Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mamet on Asperger's, Ashkenazim and the movies

The excerpt below is from his book Bambi vs Godzilla. Is he talking about movie directors, or physicists? :-)

Trivia question: what do David Mamet, Greg Cochran, Steve Pinker and Gregory Clark (author of A Farewell to Alms) have in common?

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of my favorite movies; the scene below is an all time classic. PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN!


I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies.

The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutiae of the task at hand.

This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director.
Let me also note that Asperger’s syndrome has its highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. For those who have not been paying attention, this group constitutes, and has constituted since its earliest days, the bulk of America’s movie directors and studio heads.

Neal Gabler, in his An Empire of Their Own points out that the men who made the movies – Goldwyn, Mayer, Schenck, Laemmle, Fox, - all came from a circle with Warsaw at its center, its radius a mere two hundred miles. (I will here proudly insert that my four grandparents came from that circle).

Widening our circle to all of Eastern European Jewry (the Ashkenazim), we find a list of directors beginning with Joe Sternberg’s class and continuing strong through Seven Spielberg’s and he youth of today.

...There was a lot of moosh written in the last two decades about the “blank slate”, the idea that since each child is theoretically equal under the eyes of the law, each must, by extension be equal in all things and that such a possibility could not obtain unless each child was, from birth, equally capable – environmental influences aside – of succeeding in all things.

This is a magnificent and majestic theory and would be borne by all save those who had ever had, observed, or seriously thought about children.

Races, as Steven Pinker wrote in his refutational The Blank Slate, are just rather large families; families share genes and thus, genetic disposition. Such may influence the gene holders (or individuals) much, some, or not at all. The possibility exists, however, that a family passing down the gene for great hand-eye coordination is likely to turn out more athletes than without. The family possessing the genes for visual acuity will likely produce good hunters, whose skill will provide nourishment. The families of the good hunters will prosper and intermarry, thus strengthening the genetic disposition in visual acuity.

Among the sons of Ashkenazi families nothing was more prized than genius at study and explication.

Prodigious students were identified early and nurtured – the gifted child of the poor was adopted by a rich family, which thus gained status and served the community, the religion, and the race.

The boys grew and regularly married into the family or extended family of the wealthy. The precocious ate better and thus lived longer, and so were more likely to mate and pass on their genes.

These students grew into acclaimed rabbis and Hassidic masters, and founded generations of rabbis; the progeny of these rabbinic courts intermarried, as does any royalty, and that is my amateur Mendelian explication of the prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome in the Ashkenazi.

What were the traits indicating the nascent prodigy? Ability to retain and correlate vast amounts of information, a lack of desire (or ability) for normal social interaction, idiosyncrasy, preternatural ability for immersion in minutiae; ecco, six hundred years of Polish rabbis and one hundred of their genetic descendants, American film directors.

1 comment:

Steven Broiles said...

Very interesting article. I have read your post off of Henry Makow's site. My father was not diagnosed with Asperger's, and yet, he knew he was different. He was frank and he could be blunt. In short, he was everything that Mamet described in his article. Did Dad have Asperger's? I don't know; I'm not a medical doctor. And as he was my role model (and a good one he was), it was good enough for me. (We are not Jewish, but of German and Scots-Irish ancestry). Great article!

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