David Mamet’s latest play Bitter Wheat opened in London’s West End in June to largely negative reviews, which is somewhat surprising, because it’s terrific. Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising. Most theatre critics are bleeding-heart leftists, and following his embrace of a more conservative attitude, they simply regard David Mamet as a traitor. It’s petty, but it really is that simple.
What Mamet has accomplished with this play — ostensibly a theatrical treatment of the birth of the #MeToo movement — is to present the liberal elite mindset for what it is: self-centred virtue signalling coupled with a complete abdication of personal responsibility. Offended critics will protest that sexual abuse is too serious and sacred an issue for such a comic treatment, that the politically incorrect dialogue is unacceptable in our safe space society, that the play is unfair to the female perspective, and they’ll even accuse it of being a veiled defence of Harvey Weinstein (which is utter nonsense). The truth is that Mamet’s exposure of the liberal-left doctrine as morally contradictory at its core has hit a nerve.
John Malkovich is appropriately disgusting in the lead role of Barney Fein, clearly inspired by Harvey Weinstein, a loathsome, vile human being, who treats everyone around him like crap, manipulating and blackmailing his way to money, sex, fame and awards. He has no redeeming qualities — his appearance (complete with a flabby fatsuit) is grotesque. I would surmise that Mamet and Malkovich both have enough of a personal acquaintance with Harvey Weinstein that this comic exaggeration isn’t all that far from the truth. Weinstein signifies the apex of the rotten, moralistic, hypocritical Hollywood money-making machine, and Bitter Wheat is a damning indictment not only of Weinstein, but of all of Hollywood-NY-liberal-progressive-Democratic-leftist elitism.
There are two ways to analyse leftists like Weinstein (and Fein) — his personal virtue and his corporate virtue. Many leftists are obviously more virtuous than Weinstein on the personal side but on the corporate side, they can’t match his credentials. He supports all the "right" causes with his considerable fortune. A brief look at Weinstein’s Wikipedia page reveals that he has been active in fighting poverty, AIDS, juvenile diabetes, and multiple sclerosis, and has served on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, while advocating for gun control laws and universal healthcare. He’s a left-wing saint. In the play, Fein supports a charity for immigrants, passionately rejecting the term "illegal immigrant," and lauds the bravery of migrants seeking a better life. He expresses his corporate leftist virtue most directly when he’s trying to persuade the reluctant young actress, played by Ioanna Kimbook, to sleep with him, commenting with dismay, "I’m not sure you realise just how much money I give to the Democrat Party." The audience exploded with laughter; I’ll bet the critics fumed.
In one man the Left’s contradictions are embodied and on full display. Barney Fein’s function is to illustrate that one can subscribe to all the corporate morality that liberals pontificate about and still be a despicable human being. Left-wing dogma — from global warming, to social welfare, to family planning, to extremism prevention, to unconscious bias — is all about collective guilt. The left-wing belief is that all wrongdoing is a consequence of the collective failings of society as a whole, and for this they will happily flagellate themselves and us, preach, act, and donate to liberal causes, to the adulation of their fellow progressives. Racism and sexism aren’t about one individual considering another individual to be of less intrinsic value as a human being because of race or sex; no, they are systemic problems that society is infected with, which must be eradicated by rebalancing the system with positive descrimination and affirmative action.
It’s easy to trumpet collective virtue and to take collective responsibility for collective sins. It’s doubly easy to criticise those who don’t accept this ideology — in left-wing eyes, conservatives are evil because they don’t acknowledge their share of the collective responsibility for society’s systemic problems. (Perhaps because they’re too busy dealing with their personal failings as individuals, but no matter.) There is no personal guilt and therefore no personal responsibility in any of the leftist catechism. There’s no understanding of personal sacrifice. There’s no love. It’s a philosophy that denies personal sovereignty altogether, which can only lead to contradiction because no matter how much they deny the fact, we have to live in the world as individuals. And so by the standards of the Left, Weinstein is a great humanitarian, but he’s also a despicable man. How do they reconcile this?
Fein, himself, resists facing the contradiction, to comic effect. When an Islamic terrorist kills his mother, crying "death to the Jew," Fein is at pains to explain how society has let this poor man down in ways that induced his violent outburst. It’s a logical corollary of left-wing dogma that terrorists can’t be responsible for their own actions, because the root cause is society’s oppression of them. Fein wants to meet this terrorist, not to forgive him, but to ask his forgiveness. It is "we" who are the problem, not any one individual — not the terrorist, and by extension, not Fein either. Only by excusing all individual sins, including the murder of his own mother, can he escape culpability for his own sins and go one living the leftist delusion.
The actress portrayed in the play is a genuine and innocent victim. But her chief function is to demonstrate what personal responsibility is. She forgets a gift for Fein at the beginning, but promises that she will give it to him next time they meet. Even after the attempted rape, she keeps her word and returns to his office to present him with the gift. It’s not virtue signaling. It’s virtue.
But aside from the uncomfortable subject matter and the political undercurrents, Bitter Wheat is hilarious and worth seeing just for the laughs. No one writes irreverent dialogue like Mamet. If you’re in London this summer, go see it.