This is the first entry of what I hope will be a recurring series of guest posts. Our first contributor is Hannah Hessel, the friend whose questions inspired me to clarify the purpose of Suilebhan.com. Her post was inspired by the Twitter spat that emerged after playwright Stephen Spotswood asked a provocative question: “Do you ever not go see an artist’s work because you think they are awful people, even if that art is good?” Hannah is a great thinker and question-asker, and I’m proud to share her thoughts.
I don’t like David Mamet.
I don’t like talking about him, thinking about him, or arguing about him. This week I’ve done more than my fair share of the above.
The Mamet overload started with his egregiously false essay “Hands Off Our Guns.” It brought back old feelings of anger and discomfort that reading his book “The Wicked Son; Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews” when I was working on his play Speed-the-Plow at Theater J had inspired in me. In that book, Mamet basically says — and I’m not seeking out the quote because I know it will make me even madder — that if you’re not Jewish the way he’s Jewish, and if you don’t support Israel the way he supports it, you are a self-hating Jew.
I decided upon reading that book that Mamet hated me. And not only did he hate me, he would — if the situation arose — publicly declare that my voice was not worth hearing: that I was a deluded, short-sighted, filthy liberal who is critical of Israel and thus must be a self-hating Jew.
Now, don’t think I don’t see the hypocrisy of my statement on Twitter a few days ago (in the midst of a frustrating conversation that shows both the pros and cons of an electronic medium built on quick replies) when I said:
I think Mamet is a crazy old man and I’ve had enough. I’ve seen/read almost everything. Why should I keep pissing myself off w/him?
But here’s what I think the difference is. It’s not that I dislike Mamet because of what he stands for. I don’t agree with his politics, but they are irrelevant to a conversation about him. What I don’t like is his discourse. I don’t like the power he’s obtained by writing a couple of good plays and very many mediocre ones: a power that allows him to publish his un-researched thoughts in a very public forum. And I really don’t like the way he makes me feel.
And I think I have a choice about what I consume.
Now, here is where some people get riled up… and by some people, I mean Peter Marks. I’d like to apologize to Peter; I don’t think Twitter served our conversation well, because I don’t think he understood the point that we were — or that I was — trying to make. It has nothing to do with Mamet’s politics. I don’t like how he makes me feel, and I don’t want to be put into a situation in which I feel that upset. In theater sometimes you want to be upset, but the feeling I get from Mamet isn’t that, and it’s not that feeling of anger that makes one want to argue and ask questions and get interested in the reasons why we make the choices we make. No, it’s the rage that makes we want to cry tears of powerlessness.
And one beautiful thing about art is that I can make a choice. I am a theater patron as well as a professional. I buy tickets to see plays. I can decide where I want my money and my time spent. I would never say that I am boycotting Mamet. The word boycott carries with it the idea of organized protest, and I mean no such thing. I don’t think people shouldn’t go see Mamet; I just shouldn’t. I don’t think that Theater J artistic director Ari Roth erred in producing Mamet’s Race, or Speed-the-Plow… only that if I were an artistic director, I would choose another writer. I hope in my life that I will be able to see work from artists of all kinds of backgrounds, political ideas, religions, races, and genders.
If the work is good, and if the person creating the work doesn’t make me feel like I am not welcome in the conversation about it, then I will happily go see it.
Political differences do not have to be discussed in mean-spirited arguments. I believe that we are all entitled to our opinions; I just don’t want to engage with someone who does not believe that same thing about me in return. If you make me feel like a human being worthy of having an opinion, I will support you, argue with you, and create work and meaning with you.
This is my line in the sand: treat me like a human.
Other people can draw that line elsewhere, and in the case of Mamet, if you don’t feel like he dehumanizes you, you are probably right. You are probably also a white man. But that’s okay; we have the choice to make our own decisions.
People make choices for all different reasons. This is why I hope we can work toward having more diversity on our stages. Then people will have to make choices and understand their choices. And realize that, over time, choices may shift. And who knows: maybe ten years from now, David Mamet will write something that makes me feel welcomed into the conversation. But until that point… this is the last thing I will write about David Mamet.
– Hannah Hessel
The ideas expressed above are a contribution to the ongoing intellectual discourse about theater. Though I’m honored to share them, they represent the thinking of their author, not necessarily my own. If you’d like to make a contribution, too, just let me know. Provocative, smart, and even dangerous discourse is always welcome.