For an illustration of the dangers of violating the eleventh commandment — the one that goes “Thou shalt not believe thine own bullshit” — one need go no further than Terry Teachout’s trills of praise for David Mamet’s new collection of pieces, Theatre.
I have no interest in reading the book, not because David Mamet has declaimed that he is “no longer a brain-dead liberal” — he’s certainly no longer a liberal — but because I’ve read his other nonfiction collections, and found that where Mamet’s scripts are terse and economical, his prose is glib and unconvincing. But Teachout is delivering an ideological tongue-bath, not a book review, and the piece is mostly a standard-issue compendium of self-contradictory wingnut shibboleths. You know the drill: Something (in this case, the American theater) is overrun by PC liberals marching in lockstep, only a few brave souls dare to defy left-wing orthodoxy, blah blah blah.
What’s amusing about this piece is that Mamet’s profanity-drenched plays, which normally would be denounced as anti-American and anti-family, must now be retrofitted as works of conservative thought. Thrill to the sight of Terry Teachout turning his spine into a mile-long Slinky as he stretches to make Mamet an avatar of libertarianism:
The only difference between Mamet then and Mamet now is that he has decided that government intervention can do little or nothing to ameliorate the effects of these struggles, and that men do better to work out their differences through the operation of free markets.
Does Terry Teachout go to movies and plays fitted out with blinders and earplugs? One would have to have spent the last two decades smoking crack through rolled-up copies of the American Spectator to see Mamet’s red-in-tooth-and-claw masterpiece, Glengarry Glen Ross, as an endorsement of the laissez-faire philosophy. The real-estate agents are conning their customers and conning themselves with go-getter talk. The only major character in the play (and film) who doesn’t belong in jail is Ricky Roma’s mark, whose only hope of escaping Roma-induced financial disaster is the law giving him three days to rescind a real-estate transaction — the kind of law Mamet’s newfound friends in wingnuttia would decry as an unnecessary shackling of the invisible hand of the marketplace.
Play after play, Mamet shows us small-time crooks and supposedly respectable people acting in ways that are virtually indistinguishable, and — excuse me? — this is supposed to make me want to deregulate everything in sight? As much as I love jazz and the music of Louis Armstrong, I’ve resisted getting Teachout’s new Pops bio — not because Teachout is conservative, but because I wonder if anybody who writes such nonsense is worth my dollars. Just reading him for free on the Intertubes leaves me feeling cheated.
It all goes back to that cornerstone of conservative self-congratulation, “the tragic view of history.” The idea is that conservatives, unlike blinkered liberals, are tough customers who understand that people are not good at heart, that they are usually unreliable bordering on evil, and somehow this view translates into endless tax cuts and corporate giveaways. Mamet and Teachout would no doubt rank me among the brain-dead liberals, since I believe to my last drop of heart’s blood that corporations (like politicians) cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. They need to be watched, and if they make a ka-ka in our nests, they need to be punished through the rule of law. My view has been out of favor this past quarter-century or so, with results that include global economic chaos, devastating climate change, and the toxic contamination of the Gulf of Mexico with oil and chemical dispersants, with the looting of Social Security just over the horizon.
In short, my brain-dead liberal belief is that a great many lessons about the value of government intervention — lessons learned at great cost in social turmoil and personal calamity — have been forgotten and/or willfully pushed out of sight by ideologues, some of them sincere and some of them bought and paid for by Daddy Wingbucks sponsors. How’s that for a tragic view of history, my little winger popinjays?
If Terry Teachout is confused about the difference between “Mamet then and Mamet now,” I’ll explain it to him in simple terms. Mamet then wrote piercingly observant plays like American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, and directed intellectually challenging films like House of Games. Mamet now writes glib screeds like Race and directs dumbass Rocky remakes like Redbelt. I won’t say the decline in the quality of Mamet’s work dovetails with his self-proclaimed conversion to wingerdom — signs of decay were cropping up as early as 1997 and Wag the Dog — but now they are of a piece, along with his coarse neocon war-whore posturing.
If Mamet sincerely believes that Thomas Sowell is one of the towering intellectuals of our era, he needs to get back in touch with the old neighborhood called reality. He might want to look up some of his old brain-dead liberal friends to draw him a map, because Terry Teachout sure ain’t gonna show him the way.