Monday, June 20, 2011

Shooting fish in a barrel

Hitch takes down David Mamet.*  One of them is a playwright with no apparent sense of politics or timing (defending Sarah Palin when she's on the downturn doesn't speak well to either, anyway), the other is probably the greatest living polemic writer on the planet.  It almost doesn't seem fair.  And from the first clause ("This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason."), you know Hitchens isn't taking any prisoners.
Some of David Mamet’s unqualified declarations are made even more tersely. On one page affirmative action is described as being “as injust as chattel slavery”; on another as being comparable to the Japanese internment and the Dred Scott decision. We learn that 1973 was the year the United States “won” the Vietnam War, and that Karl Marx — who on the evidence was somewhat more industrious than Sarah Palin — “never worked a day in his life.” Slackness or confusion might explain his reference to the ­Scottish-Canadian newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook as a Jewish courtier in the tradition of Disraeli and Kissinger, but it is more than ignorant to say of Bertrand Russell — author of one of the first reports from Moscow to analyze and excoriate Lenin — that he was a fellow-traveling dupe and tourist of the Jane Fonda style.

Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating. For example, Mamet writes in “The Secret Knowledge” that “the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.” Whatever one’s opinion of that conflict may be, this (twice-made) claim of his abolishes any need to analyze or even discuss it. It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic. By now, perhaps, you will not be surprised to know that Mamet regards global warming as a false alarm, and demands to be told “by what magical process” bumper stickers can “save whales, and free Tibet.” This again is not uncharacteristic of his pointlessly aggressive style: who on earth maintains that they can? If I were as prone to sloganizing as Mamet, I’d keep clear of bumper-sticker comparisons altogether.

*Full disclosure: Mamet, despite his recent incoherent political rantings, is the author of probably my favorite play, Glengarry Glen Ross, for which he won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize.  I own the film adaptation, and I see performances whenever I can.  But like the tragically flawed hero of that play, Shelley "The Machine" Lavine, Mamet's been on the decline for quite a long time now.

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