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It’s such a disappointment when a writer or entertainer we like and admire says or does something that not only disappoints or confuses us, but offends us. His or her personal philosophy shouldn’t enter into it, but it does. Intellectually, we know we shouldn’t mix the artistic with the personal, but we do it anyway.
Take the gifted playwright David Mamet for example. His stage plays and Hollywood screenplays are absolutely brilliant. He’s a genius. Say what you will about his material being “too masculine” or “sexist,” there’s no denying the man knows how to put together a script. He’s a master of his craft. I’m an unabashed fan and admirer.
But when Mamet talks politics, it’s another story. When he talks politics, you quickly realize he’s no smarter than the guy down at the donut shop—the guy who walks around with the perpetual smirk on his face, thinking he has all the answers. In fact, because the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mamet is so full of pompous bloat, he comes off even worse than the guy at the donut shop.
Apparently, Mamet has turned into something of a cultural scold. He now refers to liberals and progressives as “elitists.” Maybe it’s a function of age and accumulated wealth, but whatever the reason, he appears to have morphed into your garden variety conservative. So be it. Although I’m extremely disappointed at his change of heart, I don’t begrudge him that. Also, I’m not certain he was ever the lefty we thought he was.
But the two things that make Mamet’s political pronouncements so offensive are: (1) even though he presents them as fresh and provocative, his insights are as rehashed and warmed over and utterly unoriginal as those heard at the Republican convention in 1980, and (2) they are stated in a stunningly and punishingly boring fashion.
Incredibly, this gifted dramatist, this man who can make a script positively “sizzle,” turns out to be a lousy essayist. His prose is not only lifeless and soporific, its soul-crushing verbosity reminds you of an overly ambitious graduate student hoping to bullshit his way into a good grade. I wish I’d never read or heard anything Mamet said about politics.
Then there’s Michael Moore, another one of my heroes. I love the guy. I love his wit, his courage, his baseball cap. That said, Michael Moore wrote a book that almost caused me to have an aneurysm. In fact, I began shouting so many profanities, you’d think I was a character in a Mamet play.
The book is called, “Downsize This,” and in a chapter entitled “Why Are Union Leaders So F#!%g Stupid” (P. 127), he declares that the reason organized labor is faring so poorly is because union leaders agreed to give back stuff. That was Moore’s sage advice to union leaders. Don’t give back stuff.
Although Moore’s heart is in the right place, his knowledge of labor relations (and recent history) is on planet Uranus. Apparently, he’s unaware that “not giving back stuff” is the Holy Grail of organized labor, that not giving back stuff is as basic and fundamental to a union negotiator as the hydrogen molecule is to a chemistry professor. The problem, Michael, is how to avoid giving it back.
What did labor do to resist the juggernaut of post-Reagan corporationism? They went on strike; they shut it all down; they picketed; they hired consultants; they filed ULP (unfair labor practice) charges with the NLRB; they filed lawsuits; they did boycotts; they did secondary boycotts. They fumed, they fussed, they sulked, they threatened, they refused to join in, they pretended to join in, they insulted management, they flattered management. They used every trick in the book, and some that weren’t in the book.
Think of what you would do to avoid giving back stuff, if you were in charge of a labor union. Make of a list of those things and the tactics you would use, because that’s exactly what labor did. Except they did ten times more than you could ever dream of, because they know ten times more than you know.
And what resulted from all that? Millions of union jobs were still lost. The corporate juggernaut that labor is facing is awesome and fierce. The UAW went from more than a million members to about 380,000. Yet Michael Moore pompously advises labor what not to do. Shame on you, Michael. I wish I’d never read your book.
David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at: email@example.com.