Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rejecting Mamet's Glasses

I've never liked the plays of David Mamet.

I used to think it was because of the foul language and how I felt verbally assaulted after I'd been to one of his shows. However, strong language in other shows didn't bother me. I'll even use vulgarity myself when the situation seems appropriate (though never profanity and I do draw a very distinct line between the two--if I say "God," it's because I'm talking to or about him).

So why is it that I don't like David Mamet plays? It's because of the characters themselves. So often they are people who exhibit the worst human qualities. They are cruel, heartless, selfish, and amoral. Many of his characters could easily be diagnosed as mentally ill--sociopaths and psychopaths.

While drama is an excellent way to explore social diseases, Mamet's outlook is far too pessimistic and ultimately lacks authenticity. The societal problem that it skirts isn't that there are people like the ones he portrays in the world. The problem is that we look at others and see monsters like the ones Mamet creates. How many times do you hear someone come out of a Mamet show and say, "I know people like that."?

I've met a lot of people in my life. While there may be people who resemble Mamet's characters and who engage in some of the behaviors, none are as lacking in empathy or soul as he portrays. When you take the time to listen, you discover that the person does have redeeming qualities. For some people, it might take a lot of listening and a lot of empathy.

Hatred is easy. It's a pretty destructive habit to have. It's far easier to scream obscenities at the person who cuts you off when you're driving than to say to yourself that perhaps that person is having a bad day or didn't see you or any of a number of reasons that would make their actions understandable. It's far easier to classify someone as an idiot, jerk, or any of a number of stronger terms that to simply acknowledge that we don't like some of their behaviors--anymore than they likely are fond of some of our own behaviors.

We get to choose how we see people. We get to choose what sort of interpretation we put on their actions. While it is not wise to be naive, it can take great courage and effort to choose to see the best in people. We could see the world through cynical eyes that believe others to be criminals, wastrels, and users. Or we could see the world through compassionate eyes that believe others to share in our own struggles and to be searching for ways to be healthy and happy.

The latter may be more difficult, but it is also far more rewarding.


Anonymous said...

This is probably one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard. It's comments like these that take us leaps and bounds away from reality. Artists like Mamet are deemed reprehensible by people like you because he takes away the filter and the rose-colored glasses. Life is abrasive. Don't place limits on art. It's the most despicable thing one could do.

Bridgette Redman said...

Ah, my anonymous friend, I envy you your sheltered life that what was written here counts as the most ignorant thing you've ever heard. I applaud you for avoiding television, reality shows, and pop culture all together. I also must demur on your final statement for I would be hard-pressed to say that putting limitations on art is more despicable than throwing Jews into the ovens, just to mention one example.

Where did I place limits on art? Where did I call Mamet reprehensible? Are you saying that no one is allowed to have a personal opinion? Are you saying that just because someone engages in an artistic endeavor that it must be applauded by all? Are you saying that we as play-goers, readers, and consumers of literature are allowed no independent opinion but must accept all without judgment?

I think most artists would disagree with that idea. Most true artists welcome an interaction with their work. They want to be seen, to be heard, to be thought about. I have done so with Mamet. Far from limiting him, I have studied him, gone to many of his plays, and spent years contemplating them. After all that, yes, I reject his vision. I reject the way he looks at the world and at people. And I respect him enough to know that my opinion and my dislike for his plays isn't going to hurt him one bit. Nor is it going to hurt the art form or theater. If anything, it opens the discussion further--I am not censoring Mamet any more than I am allowing myself to be censored. I never said he wasn't good--I said I disagreed with him.

Life is abrasive? If you want it to be, it is. Frankly, I find those who complain that the world is nothing but cruel to be moral cowards. They are the people who take the easy way out and choose bitterness. They don't want to amend their own thinking or behavior, so they claim the world is at fault. They spurn any real responsibility for making their life what they want their life to be.

Do bad things happen in life? Absolutely. Horrible, painful, and debilitating things happen. And then we get to choose what to do with them. It is self-defensiveness and fear that makes us label other people as evil. It takes courage to get beyond our own hurt and our own personal bubble to make a connection with someone and find out why they are acting the way they are. When that happens, the world becomes less cynical.

I would encourage you to give the artists out there more respect. Trust that most of them are open to a discussion and will value that more than people who will blindly bow down before them with unthinking praise.

It is not an insult to disagree. It is a form of respect.

Bridgette Redman said...

All of the above comment said--I welcome further discussion with you on the topic.