House Of Games

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JONATHAN CHAIT MAY 16, 2011

House Of Games

The conservative accounting of Hollywood types who express their political views comes in two forms. The first form -- the dominant type -- is when a Hollywood liberal pipes up about politics, and the reaction inevitably involves sneering at the idea anybody should care about what some Hollywood liberal thinks. The second form occurs when a Hollywood conservative speaks his mind, and it invariably entails rapturous, fawning gratitude at the emergence of a brave voice in the wilderness.

Andrew Ferguson's lengthy profile of David Mamet in the Weekly Standard falls into the second category. Mamet has moved from left to right, and the story of his conversion is pretty familiar. An increasingly religious Jew with strong loyalty to Israel, he became aware of a tension between the illiberal nationalism of his right-wing views on the Middle East and the liberalism of his views on everything else, and resolved the tension by abandoning the latter. What's inadvertently interesting is that Ferguson frames the story as Mamet sees it -- a story of intellectual curiosity. The article begins with a scene of Mamet challenging some hippie professors for their close-mindedness:

Mamet had been brought to campus by Hillel, and the subject of his talk was “Art, Politics, Judaism, and the Mind of David Mamet.” There wasn’t much talk of Judaism, however, at least not explicitly. He arrived late and took the stage looking vaguely lost. He withdrew from his jacket a sheaf of papers that quickly became disarranged. He lost his place often. He stumbled over his sentences. But the unease that began to ripple through the audience had less to do with the speaker’s delivery than with his speech’s content. Mamet was delivering a frontal assault on American higher education, the provider of the livelihood of nearly everyone in his audience.

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

“If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect,” he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a “much more interesting .  .  . view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?”

This led to a full-throated defense of capitalism, a blast at high taxes and the redistribution of wealth, a denunciation of affirmative action, prolonged hymns to the greatness and wonder of the United States, and accusations of hypocrisy toward students and faculty who reviled business and capital even as they fed off the capital that the hard work and ingenuity of businessmen had made possible. The implicit conclusion was that the students in the audience should stop being lab rats and drop out at once, and the faculty should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a swindle—a “shuck,” as Mamet called it.

It was as nervy a speech as I’ve ever seen, and not quite rude—Mamet was too genial to be rude—but almost. The students in Memorial Hall seemed mostly unperturbed. The ripples of dissatisfaction issued from the older members of the crowd. Two couples in front of me shot looks to one another as Mamet went on—first the tight little smiles, then quick shakes of the head, after a few more minutes the eye-rolls, and finally a hitchhiking gesture that was the signal to walk out. Several others followed, with grim faces.

Several thousand words later, after reading an approving account of how Mamet's rabbi fed him a steady stream of conservative propaganda tracts, we arrive at the conclusion:

The conversion is complete: This is not a book by the same man who told Charlie Rose he didn’t want to impose his political views on anybody. At some moments—as when he blithely announces that the earth is cooling not warming, QED—you wonder whether maybe he isn’t in danger of exchanging one herd for another. He told me he doesn’t read political blogs or magazines. “I drive around and listen to the talk show guys,” he said. “Beck, Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved.” 

Even so, for anyone who admires Mamet and his work—and who agrees with most of his newly discovered political views—there’s something thrilling about seeing a man so accomplished in an unforgiving art subject his ideas to pitiless examination and, as he put it, “take it all the way down to the paint.”

Ferguson's tiny note of queasiness doesn't begin to grapple with the fact that a man we have been introduced to lecturing Stanford faculty for its narrow-mindedness finishes by declaring that he doesn't read any political news, and gets all his information from right-wing talk show hosts. Why would those Stanford hippie snobs have been rolling their eyes at Mamet's lecture? It can't be because they've already heard Glenn Beck's view of the world and found it wanting. No, it must be that they had never before been exposed to the truth and it blew their minds, man.

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posted in: jonathan chait, weekly standard, israel, andrew ferguson, charlie rose, david mamet, david mametin, thomas jefferson, middle east

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