The Playwright as Pundit

Sure, I suppose it’s pretty good news that David Mamet has switched political allegiances so that they more closely align with my own. But I’m with Roy Edroso when he points out this (key) passage:

I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years.

And responds:

I’ll say. He wrote American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, Homicide, and House of Cards before figuring out that people are not basically good at heart? That’s a pretty amazing job of compartmentalization.

I’m typically an unabashed Mamet fan, at least when it comes to his dramatic output, but this essay struck me as somewhat shallow, or at least meandering. I certainly can’t imagine anyone being convinced of anything by reading it. I have no doubt that Mamet’s a very clever, well-read guy, and I’m sure I would enjoy talking politics and ideas with him. Yet I wonder if he’s suited for punditry. His work is mostly dedicated to complicating human motivations, not revealing them; he takes what most people assume to be simple and makes it more problematic. Politics and drama obviously have much in common, but they are very clearly separate arts.

Here. Maybe if I put it in more Mametian terms:

A cluttered back office.

A: The politics of the situation require—
B: You say politics…
A: The politics require that—
B: You say politics as if you understood… You’re a salesman.
A: …a shift in perception.
B: Lamps. Empty candle holders. A leather couch from someone’s fourth floor walk-up.
A: A reversal of course.
B: You have a pair of skis in the window. You can’t reverse going down the mountain. There’s a collection of antique wine glasses. A hutch.
A: Ideas, representations. All of them. What’s the difference?
B: It’s not your milieu.
A: You know something about a thing. They’re all the same thing. The knowledge transfers.
B: This isn’t math. There’s nothing universal.
A: Greed. Desire.
B: It isn’t. It isn’t your trade.
A: Well I’ve changed my—who drank from those glasses? Do you know? What are they now? Why wine? Why not milk, or gasoline?
B: It’s still the same. More or less. The essentials of it.
A: But different. A new purpose. There’s a shift, as with me.
B: But you’re still here. You still do this thing, not the other.
A: I’m putting up a sign. Over the door. Open, closed, shoplifters will be prosecuted, and—this way, everyone knows. Everyone will know! They must know.
B: Will you make it from the wine glasses?
A: That might be too much.
B: That’s it. That’s what I’m saying.

On the other hand, he’s entirely at home with intricate deception and vaguely suggested menace, so maybe politics is exactly the right venue for him.