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Op-Ed

Meghan Daum: David Mamet's new herd

The acclaimed playwright spells out his conversion from 'brain-dead liberal' to 'newly minted conservative' in his new book.

Meghan Daum

June 2, 2011

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David Mamet, the acclaimed playwright known for characters that drop the F-bomb at every opportunity, has dropped the ultimate bomb on his fans and the creative community: He is no longer a "brain-dead liberal" but rather a "newly minted conservative."

This revelation is spelled out in his new book, "The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture," which hits stores Thursday. According to the book's description on Amazon, the author uses his "trademark intellectual force and vigor to take on all the key political and cultural issues of our times, from religion to political correctness to global warming." According to the many interviews Mamet's done lately, he's developed his ideas by reading people like Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, and listening to radio personalities like Glenn Beck, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved.

It's the influence of Beck et al that's drawing the most attention. Mamet peppers his book with quips that seem custom-made to inflame the very audience — predominantly educated, liberal-leaning culture aficionados — that has embraced him since he rose to fame in 1984 with "Glengarry Glen Ross," a play that scathingly highlighted the unscrupulous, demeaning nature of American business practices.

Among his assertions: College is nothing more than "socialist camp," NPR stands for "National Palestinian Radio" and Hollywood liberals once embraced communism "because they hadn't invented Pilates yet." Mamet also told the Wall Street Journal that the Toyota Prius (presumably a "liberal" car) is an "anti-chick magnet" and "ugly as a dogcatcher's butt."

Though "The Secret Knowledge" is being touted as some kind of coming-out on Mamet's part, it's really just the next step in his gradual evolution from lefty-by-default to righty-by-choice.

Back in 2008, Mamet made that clear, as well as his affinity for the term "brain dead," in an article in the Village Voice titled "Why I Am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal." Summing up liberalism as a worldview that dictates "that everything is always wrong," Mamet reexamines liberal tenets — corporations are bad and government is good, for example — that he was raised on in Chicago and, as a member of artistic circles in New York and Hollywood, subsequently had little reason to question.

There's not much in the essay that's very radical. Its closing paragraph, which asserts "the right is mooing about faith, the left is mooing about change, and many are incensed about the fools on the other side," suggests that Mamet was not so much becoming a right-winger as he was dissociating himself from the left wing, particularly the political correctness associated with identity politics (which had its heyday in the 1990s and inspired Mamet's 1992 play, "Oleanna").

But in today's post-"South Park," post-Sarah Silverman world, criticizing or making fun of political correctness hardly makes you a conservative. Most people got fed up with PC cant somewhere around 1999 and officially put it to bed after the attacks of Sept. 11, when it became clear there were bigger fish to fry than "heteronormative gender roles."

So did Mamet not get the memo? Or maybe his antipathy for Priuses and Pilates is simply an attempt to expand his definition of political correctness so as not to run out of things to be upset about?

From the looks of things, Mamet, who according to the Wall Street Journal " never met a self-described conservative before moving to California," has simply traded the herd mentality of the left for the herd mentality of the right. As a conservative, he writes, "the essence of leftist thought is a devolution from reason to 'belief,'" thereby proving it a one-size-fits-all accusation. If the Treasury had a dollar for every time someone lobbed that grenade at George Bush, the national debt would be gone.

But let's face it: This conversion tale isn't much of a story. Mamet may be a household name, but only in a particular kind of household (think Priuses and Pilates). He's always been a provocateur. And now the story shouldn't be about David Mamet but, ironically, about one of his central themes as a playwright instead: the near-impossibility of avoiding groupthink, no matter what side you're on. In other words, the mooing continues, though I think I just heard a cow drop an F-bomb.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com