Ed Driscoll

The Moral Ambiguity Of "Death Of A F***ing Salesman"

Kevin D. Williamson spots a classic line in The Grauniad:

Writing about David Mamet’s rejection of “brain-dead liberalism” in the Guardian (commented on yesterday in Media Blog), columnist Michael Billington offers this groaner on Glenngary Glen Ross:

Given his new-found conservatism, I doubt he could ever write a play riddled with such moral ambiguity.

Kevin’s response on the moral certainty of almost everyone on the far left is well worth your time, but Billington’s comments on Glenngary Glen Ross and its “moral ambiguity” read as hilarious to me. I’ve only seen the movie, not the play, but the movie was one of the least morally ambiguous–and most depressing–films I’ve ever watched. There’s a reason why the cast referred to the movie as “Death of a F***in’ Salesman“: it has the absolute certainly that Arthur Miller had that capitalism is evil, and selling is the most evil profession of all. At least until it’s time to sell that latest movie or play.

Contrast Glenngary with Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, a film written by an equally hard-line leftist, (at least prior to Mamet’s intellectual awakening) which nonetheless dresses its contempt for the investment world in a slick, seductive surface. There’s a reason why everyone I’ve met when I worked in the financial industry could recite big swatches of the film’s dialogue (as could I), and why Gordon Gekko’s horizontal striped shirts (designed by Alan Flusser) relaunched for a time amongst Wall Street executives a style long-dead since the 1930s.

In contrast, because Glengarry was a much less ambiguous film, it appeals much more only to true believers, a trait which Oliver Stone’s post-Wall Street movies increasingly suffered from. Assuming Mamet ever works again after coming out of the other celluloid closet, I’ll be very curious to see if and how the tone of his work shifts.