In Mamet’s American Buffalo the character Teach explains what survival is all about:
The freedom … of a individual … to embark on any fucking course that he thinks fit … in order to secure his honest chance to make a profit.
Well, it is not only about survival, but also about the freedom to pursue profit, what means leaving more than when arriving. In Odets’ Paradise Lost Kewpie says something similar:
I gotta take care of myself because nobody will.
Right he was because our society stamps us for the schools our children attend, the car we drive, the place where we have vacations, the food we eat, the wine we drink, in brief, how much money we make. Who cares if you slap your wife once in a while? Who cares if half of the food you buy ends up in the garbage bin? Who cares if you betray a friend to get his wife, job, house? In a Capitalist world there is little space for manners, old values and morals. Newly rich people might not know how to eat lobster with elegance, without raping the poor devil because they did not grow up doing it, but still they are the ones eating it, not dreaming about it. So, who cares about table manners? As long as the bills gets paid and the tip is fat enough, the customer could spit on the lobster that the maître wouldn’t care less.
Ask some youngsters about the definition of honour that they won’t know what to say. It is all about the money and power, when true human values seem to have disappeared in the road to consumerism and dominance. ‘You can be a gangster, but as long as you buy me things, love, we’ll be fine.’ Like Niccolà Machiavelli taught in The Prince:
The ends justify the means. ‘Drop a nuclear bomb, but let us win the fucking war!’
Does the idea sound familiar?
Do we really need morals in a world like ours? This is the million-dollar question that not only Mamet but so many other thinkers have asked themselves by observing the society they live in. The more I think about it, trying to find a model of behaviour to instruct my son, the more I find myself in a carrefour: Be nice, but try to be strong. Be strong, but try to be nice. Have it your way, but listen to others. Listen to others, but have it your way. It is difficult to find a balance. One can only swim with or against the current, in a group or solo. In American Buffalo characters have recognized that it is safer to swim with the current.
Another interesting fact in Buffalo is that Mamet mocks society by showing how we, most of the time, do not know the difference between price and value. It is as if the price started giving things their value and not the other way round, the right way, the only way that makes sense, but because society dictates it is, the price becomes the value. Just like the nickel with a Buffalo head in it.
It seems that I stopped caring about morals, about the work and inspiration behind that expensive bag, but do you know what? I truly don’t care. In this respect, I am just like Teach, Don or Kewpie: I am living my life and making the best out of it (without killing anyone, just to make sure it is clear…).
Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone!
Were Mamet and Jesus wrong or aren’t we all sinners?
Luciana B. Veit