In the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson takes the occasion of the imminent release of The Secret Knowledge, a collection of essays representing a combination of anti-liberal rant with conversion memoir by David Mamet to talk with the playwright about his new book and why he has changed sides politically.
Mametâ€™s parents were divorced when he was young, and he spent most of his childhood after the breakup with his father, a highly successful labor lawyer. The faith in unions that his father instilled in him didnâ€™t survive the screenwritersâ€™ strike of 2007-08â€”one of the most heavily publicized events in Hollywood history and the most quickly forgotten, so abject was the ineptitude and ultimate failure of the writersâ€™ union. For Mamet it was another turn of the ratchet away from the left.
â€œThey were risking not only their own jobs but the jobs of everyone who had nothing to gain from the strikeâ€”the drivers and scene painters and people who are on set 14 hours a day working their asses off. These working people were driven out of work by the writersâ€”10,000 people losing their jobs at Christmastime. It was the goddamnedest thing I ever saw in my life. And for what? They didnâ€™t know what they were striking forâ€”just another inchoate liberal dream.
â€œThe question occurs to me quite a lot: What do liberals do when their plans have failed? What did the writers do when their plans led to unemployment, their own and other peopleâ€™s? One thing they canâ€™t do is admit they failed. Why? To admit failure would endanger their position in the herd.â€
One of Mametâ€™s favorite books has been Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, published during the First World War by the British social psychologist Wilfred Trotter, inventor of the term â€œherd instinct.â€
â€œTrotter says the herd instinct in an animal is stronger even than the preservation of life,â€ Mamet said. â€œSo I was watching the  debates. My liberal friends would spit at the mention of Sarah Palinâ€™s name. Or they would literally mime the act of vomiting. Weâ€™re watching the debates and one of my friends pretends to vomit and says, â€˜I have to leave the room.â€™ I thought, oh my god, this is Trotter! This is the reaction of the herd instinct. When a sheep discovers a wolf in the fold, it vomits to ward off the attacker. Itâ€™s a sign that their position in the herd is threatened.â€
Mamet runs into the herd instinct every day.
â€œIâ€™ve given galleys of The Secret Knowledge to some friends. They say, â€˜Iâ€™m scared to read it.â€™ I say, â€˜Why should you be afraid to read something?â€™
â€œWhat are they afraid of? Theyâ€™re afraid of losing their ability to stay in the herd. Thatâ€™s what I found in myself. It can be wrenching when you start to think away from the herd.â€ …
After lunch we walked back to his office, and on the way he told me of new projects. I wondered how Mametâ€™s about-to-be-exposed rightwingery will affect his workâ€”and, among critics and colleagues, the reaction to his work. Show business, like all of popular culture these days, is ostentatiously politicized. Actors, directors, producers, and the writers who write about themâ€”all behave as though they received a packet of approved political views with their guild card. Theyâ€™ll be alert for signs of ideological deviationism in Mametâ€™s stuff from now on. They may not have to look too far.
Mamet mentioned a screenplay that he hopes will soon be produced involving a young rich girl who applies to Harvard. When sheâ€™s rejected she suddenly declares herself an Aztec to qualify for affirmative action. Presumably high jinks ensue. A new two-character play opening in London this fall, The Anarchist, is a â€œverbal sword-fightâ€ between two women of a certain age, one a veteran of 1960s radicalism, jailed for life on a bombing charge, and the other a reactionary prison governor from whom the aging radical hopes to receive parole. Regardless of the playâ€™s true merits, we can expect the word didactic to get a workout from critics.
After reading The Secret Knowledge in galleys, the Fox News host and writer Greg Gutfeld invented the David Mamet Attack Countdown Clock, which â€œmonitors the days until a once-glorified liberal artist is dismissed as an untalented buffoon.â€ Tick tock.
Read the whole thing.