Political Epiphanies of Mamet and Stoppard – But Why?

It’s amazing to me that for some great writers their art is not good enough; that they feel the need to bolster their coordinates by worrying about their position on the largely artificial liberal-conservative divide.

Take David Mamet for example, a playwright whom I admire for his screenplays as well. For some reason most people always mention House of Games (1987) but my favorite Mamet script is Glengarry Glenn Ross (1992).

Mamet this past week has published an amazing piece in the Village Voice the title of which tells it all: “Why I’m No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal.'”

Here is the summary of the conundrum that flipped Mamet to the “other side”:

“And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that [sic] people were basically good at heart? Which was it?”

Life-time liberal Mamet “began reading not only the economics of Thomas Sowell (our greatest contemporary philosopher) but Milton Friedman, Paul Johnson, and Shelby Steele, and a host of conservative writers, and found that I agreed with them: a free-market understanding of the world meshes more perfectly with my experience than that idealistic vision I called liberalism.”

 Tom Stoppard, the preeminent British playwright, had a similar change of heart recently that he shared in his piece published by Sunday Times of London.

After long years revering the student demonstrators of 1968 who changed the political landscape of Europe, Stoppard decided they were wrong. The West after all did not represent the “worst of all possible systems” on earth that those students made it to be. To which I say – Merry Christmas!

“The idea of the autonomy of the individual is echoed, I realize, all over the place in my writing,” Stoppard said, explaining his newly-found conservative inner self.

Which brings me to the question I posed in the beginning of this post – why would such great writers even worry about which narrow political faction they are affiliated with when their work cuts deep into the human predicament and touches more lives than any political program ever will?

Why do they opt for one limitation (“conservatism”) over another (“liberalism”)?

And especially ironic is the fact that both Mamet and Stoppard seem to have decided on their new political allegiances in the name of standing on the right side of “individual autonomy”.

What “individual autonomy” are we talking about when a Republican administration refuses to have the individual error of a large investment bank punished by the “free market” and steps in like any “big government” that could’ve been run by Democrats?

Consider that this is not the first time this happened either. For those who’d care to remember, it’s educational to recall how President Reagan bailed out Lee Iacocca’s Chrysler back in 1983 by undersigning a $1.2 billion loan guarantee.

I however am not saying that Reagan and Bush administrations did wrong. I’m not an economist but I have enough horse-sense logic to recognize that they probably did the right thing to avoid even further damage to the economy.

But that interchangeability between “Democratic” and “Republican” behavior repertoire goes to show the shallowness of positions taken on the basis of as abstract and (let’s face it) romantic notions as “individual autonomy.”

Top-notch writers like Mamet and Stoppard who read our minds and souls like an open book have already transcended the contracted mental frameworks commonly expressed as “being a Liberal” or “being a Conservative.” For them to take refuge in the simple-minded factionalism of politics is a step backwards and disappointing for their fans like myself.

That’s all I’m saying.

2 replies on “Political Epiphanies of Mamet and Stoppard – But Why?”

One of the toughest approaches to writing I find is that of free thought when dealing with the the topics of politics and religion. I remember telling myself [that] if I ever “made it” as a writer–I would keep my personal views out of what I write.

Being a fiction writer I have the freedom to allow [some] biased opinions to present themselves through my characters, as opposed to the narrator or author telling the tale. But in dealing with writing that is argumentative, persuasive, etc….I told myself to stay clear.

I would hate to lose fans of my artwork for the sake of what I think. I mean, if I anyone worth listening to…I wouldn’t write fiction I suppose?

Great article by the way!

Bobby, we all have a choice to make. Art expands. Politics contracts. I honestly do not believe that one can both be an artist and a politician at the same time. Call me simple-minded but I wouldn’t trust an artist who claims she’s a politician. And similarly, I wouldn’t trust a politician who claims he is an artist.

That’s why both Mamet and Stoppard have disappointed me. Good luck to you with your writing and publishing. I think you’re on to something good by trying to keep your own political and religious views out of your fiction and resisting the temptation of “exposition.” In script writing, they call that kind of “talking head” lecturing “laying down the pipe.”

A writer who becomes a “pipe layer” might as well go into speech writing business. It pays much better, for one thing. But our characters can of course be as troubled and biased as our world. After all, that’s what “dramatic conflict” is all about, isn’t it? And thanks for your kind words.

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