Mamet: Overrated and Half-Baked

I’ve more than once found myself in arguments at bars that start out as civilized discussions of theater and What It Means To Us Today, and quickly devolve into screaming matches like this:

Argument Partner: MAMET

And then some cussing, to stay true to the playwright.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on Mamet, but in sentence form, here it is: David Mamet has a solid grasp of craft, and very often a witty turn of phrase or bitter monologue, but he doesn’t seem to like people very much, he has yet to conceive of a woman as a fully realized character, and his work leaves me exhausted and despondent. The message of his plays or movies generally seems to be, “Being a man is hard but instead of investigating why that might be or the different ways I might be a man and interact with others, I’m going to fuck up a lot and be angry about it.” Looking at it that way, he’s apparently Judd Apatow’s muse.

And now he’s come out as a cheerleader for Free Enterprise and an enemy of Higher Education. As Tom Scocca notes, Mamet’s new book on his conversion from indifferent Democrat to passionate Republican isn’t saying anything new that conservatives haven’t been saying for years, including the part where he doesn’t seem to have done much critical thinking (such as not recognizing that participating in a capitalist society doesn’t automatically preclude you from being able to oppose capitalism). His attacks on American universities are the same tripe you can hear on any conservative talk radio station–they make our children hate America! they actually prevent independent thinking!–and reveal a similarly disappointing investment in research, reflection, or dialogue with others.

Of course his liberal fans are going to be all torn up about this, because he’s a GENIUS who went to the OTHER SIDE, but it seems like a natural progression for me. Here’s a guy who saw that the world is very often fucked up, and that people do fucked up things to each other, but instead of investigating why this was so, or finding a solution, he just ranted and sulked. “Converting” to Republicanism just puts a political label on that kind of thinking.

12 thoughts on “Mamet: Overrated and Half-Baked

  1. Yep. I think I’m qualified to pronounce judgement, as an Official Chicago Theatre Person, that Mamet is wildly overrated. I probably like his work the teensiest bit better than you, (only a teensy bit, Glengarry is probably his best work and has moments of true brilliance but certainly doesn’t say anything that Death of a Salesman doesn’t say better) but the fundamental point that he’s overrated is absolutely true, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Parenthetically, you’re right about Apatow too, he’s done some good work, but his status as God of All Comedy makes the angels weep.

    • Right, it’s not like his work has no value at all; the man can construct a plot and get in some good one-liners, for sure. It’s that he clearly disdains all his characters, while pretending to empathize with them. Ick.

  2. So I’m unqualified to judge Mamet as a writer since I don’t know any of his plays. But what’s this I hear about a rich white guy deciding he’s a Republican? Stop the presses!

  3. My memory of the Village Voice article Mamet wrote on this same subject was something like, “Liberals are upset and frustrated all the time about all the injustices in the world. However, none of these injustices affect me personally, and it’s not fun to be upset and frustrated all the time. So I became a Republican!”

    Re: Judd Apatow. Nope, not the king of comedy. However, I also don’t think he’s promoting the pathetic man-child as a viable life choice (as so many critics claim). Rather, these characters are meant as figures of fun. We’re supposed to laugh AT them, albeit be sympathetic to them as well.

    • Welllll I don’t quite agree. We’re supposed to laugh at them, yes, and they always graduate to some form of responsibility/adulthood at the end of each film. But there’s a strong sense that they give up a huge part of themselves when they do that, and that it’s sort of terrible that they have to do that, that it would be better if they could remain as man-children indefinitely.

      • Fair point. I guess I’m just tired of so many feminist sites I look at having this knee-jerk Judd Apatow-is-the-devil reaction, as though he’s Phyllis Schlafly or something.

  4. Ugh, I wish WordPress would let a comment thread run more than three in a row. (Also, the WordPress auto spellchecker is redlining its own name, funny.)

    Anyway: I agree that Judd Apatow’s movies are far from the end of the world. I think some of the anger comes from his movies having so much potential to be much more like a movie a feminist or progressive or Young Person Today would like and find funny, more so than many other mainstream films, and so it’s extra frustrating to see them fall into the same tired gender stereotypes as the rest of Hollywood’s offerings. Like, “he coulda been a contender!” but instead of busting up to the top of those steps in the Rocky montage, he went only halfway up and is still raising his fists in victory.

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