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“It’s Always Sunny in Pyongyang”: A Tribute to Kim Jong-il


Dictatorships: Leading an Insane Clown Posse of One’s Own

Late last year, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died.  Along with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and global supervillain Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-il (1941 – 2011; Supreme Leader, 1994 – 2011) joined an esteemed list of rat bastards no one will miss.  At least no rational person.  That’s the rub, since the Supreme Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea has been perceived as a crazy lunatic nutjob.  Everyone from David Letterman’s writing staff to the writers on Cracked.com have made a cottage industry from the simple equation: Kim Jong-il = Crazy!

As illustrated in the clip from 30 Rock, Kim Jong-il acts like a hyper-positive weather man, asserting that North Korea is “always sunny all the time.”  In a gonzo performance, comedian Margaret Cho turns the dictator into a goofy clown with absolutely no connection with reality.  (Which makes him totally different from our esteemed political leaders.  Right, guys?)

Critiquing dictators is nothing new in pop culture.  The most prominent historical example is Charlie Chaplin’s the Great Dictator (1940).  What is new is the twist given to this critique, that of insanity.  Its usefulness shouldn’t be underestimated.  With an accusation of insanity, a critic does not need the obligation of taking the target seriously.  The critic also comes from the privileged position of “sanity.”  Unlike other people who are labeled “insane” or “mentally disturbed” (the homeless, the elderly, etc.), Kim Jong-il possessed a massive concentration of military power and the unswerving obedience of the Party machinery.  When not making ridiculous claims, saber-rattling North Korea’s neighbors, and living in obscene opulence, he came across as threatening as an Elvis-coiffed garden gnome.

The charge of insanity made it easier for Internet comedy writers, but was it actually useful or effective?  It is hard to quantify in real foreign policy terms.

The Political Aspects of Insanity

Thus far, we have taken insanity as a given.  If you’re a North Korean despot who claims to have invented the cheeseburger, the charge of insanity seems firm.  However, insanity itself is a slippery concept.  Like the words “reality” and “culture”, insanity can become a loaded term.  How does one define “insane”?  Who defines the term?  What power do they have?  What are the political aspects of insanity?

Insanity is a different breed of affliction than, say, high blood pressure, asthma, or tuberculosis.  One can point at a chart, an X-ray, or read-out and come to an agreed upon conclusion.  The term itself (“insane”) has become the cultural shorthand for the different and maladjusted.  This should not be confused with those who suffer from brain defects or neurological disorders.  Unlike a severe cranial trauma or brain deformation, insanity has as much to do with medical knowledge as with political consensus.  Kim Jong-il was such a real-life caricature of state terror, that is was easy to label him insane.  Kim’s father, Kim Il-Sung, represented a very dangerous threat to national security and his totalitarian rule was nothing to laugh at.

Today charges of insanity usually arise on Internet discussion boards when one voices doubt in the inherent durability of the American two-party system.  Because the economic and global situation has become so bad, it would be utterly insane to vote for someone other than a Republican or Democrat.  (Because these same two parties and the same people in power have done such a bang-up job, I should keep them in power.  Now who’s being insane?)

Because the first step to being different is thinking different, insanity has been used as a regulatory measure to control one’s family life, sexuality, and personal associations.

“Only an insane person would like _______” (Pick what you detest most.)

A. Gay people marrying.

B. A literal interpretation of the Bible.

C. Kim Jong-il.

D. The Atlas Shrugged, Part I movie.

What becomes dangerous about the definition of insanity is it becomes the psychiatric tool of political consensus.  Attacking the opposition by characterizing them as insane lunatics has caused the usual heated American political discourse to become completely abandoned.  Since the Occupy member thinks the Tea Party member is crazypants, then it’s no use even talking to them.  (The reverse is also true.)  Both sides need to abandon the hyperbolic rhetoric and realize they are missing the forest for the trees.  (Obviously, both those groups are insane.  Hey, isn’t that no-account, corrupt, adulterous sleazbag up for re-election in my district.  I need to keep him or her in office for another term to fix things.  To the voting booths!)

Insanity: That’s so Gay!

