Liberal Critics Miss Point of David Mamet's 'Phil Spector' Allegory
It is nearly impossible to read a review of David Mamet’s work now without the critic noting the playwright’s conservative politics.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, because politics is downstream from culture. The problem is that most critics are liberal, and consequently adhere to a double standard, rarely highlighting the politics of liberal filmmakers and playwrights.
Only when the artist is outside the herd do politics suddenly matter. And because politics matter, and because Mamet’s work is always political, and because his politics is opposed to theirs, liberal critics not only cannot understand his work, they will never be capable of understanding it. Instead, they do what they always do--insult, degrade and dismiss both the artist and his work.
Mamet’s new HBO film Phil Spector is a solid work because it succeeds both textually and subtextually. On the narrative level, it is about Helen Mirren’s Linda Kenny Baden--Spector’s defense attorney--as her opinion changes from being convinced of her client’s guilt to having a reasonable doubt. It isn’t about the trial. It isn’t about the dead woman. It’s about Baden’s journey.
Subtextually, the film is a political allegory. This story didn’t have to be about Spector (played by Al Pacino). It could have been about anybody. To understand the allegory, it’s helpful to pay attention to the gigantic disclaimer as the film begins:
This is a work of fiction. It's not "based on a true story." ... It is a drama inspired by actual persons on a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.
Get it? Mamet is telling the audience this is a political allegory.
So what is that allegory?
Spector is the stand-in for the successful American entrepreneur. He is persecuted simply because he is successful, famous and rich. The liberal media, eager as it always is to tear down success, demonize him. Baden is provided as the rational thinker, Mamet’s idealized American who weighs the evidence, logically considers all the angles and ultimately gives Spector the benefit of the doubt. Mamet’s deeper political agenda then, it that rather than immediately condemning the successful man because of what his attackers claim, people take the rational route of actually using their mind and examining evidence before condemning anyone.
However, because liberals do no such thing, this is exactly the reason why liberal critics dislike the movie. On the allegorical level, they believe the successful did not earn their success. That they are successful is, in fact, proof of their guilt. Liberals believe success was stolen; made on the backs of others; that they cheated to achieve it; that they worked the system; that they had some built-in advantage. As long as equality of outcome does not exist, those whose outcomes have been exceptional must be destroyed.
For conservative viewers, on the allegorical level, Spector’s assertions ring true. Women come out of the woodwork, claiming Spector threatened them. Yet as Spector points out, “What do they have to lose by lying?” Attackers do not, in fact, have any risk. Liars, in fact, have nothing to lose. Saul Alinsky’s tactics are, in fact, rewarded. The media does not, in fact, present a balanced portrayal of conservatives.
Then, back on the textual narrative level, because liberals are unable to put themselves in the shoes of a conservative, they cannot identify or empathize with Spector’s position. They are cognitively incapable of buying Spector’s defense and the film’s narrative.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Matt Zoller Seitz’s review. He’s so ideologically rigid in his hatred of Mamet (calling him a “right wing troll”), he refuses to buy into either the narrative or the allegory. In fact, he doesn’t even buy into the world of the film itself. He will not even suspend disbelief. He’s too busy fussing over the actual case, despite being told in big bold letters that this is a work of fiction, denying the reality of the world he has been placed in so that he may hold fast to his ideology. For if he even accepts the dare to enter Mamet’s world--even a fictional one--Seitz might be forced to admit the conservative’s case is one of reasonable doubt.
Thus, Mamet must suffer the slings and arrows of critics not only for his work, but for his politics. Not unlike his fictional Spector, Mamet is persecuted just for being who he is.
What else is new?