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.
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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.)”


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