The political uses of insanity have had real consequences, damaging to individuals and their families.  The fields of psychology and psychiatry buttressed and refined what was formerly the province of religion.  Religious persecution of homosexuality is a given with examples, modern and ancient, too numerous to recount.  Adding fuel to the fire was the psychiatric community’s assertion that homosexuality was a form of insanity.  Like other forms of insanity, it was seen as something “curable”.  In a peculiar twist that shows the circular relationship between religion and psychiatry, certain religious organizations make routine claims that they can cure homosexuality.

Only in 1973 was homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  Its presence in the DSM made homosexuality easier to criminalize and prosecute, since persecuting homosexuality on religious grounds violates First Amendment protections.  (While the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of one’s own religion or non-religion and not getting taxed by an established religious authority, the amendment does have its limits.  These include human sacrifice, bigamy, and violent persecution of another group.)

Consensus can become a dangerous weapon, especially wrapped in the garb of the scientific rhetoric used in psychiatry.

Occupy North Korea

One of the predictable criticisms of the Occupy movement is that Communists run it.  But this is a critique too boring and too predictable to comment on.  What naïve leftists within the Occupy movement need to realize is that free market plutocracies aren’t the only places with an oppressive One Percent.  It takes many forms, usually dynastic.  One sees this with the Saud Family’s financial mismanagement, monumental corruption, and radioactive hypocrisy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Two despots, one car: The Rolls Royce of Czar Nicholas II and Lenin.

North Korea also has its One Percenters.  And like the United States, it asserts it is a democracy run by the people.  (Don’t believe me?  It’s in North Korea’s name.)  The upper echelons of the North Korean Communist Party and military apparatus sport huge waistlines and live in grandiose mansions.  A North Korean Party hack represents the average North Korean the same way an overpaid, multiple-married, pill-popping AM talk show host represents “the Real America.”  Faux North Korean Communism is as real as Faux Conservative Populism.  Both are hard to take seriously and both are manufactured and targeted at rubes too dumb or too scared (or both) to think for themselves.  “If those Democrats are elected, then Obama’s gay Muslim abortionists will take my Bible away!”  “If those Republicans are elected, they will ban abortion, bomb Iran, and make us all Protestant!”

And Kim Jong-il invented the cheeseburger.

In the words of self-styled exercise guru Susan Powter, “Stop the insanity!”

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IX: The Generator


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IX: The Generator

Pages: 1126 – 1146

Summary: And now … torture!  John Galt, having refused the entreaties of shyster hooligan Mr. Thompson, gets stripped and strapped to Dr. Ferris’s electrical contraption.  The torture is horrendous until the machine breaks and the idiot operating it doesn’t know how to fix it.

In other news, Dr. Robert Stadler heads back to Iowa where the Xylophone is under control of effeminate fascist goofball Cuffy Meigs.  Words are exchanged, a melee ensues, and KA-BOOM!

Reflections: The torture scene comes across as dramatically puzzling and unintentionally funny.  What kind of sociopath tortures for laughs?  Oh, right …

The humor in the scene throws a giant monkey-wrench into the narrative’s tone.  Granted, the electrical apparatus breaking down proves Rand’s point, but to use the phrase of libertarians, “at what cost”?  Galt, the muscular genius hero guy, gets tortured by fat looter morons.  What’s so dramatic about that?  The characters, such broad caricatures of humanity, sap the scene of momentum and give it all the depth of a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  Hell, Rocky and Bullwinkle had better plotting, better characterization, and better jokes than this banal horseshit.

The only real explanation for this nutty scene is Rand needed to make John Galt into the book’s Christ Figure.  A rather odd thing considering Rand’s rabid atheism, although not that odd since cults of personality adopt the liturgical features of religion to suit the star’s egomania.  (Yet another similarity Ms. Rosenbaum shares with Uncle Joe.)

“Aw, come on, John, be our Economic Dictator.  Pretty please!”

For a former seminary student, Stalin cleans up quite well.

