Question: Who is carrying on your father's legacy?
John Buffalo Mailer: There’s several people out there who I feel are doing their part in that way. I would say the only one person I know of who kind of combines the elements that my father brought to the table in terms of affecting the public discourse would be Oliver Stone. His combination of academic brilliance and real life experience and just understanding people I think is what makes him such a great storyteller, but also he cares. He is interested. He meets somebody and he listens to them. He has some questions. He wants to know what they’re about. And as a result I think his worldview is much more complex and whole and most of the other… I don’t know if we even have a category of public intellectual anymore, but he would be in that category. He would be out there. The reason… One of the things that sets him apart though is he is commercial. He is mainstream. He makes big movies and he is one of the last guys that can make big movies that actually have something to say, that you know challenge the audience in a way while entertaining them.
But there's, you know, there's a lot of people out there who are doing it. I don’t know if it’s possible for anyone to really have that level of a voice anymore because our media is so diluted and parsed out. You know people kind of go for the news and information that they want as opposed to picking up a paper and seeing what catches their eye. It’s a very stark difference and you know it’s there is a few stories that end up going wide and everybody hears about them, but they’re usually salacious celebrity stuff that is not about substance or it’s the latest disaster and it’s kind of covered in a way that is just trying to get eyeballs on the screen. It’s not, you know. I mean I think that Anderson Cooper does a great job of staying with stories and pushing them. New Orleans he really… He was there and he pushed it past the point where his producers were saying, “Listen, you've got to stop because people are tuning out now. We’re on to another disaster.” You know, what do you worry about? Haiti? Chile? Turkey? What? You know, where do you put your attention and your focus? So for one person to really be able to cover all that ground would be tough. Also I think that, you know, you have experts in fields who spend their life studying one thing. When an event goes on like that chances are they’re going to want that specific expert who has done it to be on the show talking about it, not a writer or an artist of any sort, which I think is a mistake because you know we don’t have… I mean we have them, but there is certainly not you know in strong force public philosophers anymore. The only way you’re going to get that kind of metaphorical larger take on what is actually happening and what it means to us and what it’s going to mean in a few years is to talk to people whose job it is to take life and turn it into stories and create it and frame it. So it’s a tough role to fill. I think that one of the things that my dad was grappling with towards the end was how that shift had happened now and he would go on a book tour and do his shows and it would be you know fulfilling and good, but he wouldn’t have the same impact that he used to and it wasn’t because people were less interested. It’s just because people are distracted by the million different sources of entertainment and information in front of them at any given time.
Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen