How David Mamet Abandoned His Art

Latest Work Uses Pretzel Logic and Fear-Mongering

By Joshua Furst

Published December 21, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Posted outside the Golden Theater on 45th Street — where, until recently, David Mamet’s newest play, “The Anarchist,” was running right down the block from his masterpiece, “Glengarry Glen Ross” — is the full text of an opinion piece Mamet wrote for The New York Times in November entitled “Considering the Excesses of Protest.”

In it, he describes his dismay, in the days after 9/11, over the ambiguously unrepentant stance taken by Weather Underground alum Bill Ayers toward his radical behavior in the 1960s and ‘70s (behavior which, of course, had absolutely no relation to events of that sad day). Mamet relates a variety of anecdotes meant to prove that he tried, at least nominally, to give the radical left’s ideas a fair hearing.

He goes on to pose what he claims is the “moral dilemma” his new play is about: What is to be done with those who have been convicted and jailed for a violent political crime once they’ve fulfilled the terms of their sentence? Shouldn’t they continue to be punished if they have not repudiated the political beliefs that led them to commit the acts in the first place? “Is it not inconsistent, the convict argues, that the jailer employ the political motive — a motive denied by the court — to continue the punishment?” he asks, confusingly, in summary.

Like much of Mamet’s recent nonfiction output, it’s a breathtakingly reductive piece of writing that uses the pretzel logic, fear-mongering and insinuation tactics usually found only on Fox News to ostensibly promote a Broadway play.

The politics on display in this short essay are atrocious. Mamet seems to have forgotten that the free speech he himself is exercising allows for people to hold unpopular, even dangerous ideas. He seems to earnestly believe that certain leftist ideas should be punishable by the state.

What’s equally disturbing about the essay, at least to this reader, is that it’s also a fair record of Mamet’s current thinking about what art is and what art does: “Drama,” he writes, “aspires to be a consideration of a moral dilemma, and tragedy must be such. A moral dilemma is one with no good, but with only one better, answer. As such, a moral decision requires courage, as one party or cause having a just claim is to be caused pain. (If the party had no just claim, it would not constitute a dilemma, as between good and evil there is no choice.)”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.