Compare this to the torture scene in 1984, written by British Socialist George Orwell.  In the novel, dissident functionary Winston Smith faces torture from O’Brien.  Winston thought O’Brien was also rebelling against Big Brother, when in actuality O’Brien belonged to the Inner Party.  Unlike the rotund dimwits in Atlas Shrugged, O’Brien uses a rat-cage that he attaches to Winston’s face.  No electricity involved.  It’s sustainable and has a small carbon footprint.  It’s also effective as hell.  Perhaps Mr. Thompson had difficulty attaining rat-cage-face-masks from Airstrip One, considering the United States is in transportation crisis in the novel?

In the end, Winston confesses and thus, 1984 becomes tragedy.  Dr. Ferris’s shenanigans just seem idiotic, especially since it is in aid of making John Galt their Economic Dictator and solving all their problems.  It’s a scene diametrically opposed to that of 19841984 is a critically acclaimed novel that attained its rightful place in the Western Canon, easily making 100 Best lists without breaking a sweat.  Atlas Shrugged, on the other hands, required market manipulation by hordes of crackpot cultists buying books in bulk in a facetious attempt at popularity.  That’s just sad.  But so is having the inability to break the $2 million dollar mark on opening weekend and coming in at a lame-ass #14.  In Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake challenges the real estate salesmen to “Always Be Closing.”  Second place is a set of steak knives, third prize is your fired!  What’s 14th?

Like the Left Behind series, Atlas Shrugged isn’t literature for the ages, it’s only appeal lies with a sliver of the population that buys into its nutjob theories and infantile views of economics.  In a word: marginal.  Here’s another one: Inconsequential.

Call me anything you want, Objectivists.  I’ll make sure to have a couch handy for you to jump on.

At some point, Scientology and Objectivism become indistinguishable.

One chapter left and we’re done with this overwrought literary abortion.  Huzzah!

Quotes:

  • “There was nothing beyond the lighted strip but the emptiness of the prairies of Iowa.”
  • “He [Cuffy Meigs] wore a tight, semi-military tunic and leather leggings; the flesh of his neck bulged over the edge of his collar; his black curls were matted with sweat.”  Jeremy Clarkson?

  • “We want ideas – or else!”

  • “Had enough?” snarled Ferris, when the current went off.  “Yes, end this book NOW!  Oh, you were talking to John Galt.”
  • “Don’t kill him!  Don’t dare kill him!  If he dies, we die!”  Whew, good thing somebody explained the stakes in the scene or I wouldn’t have understood what was going in.  Way to not insult the intelligence of your readers, Ayn.

  • “Galt burst out laughing.”
  • “Galt was watching them; his glance was too austerely perceptive.”  Or if someone with actual talent rewrote the sentence: “Galt watched them; he perceived them with a muscular austerity.”  Seriously, Ayn, use the money you made from The Fountainhead and take some creative writing courses at Columbia or the New School or something.  Your utter lack of talent is repellent, lazy, and childish.  “I’m here on a mission of mercy.  If it was up to me, I’d fire your fucking ass.”

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egoist


“You do not become an author just by using the language to call a cabinet minister unfit for office.”

“There are writers who can express in a mere twenty pages things I sometimes need two whole lines for.”

Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936)

Reflections: The nature of fictional storytelling requires emotional and narrative pay-offs.  Starting with John Galt’s speech, Atlas Shrugged moves into the dénouement.  This is where all the deck-stacking and intellectual dishonesty of Rand’s project reveal the flaws and fractures within her attempted “philosophy.”

While all the characters get shuffled into place, John Galt prepares to escape the clutches of the evil looters.  The looters, in their idiotic desperation, call for John Galt’s help.  The tables are turned and the looters are revealed as having a bankrupt philosophy.

When Galt is finally detained by Thompson’s men in a section of the Wayne-Falkland Hotel brimming with military men, Galt still refuses to help.  Despite Galt’s two-hour speech, Mr. Thompson still doesn’t get it.

In this exchange between Galt and Thompson, we get to the essence of Atlas Shrugged, the very nubbin for why it exists in the first place.

“Okay, I’ll tell you.  You want me to become Economic Dictator?” [Galt]

“Yes!” [Thompson]

“And you’ll obey any order I give?”

