September 1, 2007
Death of a PhonyBy Thomas Lifson
I must confess that I never liked playwright Arthur Miller's work, even though I never really publicly criticized it. As an Ivy-educated, Ivy-employed intellectual, I was supposed to think he was deep. All the right people agreed on that point. So I sat through performances of his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, on several occasions, in the company of my parents at first, and as a season ticket holder at a couple of repertory theatres in adulthood.
But I always found Death to be tedious and pretentious. The author must have been a rather unpleasant man, I would find myself musing during the seemingly endless performances. Even if he did manage to snag poor disturbed and abused Marilyn Monroe as a trophy wife for awhile. As an adolescent, I adored Marilyn. I still do, although I appreciate the tragedy she lived through more deeply, the more I learn of her treatment at the hands of adult males when she was a girl, Hollywood when she was seeking stardom, Joe DiMaggio when they were married, and Bobby and Jack Kennedy, the least of whose crimes against her may have been their sexual exploitation of a badly depressed and highly medicated woman.
When I entered the business world and actually got to know not only some really excellent salesmen (and women) and developed an appreciation for the ways they contribute not just to the bottom line but to their customers' operations, my respect for the sales profession grew and grew. The best sales professionals have a bit of nobility to them, doing what's right for the customer, even if it costs them or their employers in the short run. They build trust and personal bonds and actively help their customers succeed, bringing far more than a shoeshine and a smile. The best sales professionals are all problem-solvers and dedicated to their customers. They deserve the big bucks they earn.
I will never forget a conversation with a former colleague of mine at Columbia University who left teaching to take a job in business, where he was in charge of marketing certain big ticket products for a major company whose name you would instantly recognize. He spoke movingly of his deep admiration for the dealers of his company's products, many of whom were self-made millionaires. "They created entire businesses out of nothing," he said with awe in his voice, selling and servicing important tools that made life better for millions. We commiserated over the deeply flawed views of business and entrepreneurs (and life itself) so common in the academic world he left and from which I was departing. Both of us quite voluntarily, I might add.
I think I only saw The Crucible once, and its crude allegory of the Salem Witch Trials for McCarthyism was insulting. I hated it. I only saw the film version of All My Sons, starring Edward G. Robinson (I was and remain a huge fan of Robinson), and although it was apparently not terribly faithful to the original play, I found it, too, excessively preoccupied with America the evil and corrupt and soulless nation that I knew to be a false exaggeration of ordinary and common human flaws into a political critique of a system.
I guess that one could say that in denigrating America, Miller was ahead of his time, pointing the way for the arts crowd to turn from the patriotism common during World War II to the hate-America stance that has reigned since the Vietnam War. In all of Miller's works I encountered, I found pretension and phoniness: an intellectual's disdain for the country which rewarded him handsomely. A Sean Penn with more brains.
Now, a new piece has been added to the puzzle and it fits right into place, completing a disturbing picture of a scoundrel. It turns out that Miller really was a disgraceful phony when it came to the sphere of life which matters most: his family. The UK Daily Mail reports:
Pardon me for getting on a high horse and judging another without knowing all the facts. Maybe I am wrong, but this strikes me as horribly twisted. Down Syndrome people can and do live useful lives. They come equipped with souls, emotions, and everything else that makes us worthy children of God. Judging by the few I have met, many of them are better human beings than most of us. I know of parents who speak of the incredibly deep bonds of love with their Down Syndrome children.
Thank God, someone with more humanity than Miller intervened before it was too late, and convinced the playwright and deep moral thinker to include Daniel in his will just six weeks before he died two years ago. That person turns out to be the very gifted actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who married Daniel's sister Rebecca Miller, and who was reported to be "appalled" at the treatment given to Daniel. Imagine what Daniel's life would have been, had he been excluded from sharing the estate of his father.
Quite the humanitarian, isn't he? Rip apart a child and mother -- a child who more than most needed the loving care only a mother can provide, and a mother who longed to provide it. All because he must have been embarrassed that his son wasn't capable of being the intellectual he wanted to pretend to be himself. He didn't want to look bad, so what did the fate and happiness of his son and wife matter?
The preening moralists of the Left adored Miller to the end and beyond.
In defending communism in America and Vietnam, at least he was being consistent, if not a humanitarian. The monstrous evil of that system was apparent to all who didn't avert their eyes from Stalin. It required an intellectual true believer to persuade himself of the rightness of defending the adherents, supporters and victory of that system.
The same kind of dry abstraction from reality that could persuade a man to send his own flesh and blood to an overcrowded substandard care facility because he was just too embarrassing and inconvenient.
Yet another leftist humanitarian who turns out to be all theory and no practice.
Hat tip: Jerry Schmidt
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.