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VOL. 22, NO. 17MARCH 7, 1997

Conversations with David Mamet

Theater and Politics Mesh, But Art and Technology Do Not

Provost Jonathan R. Cole, playwright David Mamet and John D. Moore, president of C.U. Press, which sponsored the event and will publish Mamet's essays. Record Photo by Joe Pineiro.
The clash of art and technology, the theater in politics and the theater in everyday life were among the topics discussed by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet in a three-part lecture series at Columbia.

Mamet, who spoke to packed audiences at Miller Theatre and Low Library last week, began the series by describing the "theater" that all of us inject into our daily lives. We tend to make our experiences more dramatic for our listeners, he said, by exaggerating even the most mundane things such as train delays and the weather.

People look for theater in political campaigns as well.

"Legitimate political concerns, the environment, health care, go begging for an audience because they are not dramatic," said Mamet. "Politicians who talk about concrete issues cannot and do not last long."

Visiting professor and former White House Senior Advisor George Stephanopoulos, who happened to be in the audience, later questioned Mamet on that point. "Should those of us interested in serious issues such as health care and the environment write a new script?"

Mamet challenged Stephanopoulos to answer his own question.

"I think there is no alternative but to write a new drama to try to make them [serious political concerns] more compelling and make people pay attention," Stephanopoulos said. "If we don't play the game, we lose because others will."

In a subsequent lecture, Mamet expressed his concern about television viewing, describing the pastime as a "self-administered anesthesia."

He similarly questioned the Internet, labeling it a form of artistic oppression: "The information age is centralizing knowledge and rendering it subject to controls."