David Mamet releases his latest book, ‘The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture.’ Christopher Hitchens reviews it for the New York Times:
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.
Mamet has gone wingnut, apparently, and this book debuts his new perspective. Those alone — Mamet and his new ideas — might be worth the price of a hardcover, but Hitchens suggests you forget it. Mamet has only become conservative in the shallow, talk radio way, and ‘American Culture’ is full of the evidence:
In order to be persuaded by it, you would have to be open to propositions like this:
“Part of the left’s savage animus against Sarah Palin is attributable to her status not as a woman, neither as a Conservative, but as a Worker.”
“America is a Christian country. Its Constitution is the distillation of the wisdom and experience of Christian men, in a tradition whose codification is the Bible.”
Hitchens passes on Mamet’s Limbaugh-esque cliches as if they were inexhaustible:
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.”
I don’t recall affirmative action killing anyone by the tens of thousands. Nor do I remember any watershed Vietnam victory in 1973. Instead of the brilliant playwright gaining any fresh insight or synthesizing some bold, cutting-edge political philosophy, Mamet breaks out in another surprising direction: He tanks. David brushes off the minimal brain-work necessary to remain attached to political realities:
He recently told The Weekly Standard that he does not read political magazines and blogs; that his main interface with the modern conservative movement is talk radio. “I drive around and listen to the talk-show guys,” he said. “Beck, Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved.”
We know who the Medveds and Pragers of the world are, and they can’t be taken seriously. They don’t make sense. They can’t cut it in rational discourse: they are mystifying, over-wrought and obtuse. Their spectacular rhetorical failures of common sense and decency provide comical fodder for many, many blogs more entertaining than mine. But these are the people and the ideas David Mamet listens to. And now, it shows.
Whack through The Secret Knowledge’s abundant quotations of Friedrich Hayek and you’ll find all the shock jock’s canards: “Carbon emissions do not in any way affect the temperature of the planet”; we “won in Vietnam”; an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan is “a cultural obscenity”; FDR “elaborated a bad economic downturn into the worst depression in history”; the “erosion of marriage”—pinned to sex education, homosexuality, and abortion—is “a moral affront.” These are not points that Mamet sets out to prove, mind you. Had this been the case, he may have written an interesting book. Instead, he accepts them at face value, packs them into his shotgun, and blasts away at liberalism’s sitting ducks: Jane Fonda, Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky.
If David Mamet, in 2011, is aiming at Jane Fonda, he’s not to be taken seriously. And that’s sad.
This reminds me, pop culture figure-wise, of other political collapses. Dennis Miller used to be funny. His stand-up free associations, filled with absurdities and brain-bending arcana, were fun. After Chevy Chase, Dennis, dry and deadpan, was probably the only person to do SNL’s Weekend Update justice.
But after 9/11 Dennis became very angry and very conservative. That landed him a weekly gig on Bill O’Reilly’s show, where he delighted in lazy, right-wing cheap shots, especially at Nancy Pelosi: Miller compares Pelosi to WWE — “Both have loud obnoxious women with increasing power whose faces scare little children,” Miller attacks Pelosi for having a “sub-reptilian intellect” — likens her face to a “lizard laying on a hot rock,” Miller calls Pelosi a “shrieking harridan magpie.”
He also became un-funny. When Fox launched a disastrous comedy show, the Half Hour News Hour, Miller was its pillar. Given free reign to stand before the cameras and riff as he pleased, Dennis was brutal:
Another painful tanking I recall: David Zucker. He was one of the skit comedy absurdists behind Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane! and the Police Squad series. At some point, David went right-wing, turning clumsy and rigid.
He started releasing political ads “skewering” Democrats (here, here). His new attitude also generated a feature-length movie, “An American Carol.” Meant thoroughly and comically to debase Michael Moore, it proved that Zucker stunk:
Among Rotten Tomatoes’ Top Critics, which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, the film holds an overall approval rating of 0%.
Costing $20 million, it earned $7 million. David figured out why: “Zucker laments that the audience for this type of film is the type that waits for it to be available on DVD.”