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David Mamet: Before He Was Conservative, He Was Jewish. Discuss.

David Mamet: Before He Was Conservative, He Was Jewish. Discuss.

Now that he is an established potentate of American theater, David Mamet has had no trouble saying what he really thinks. Jews may remember his 2002 essay in The Forward, where he lambasted Jews for over-sympathizing with Palestinians. They will probably remember better his 2006 book, "The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Jewish Self-Hatred and the Jews," where he took it further, arguing that liberal Jewish antagonism toward Israel was simple self-hate.

In his latest book, "Theatre," reviewed by Terry Teachout in the current issue of Commentary, Mamet elaborates further on why he’s no longer a liberal. It’s mostly a free market thing, he says, since he’s learned that, through his experience on Broadway, box office sales are the best assessor of art. If that’s true for theater–a big "if," many will say–it must stand for much else. Or in his own words: "The theatre is a magnificent example of the workings of that particular bulwark of democracy, the free-market economy….It is the province not of ideologues (whether in the pay of the state and called commissars, or tax subsidized through the university system and called intellectuals) but of show folk trying to make a living."

Teachout’s essay is worth the read for at least pointing out one truth, perhaps obvious to Jews: Mamet’s conservativism, however more fully articulated in "Theatre," was prefigured by his Jewish politics. The liberal turn against Zionism, particularly Mamet’s hawkish definition of it, has alienated himself from liberal politics more generally.

The question now is whether his outspoken conservativism will erode his theatrical appeal. And while that might have been easier to predict if his politics operated in a different realm than his art, with Mamet, that’s not the case. "Race," for instance, Mamet’s current show on Broadway, focuses on the contortions Americans put themselves through in the name of racial sensitivity. It is also the most successful box office play on Broadway this year–a point Mamet would no doubt use to silence any doubt.

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