish (50%+) in terms of who decides what makes it to the screens, and what doesn't. Who gets hired, and who doesn't. Who has a successful career to join the "privileged class", and who doesn't. Which biases will pass without comment, and which will be skewered. Which stereotypes will be promoted, or shattered. Which history gets written, which myths get reinforced, which criminals get investigated by reporters, or made into exposés, and which crimes end up down Orwell's Memory Hole.

I was unable to find an objective study of this disproportionate reality, but one is sorely needed. The "anti-Semitism" bludgeon can't be far behind, and so I will wrap this up quickly.

It's not "anti-Semitism" if it is factually true.

John Stewart (Jewish) can admit as much on his program, The Daily Show, repeatedly. The notiion is brought up in Judd Apatow's (Jewish) film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

A quick look at the Hollywood Creative Directory, and at the producers and film company executives' names shows a consistent pattern. It paints a picture of a tighly knit business, highly influenced by one particular ethnic group.

And they aren't Palestinians.

"...Jewish law teaches that it is incumbent upon each person to hear the other fellow out." (Mamet)

Hey, that's good advice.