Saturday, July 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, David Brock

Well technically his birthday was yesterday, but I was too busy ranting about David Mamet. And speaking of teabaggers, David Brock does such wonderful work with his Media Matters for America site. The site is tackling the Shirley Sherrod controversy at full force.

See, in the real world, the right-wing attack machine plays "who's the racist" and smears people, notably two black women, Michelle Obama and Shirley Sherrod as racist by taking their words out of context.

In Mamet's world, black women are seething with hatred at whitey and will do anything to hurt the poor white man, including false rape charges AND destroying their own promising law career to do it. Actually both OLEANNA and RACE include a woman falsely accusing a man of rape. Mamet's pretty paranoid about that. You'd never know from Mamet that rapists get away with rape much more often than women falsely accuse men of rape. No, in Mamet's world the poor man is always the victim of dastardly feminine machinations.

Mamet also says stupid things about theatre, causing the blogger at Parabasis to ask: "Does David Mamet Go To The Theatre?
The second excerpt is particularly embarrassing, as Mamet straw-mans with abandon:

The theatre has become vastly political in my lifetime. Where once we had "weepers" (matinee structures featuring women abandoned, impregnated, deserted by their children or spouse, in a survival of the Victorian sensation novel), in the 1960s we began to see this love of melodrama recast as politics, giving the weeping audience not only the pleasure of a good cry, but also a pat on the back for knowing that group X were people, too. All right. The villain always has a waxed mustache, or can be counted on to stand for social positions that have vanished from our country everywhere but on the stage.

Old style:

"You must pay the rent."

"I can't pay the rent."

New style:

"You weak and unacceptable woman, homosexual, African American, go away, I do not want you."

"But, does no one see that we are people, too . . . ?"

Same thing.

It is easy to write this play, as the course of events is known, and one may simply paint in the spaces, according to the predrawn, paint-by-numbers pattern. But the light is not good in the alley. And the alley is the dark, hidden, forbidden human. A trip down into that alley, for the writer or actor, may be disturbing, revolting, frightening – for that is where the monster of our self lives, and there we may find not only the falsity of our constructed personality, but also the truth of our feverishly suppressed perceptions.

This has the benefit of feeling true without actually being true in the slightest. Yes, it is generally better when plays take the trip that Mamet describes above. At the same time, I can't think of a single play produced in an Off- or Broadway house in the last five years that actually fits the description of identity politics driven political thatre that Mamet is talking about. And neither can he, or else he'd name a few. I can think of maybe one or two performed in a basement somewhere written by a twenty three year old is beside the point, keep in mind these essays are both about mainstream American theatre with an emphasis on Broadway. I can also think of plays that were more journalistic in nature, and thus probed more deeply the external rather than internal realities of their subjects, but that's not what Mamet is talking about here.

Parabasis also has something very astute to say about critic John Simon, who, cranky old racist coot that he is, predictably loved the slanted bullshit of RACE:
Funny quote from John Simon on Mamet's Race...: [Mamet] has boldly asserted that our 230-year national experience has been a dialogue about race.

This is more revealing of John Simon's politics than anything else. There's nothing bold about the assertion that the race is the song of America... in progressive circles. Its only in Conservative circles-- since conservatives want to perpetuate the myth that we all of a sudden live in a colorblind meritocracy despite the structural embedding of discrimination thanks to that pesky thing called history-- that saying that something like that would be considered "bold".

About eight years ago I heard John Simon, on an episode of Theatre Talk, proclaim that Suzan-Lori Parks was a "social climber" because she married a white man.

But back to David Brock, who is the political mirror image of David Mamet - Brock started out as a conservative and then switched to liberal when he saw the right-wing smear machine at work from the inside. And what finally made him wise up? His participation in the right-wing machine's smearing of yet another black woman, Anita Hill.

From Wikipedia:
In 1986, [Brock] joined the staff of the weekly conservative news magazine Insight on the News, a sister publication of The Washington Times. After a stint as a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, in March 1992 Brock authored a sharply critical story about Clarence Thomas' accuser, Anita Hill, in The American Spectator magazine, in which he said Hill might be "a bit nutty and a bit slutty." A little over a year later, in April 1993, Brock published a book titled The Real Anita Hill which expanded upon previous assertions that had cast doubt on the veracity of Anita Hill's claims of sexual harassment.

The book became a best-seller. It was later attacked in a book review in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer, a reporter for The New Yorker, and Jill Abramson, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. The two later expanded their article into the book Strange Justice, which cast Anita Hill in a much more sympathetic light. It, too, was a best-seller. Brock replied to their book with a book review of his own in The American Spectator.

Brock said of the Anita Hill incident:
The biggest problem raised by the Strange Justice authors for the Thomas camp was the testimony of yet another woman, Kaye Savage, who had not been heard from during the first round of hearings. Savage made the claim... that she had seen Playboy pinups papered along the walls of Thomas's apartment in the early 1980s, when she and Thomas had been friends and Anita Hill was working for Thomas...

