The Mamet Conversion


Playwright David Mamet has a new non-fiction book coming out, called The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.  As reviewed by fellow writer Roger L. Simon, the book chronicles Mamet’s evolution from liberal to conservative, “a full-throated intellectual attack on liberalism in almost all its aspects from someone who was there.”

This prompted Greg Gutfield, writing at Big Hollywood, to set the Mamet Attack Clock, counting down the nanoseconds until the genius playwright would be “dismissed as a bitter crank who probably sucked to begin with.” 

As expected, it didn’t take long.  Here’s a random bit of ugliness from an article at The Film Stage, which I just happened to stumble across while looking up the IMDB entry for a movie I wanted to recommend: “Tired of hearing about a famous, controversial director who made some wacky, off-color and right-wing remarks?  Well, Lars Von Trier has been banned from Cannes, so let’s move on to David Mamet.”

Get it?  Because criticism of affirmative action – the topic of a script Mamet is working on – is comparable to expressing sympathy for Adolf Hitler.

The Film Stage blogger goes on to declare that “Mamet’s escalating interest in martial arts – traditionally the domain of right-wing nutjobs like Chuck Norris – has pointed toward this new [conservative] stance for some time.”  That’s going to come as a surprise to Steven Seagal.

The martial arts world provides the background for Redbelt, a painfully under-appreciated Mamet film that provides a character study of a truly good and honorable man, making his way through a corrupt world.  Along the way, it uses physical conflict as a tool for examining human relationships.  Although released in 2008, it makes some points that seem especially relevant in light of current events.

For example, here’s the hero – perfectly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was also a memorable incarnation of evil in Serenity – telling his jiujutsu class about the nature of combat: “The hands are not the issue.  The fight is the issue.  The battle is the issue.  Who imposes the terms of the battle will impose the terms of the peace.”  Can’t you imagine Benjamin Netanyahu saying something like that?

Ejiofor’s character begins the story with some powerful physical and spiritual assets.  He’s a martial arts master with a serene disposition and a strong code of personal honor, the kind of guy who doesn’t even raise his voice during a bar fight.  He has transcended both fear and aggression.  He has perfect confidence without the slightest twinge of arrogance.  He hates no one, and has nothing to prove.

Of course, Mamet puts him through hell.  Every aspect of his life is poisoned with treachery, and he is presented with corrupt offers that were not meant be refused.  He learns, in several hard ways, the lesson he has worked so hard to teach his students: an honorable man cannot afford to be naïve, just as a good fighter is ready for any situation, without wasting time on complaints to “referees” who might not be available, or impartial.  Even when his heart is broken, he knows he can’t afford to be stricken helpless with shock.  His success lies in the fair and undisputed defeat of an unfair system… the same challenge that awaits every conservative, in the years ahead.

If you want a taste of Mamet’s evolving philosophy, while you wait for his book to expound upon it at greater length, Redbelt makes a great appetizer.