Single White Nerd: David Mamet is a Big Jerkface
Let’s get this out of the way: As you read this, I’m in Israel. But as I write this, it’s 12 AM in Los Angeles. And it’s a week ago. In other words, I wrote this a week ago. Got it? Cool. Now, moving on. David Mamet is a Big Jerkface and, to explain why I say this, I’m going to have to talk about religion.
Hang on to your hats; I really suck at talking about religion.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been telling people about my upcoming trip to Israel. Reactions have ranged from an enthusiastic “It’s so beautiful!” to a quizzical “But why there?” To the latter, I’ve had any number of party-ready glib responses. “Have you seen Israeli women? Hubba hubba” is one example. “Because I love going to the desert in the middle of summer” is another.
These responses have been accepted at face value. They’re true enough, but only a small fraction of the real answer. The real answer is that I’m nominally Jewish. And the mere sound of a sprinkled yiddish term, reference to Yom Kippur, the sound of Hebrew drives me near to nausea. Call it what you will–self-loathing Jewery, Anti-Semitism, whatever. The real answer is that I’ve traveled to Israel, in part, to deal with that whole nausea thing. I’m sure that a good psychotherapist, or even a mediocre one, could rapidly uncover the roots of the issue.
“Ah, yes,” he might say, stroking his goatee, “And your mother: how did she feel about Jewishness?”
“She hated it.” “AHA! And did you have any negative experiences around Judaism in your formative years?”
“Heck yeah. My Hebrew School teachers were almost uniformly exceptionally large women with mustaches. They chased me through my dreams threatening to wrap me in the Torah and toss me into the Red Sea. And my bar mitzvah was a painful sham held in a small conference room of an Embassy Suites hotel in Detroit for an audience of elderly strangers invited by my grandmother. Y’know, doc, I’ve never felt part of the Jewish community. There’s a pushiness, a sense of entitlement and superiority that I’ve observed and that I don’t really want to be a part of.”
“Ah. Yes. Well, what does that have to do with the Jewish religion?” “Nothing, I guess.” “So is it possible that you’re conflating the religion with a created culture specific to only a certain subsection of Jews?” “Quite possibly.” “And that, while you may admire the religion in itself, you have serious reservations about claiming this culture, of which you have seen only a small part? And that you yourself have trouble separating the Jewish religion from the Jewish culture or ethnicity? And that you truly understand neither?”
“Ummm. Sort of makes me feel like a dick, but yeah.” “Sounds like someone just made a breakthrough. Mazel tov,” my therapist might say. At which point, I would throw up a little in my mouth.
Apparently my particular condition is common enough that David Mamet, the admittedly brilliant playwright, wrote an entire book addressing it. Entitled “The Wicked Son,” this book begins with a single, bold assertion: “Everyone hates the Jews.”
From there, Mamet makes groundless statement after groundless statement. Jewish and non-practicing? You’re an anti-semite! Don’t take an active role in supporting Israel? You’re basically the same as a slave owner in post-colonial America! He skips from topic to topic like a frog hopping through traffic–modern politics, Israeli-Palestinian relations, religion and faith. Instead of research and profound thought, he marshals his opinions, groundless though they may be, in the service of a single argument: People like me are hypocrites, pathetic, self-lacerating losers doomed to a life of self-loathing and denial. We float in ethnic limbo doomed to a life of universal scorn. Our lives, he says, shaking his head with the sadness of a true fanatic, are meaningless. Only through unquestioning practice of the Jewish faith and full, unwavering participation in Jewish culture can we find meaning, truth, beauty and fulfillment.
Here’s the problem–sprinkled amongst all the ranting are moments of true insight. Short phrases in which Mamet so accurately encapsulates my experience, down to the nausea and periodic flirtations with yoga, that I can’t write him off entirely.
David Mamet, hear me now: You are a jerkface.
Reading your book was not unlike standing next to a ranting fella with an abnormally large vocabulary and convoluted speaking style on the subway. In the space of just over a hundred pages, you managed to encapsulate every stereotypical trait that drives me to pukage. Superiority, groundless self-satisfaction and elitism, a sense of separate-and-betterness based on a shifting sandhill of unsubstantiated opinion. Just because you’ve written some damn fine plays doesn’t mean that your opinions automatically gain the weight of truth. You have to work for it. All that being said, there’s a sliver of something to your screed.
Which is why I’m in Israel.
Not to unquestioningly accept a heritage I have no reason to claim (I’m big on understanding things before commiting to them, which has lead to the demise of more than one relationship), but to learn about my religion. To find out if my nausea is merited or an immature reaction to decades-old experiences. I’m here to do some soul searching. And to ogle the women. I mean, have you seen Israeli women? Good googamooga. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. Jerkface.