...Mark (Paoletta) phoned me back. He said he had posed my question about how to discredit Savage to (Clarence) Thomas, who knew I was at work on a review of the Mayer and Abramson book. Mark told me that Thomas had, in fact, some derogatory information on his former friend Savage; he passed it along to Mark so that Mark could give it to me. Quoting Thomas directly, Mark told me of unverified, embarrassing personal information about Savage that Thomas claimed had been raised against her in a sealed court record of a divorce and child custody battle more than a decade ago. Thomas also told Mark where Savage worked after Mark related that I was eager to hunt her down as soon as possible. Surely skirting the bounds of judicial propriety to intimidate and smear yet another witness against him, Thomas was playing dirty, and so was I.

...I grilled Savage, a mild-mannered, middle-aged African American civil servant, with the menacing threat of a personal exposure hanging in the background. I then told her that she could either cooperate with me and give me what I needed to discredit Strange Justice, or I would have to discredit her as a witness by disclosing whatever personal information I had about her, just as I had blackened the reputation of all the other women who had come forward with damaging information about Thomas. In the face of this threat, Savage refused to recant her accusations. I continued to press for anything I could get her to say to blunt the impact of her accusation. We agreed that Savage would give me a written statement in which she would say the Strange Justice authors had distorted and sensationalized her quotes. When I got back to my office at the Spectator, Savage faxed me a statement, but it was too weak to be of any use: the Strange Justice account would still stand. I called Savage at her office and insisted on some changes that would allow me to cast at least some doubt on the way Mayer and Abramson had quoted her. After a struggle on the phone in which I renewed my threats, Savage made some handwritten changes to the document and faxed it to me again... I knew Savage had given me enought to work with so that I could use the statement in my review to make it appear as though she had recanted the story, which in fact she had not.

...I next set out to blow away the Mayer and Abramson story that Thomas had been a frequent customer of an X-rated video store near Dupont Circle, called Graffiti, where in the early 1980s he was alleged to have rented X-rated videos of the type that Hill claimed he had discussed with her in graphic terms. In the hearings, Thomas had pointedly refused to answer questions about his personal use of pornography other than to categorically deny that he had ever talked about porn with Hill. The Graffitti story was another theretofore unknown piece of evidence for Hill's case, and it was a powerful counterpoint to the prudish image of Thomas presented by supporters like Armstrong Williams and repeated by me in The Real Anita Hill. Now that Mark had opened up a channel directly to Thomas, I asked him to find out for me whether Thomas had owned the video equipment needed to view movies at home in the early 1980s. Such equipment was not then as commonly used as it was in the mid-1990s, and I figured if I could assert in the review that Thomas had no way of watching the movies, the matter would be settled definitively.

Mark came back with a straightforward answer: Thomas not only had the video equipment in his apartment, but he also habitually rented pornographic movies from Graffiti during the years that Anita Hill worked for him, just as Mayer and Abramson reported. Here was the proof that the Senate investigators and reporters had been searching for during the hearings. Mark, of course, was still a true believer in Thomas's innocence. He couldn't see the porn rentals as at all significant. To Mark, Hill was still a liar despite suggestions to the contrary. But I had some distance from Thomas and I was troubled by the damaging report. It made Hill's entire story much more plausible. I can still remember exactly where I was sitting when Mark let me in on what had to have been one of the most closely guarded secrets within the Thomas camp, a secret, no doubt, that had been kept for three years among Thomas's most trusted advisers.

Brock eventually came clean and wrote Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. Which I own, in hardcover.

Another article about David Brock.

So I guess this post is the story of two Davids, a formerly-right-wing liberal who used to do crap and now does good work, and a formerly-liberal right-winger who used to do good work and now does crap.

UPDATE: Andrew Breitbart, the teabagger responsible for the Shirley Sherrod smear, runs a blog called "Big Hollywood." The reviewer there, predictably, adored RACE:
A major piece of evidence in the case is a twenty-year-old postcard written by the accused man which contains inflammatory language about black women. This is held up as more critical to proving his guilt as a rapist than any physical evidence at the scene of the crime. It is taken as a given that a rich white man who appears to hold a prejudice against black women will be assumed to be guilty of this heinous crime. Thus, political correctness replaces jurisprudence and the constitutional presumption of innocence.

Welcome to the Politically Correct world we inhabit.

And this is the world Mamet wants to expose. Ever since his landmark play “Oleanna” which was written in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings, the playwright has been at his best when he shows us the roaches that live behind America’s proverbial refrigerator but only scatter when he shines his flashlight on them.

Yes, take it from the Breitbart smear machine, that heroic David Mamet is ready to stand heroically against the Mamet strawmen of political correctness.