The Daily

Several Men

The Savage

March 14, 2014 | by

The last of five vignettes.


Postcard of Zola, 1899.

I was teaching a class which I believe was called “Dramatic Theory” but which, more accurately, if more dauntingly, might have been called “On the Nature of Group Perception,” the study in which the dramatist is actually engaged.

The university had engaged me to show up two days each year for four years. In the second year of our compact I made a pre-appearance request of the English or dramatic department or whomever I was to traipse in under the auspices of.

I suggested they, if they wished, were free to judge the applicants for the limited space in the class according to grades, entrance quizzes, or any other criteria, if they, on determining the lucky winners, would then disqualify them, and assign the spaces at random to anyone else at all.

“Or just give me the ne’er-do-wells,” I asked.

I was saddened, but not surprised, to find, on my arrival, that the university had taken my request as a witticism, and chose for admittance only those students with high grade averages and correct demeanors.

Anyone with sufficient patience to sit through English and drama classes in hope of transmuting their attendance into knowledge or employment in the arts has a great gift. The gift, however, whether of courtesy or sedulousness, is a sure sign of a lack of talent, which is never found without zeal and disruption—in short, without love. And who loves being bored? Some may accept it as a notional price for some greater good, but the inspired know there is no acceptable trade for their enthusiasm and their time.

But there the students were, early, and with notebooks open. Being a mountebank, I asked them to close their notebooks, as, if I said something memorable, they would most likely remember it; and, if not, why torture themselves considering it twice?

Some half hour into the class the door opened and a young man came in. He was unapologetic, and, in fact, rather arrogant. He entered removing a full-face motorcycle helmet which he threw onto a side table, then he sat on the table, at ninety degrees to the class.

I remembered the advice of Lord Chesterfield, that the surest test of superior breeding is never to be upset by impertinences. And there he was, seated apart from and above his classmates, perched on the table lounging back against the wall, a ghastly bad portrayal of privileged youth.

I was leading the class in the construction of a screenplay. I’d taken suggestions for protagonist, objective, setting, and so on. I’d asked for a simple situation, and we had determined that the hero was to be threatened by a terrorist.

“A terrorist,” I said. “Good. An Arab terrorist.”

The young man spoke up.

“Why an Arab terrorist?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose they came to mind as they have just blown up New York.”

“Haven’t they suffered enough?” he asked.

And there he had me. He had taken umbrage on behalf of a group which had just attacked his country, and suggested that their very contemplation as malefactors was inhumane, as they (a) would somehow suffer from my mentioning their group in a class of twelve, and (b) they had “suffered enough.” “Arab terrorists” had suffered enough.

But the class cowed. I saw that the fellow was some sort of campus personage. They were silent, and I was stunned. I do not know how I concluded the hour, but I did. I returned to my hotel, and, the next day, to my home.

One year later I was scheduled to teach my two days at the university. I was coming down with the flu, but went to the airport, and found myself too sick to get on the plane. I returned home to find that some organization had advertised, in the campus newspaper, a rally to determine whether or not I should be allowed back on campus, as I was some sort of racist.

I would say that the young man, his life, and future depredations do not bear more contemplation, except that I think of him often. His had intelligence uncolored by morality. He was not a psychopath, for he lacked even the desire to manipulate. His was merely the face of pure evil.

David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.




  1. Phil Sheehan | March 14, 2014 at 11:49 am

    You present the young man’s “they” as referring to “Arab terrorists.” Yet in narrative context, he might have been referring simply to “Arabs,” in which case his point bears more serious consideration.

  2. Dan | March 15, 2014 at 4:13 am

    Arabs had suffered enough. If the face if banal evil was present in this story it was not the young man who called out the author’s casual and unthinking racism

  3. Nasar Ali | March 15, 2014 at 7:29 am

    I agree with comments of Phil and Dan and would add that while the young man who barged into Mamet’s class was undeniably arrogant, his arrogance needs to be understood by placing it in the context of time and place – youthfulness and the unfettered freedom of speaking freely at a university campus.Being an older person older, if for no other reason,Mamet should have responded with compassion and not boorishness and hubris.What a pity. Thereby he wasted a priceless opportunity of coming away with something valuable from the encounter.

  4. Quantum Surveyor Oxford | March 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Interesting, the young man seems to have cogs that move on their own accord as opposed to most peoples sheep-like agreeability of tutors.

  5. anonymous | March 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

    The tardy, arrogant student was sheep-like in his regurgitation of PC platitudes (platitudes which weren’t even topical, as the amount of suffering ‘Arabs’ can expect to experience by having their ethnicity used as a descriptor of a fictional character in an unwritten screenplay is exactly 0). He was also thick and banal, as ‘Arab Terrorist’ is distinct from ‘Arab,’ as Phil mentioned.
    Don’t know about evil.

  6. Jeremy | April 2, 2014 at 8:57 am

    This short vignette represents everything that’s wrong with David Mamet as a writer today. He has allowed his newfound right-wing politics to seep into everything he does, to the point where his work has a built in defense if you don’t like it, which is, “That’s because you’re liberal.” Well I AM a liberal, and I think that when a writer cedes himself to politics, whether left or right, he has given up his creative talent. What a shame that one of our nation’s greatest dramatic minds has been laid to rot.

  7. Rajveer | April 2, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    I don’t know what upsets me more, that the author is undeniably racial and unwilling to examine his own bias or that TPR chose to publish this piece of trash.

  8. Rajveer | April 2, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    I applaud the students for starting a campaign against him. Let’s start a campaign to get this post down from TPR.

  9. Sam | May 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    ‘Arab Terrorist’ is definitely stereotypical, but isn’t part of being a great dramatist subverting stereotypes? Are we 100% sure Mamet was crafting a frothing-at-the-mouth, reactionary terrorist, and not simply starting with that point before digging deeper?

    We can’t be sure, and won’t ever find out, because the interrupting student ended the discussion. Permanently, if Mamet has been banned from campus.

    It’s a mistake, I think, to read this as anti-Political Correctness. It seems more about the mechanisms we use to discuss and regulate PC behavior, and how they can very easily destroy dialog rather than foster it.

  10. M Werezak | May 26, 2015 at 9:43 am

    At first I found this article revolting, but I think there is actually something to be gained here. The article in essence consists of these two points:

    > David Mamet encounters a viewpoint that is incomprehensible to him.

    > ‘Clearly this is the face of pure evil.’

    This article is actually a very good case study. Have you ever wondered how ordinary humans can be made willing to murder each other en masse over nothing more than a difference of opinions?

    Put simply (perhaps too simply), they react to the world like David Mamet does.

  11. Adam Kadmon | July 13, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Much of Mamet’s political writing attacks the straw man or straw boogeyman. In this case, as pointed out, he apparently misinterprets what the young man with the motorcycle helmet meant by “they,” he assumes Arab is synonymous with Islamic, and he assumes the non-response of the class shows cowlike acquiescence when maybe they were “stunned” by Mamet’s obtuseness.

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