“Implicitly!”

“Then start by abolishing all income taxes.”

“Oh, no!” screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet.  “We couldn’t do that!  That’s … that’s not the field of production.  That’s the field of distribution.  How would we pay government employees?”

“Fire your government employees.”

“Oh, no!  That’s politics!  That’s not economics!  You can’t interfere with politics!  You can’t have everything!”

Galt crossed his legs on the hassock, stretching himself more comfortably in the brocaded armchair.  “Want to continue this discussion?  Or do you get the point?”

Do you hear that?  It’s the sound of a balloon deflating.  This alleged confrontation distills the philosophies of both camps, yet it’s so … so … anticlimactic.  Galt is so perfect, smart, and heroic; Thompson is so conniving, weak, and contradictory.  It is the immovable Idealist versus the unstoppable force of the Looter Hordes.

Narrative sterility aside, the essence of Objectivism is now revealed as Rand’s distaste for the income tax.  The fucking income tax!  I read over one thousand pages for this!  Seriously!  (I feel like James Taggart, all exclamation points and apoplexy.)  Nevertheless, let’s take a step back, since I don’t want to give myself an aneurysm, least of all for this book.

Yes, yes, the gulags and purges were terrible, but look!  Don’t you see!  Their taking away my income!

Like anyone who has had to pay taxes, I understand the resentment and hatred people level at the Internal Revenue Service.  Money earned through hard work, etc.  But to write a 1100 page book against the injustice of the income tax is sort of silly.  Like building a cathedral to why Justin Bieber sucks.  It’s ridiculous and rather petty.  Added to this is the Randroid perception that this is the Greatest Novel of All Time.  (It would be, if you’ve never read any other book.  One would also think it the Greatest Novel of All Time as a natural and logical opinion.  Don’t worry, Objectivists, Scientologists hold the same opinion about Battlefield Earth.  They’re both good at buying in bulk and rigging literature polls.  But Objectivism is totally, totally not a cult.  ***Stifled laughter***)

The trick is buying the books in bulk.  Also works when selling subprime mortgages as loans.

Ironically, Rand’s philosophical novel resembles the logorrhea of Dave Sim, except Sim has talent as a comic book artist.  Ayn Rand (neé Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum) is just another paranoid megalomaniac who changed her name to sound tougher to her adversaries.  Wait a second … paranoid megalomaniac … name change … sounds a lot like this guy.

“Complain about the income tax all you want, I’ll be pummeling the Nazis into a slurry and sending the first man into space … with the occasional famine and purge.  Have to think of the bottom line in all this.  It’s not personal, it’s business.”

To adapt Stalin’s quote to the parlance of our time, “One unemployed person is a tragedy, a million unemployed people is a statistic.”

Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist


Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist

I Blow Minds.

Summary:

After John Galt’s speech melts the airwaves, the looter elite at the Wayne-Falkland lose their collective shit. They bicker and freak out until Mr. Thompson declares that Galt is just the man to right the listing ship of state. It turns out Mr. Thompson is a pragmatist above all, and willing to overlook all of Galt’s windy “theory” in order to exploit his clearly singular mind.  So the government starts a campaign to find Galt and give him the power of economic dictator. Meanwhile, Galt’s incendiary rhetoric and the continual collapse of the economy lead to an upsurge of violence across the country, as the people strike back against government goons and their civilian lackeys.

After trying to lure Galt out of hiding with strategic loud-speaker begging, the government finally nabs him by following Dagny to his apartment in New York. Of course, he’d been hiding in plain sight as a common laborer at Taggart Transcontinental, with his own apartment filled with a hidden science lab. As soon as Galt sees Dagny, he knows that the feds are just behind, so he makes her swear that she’ll disavow him when they come. If Thompson and company think that Galt cares for Dagny, they’ll threaten to harm her if he doesn’t help keep their failing system afloat. Heavily armed guards so up, Dagny points an accusing finger at Galt, and he’s spirited away to the Wayne-Falkland, but not before his lab self-destructs.

Across a starving land, government buildings burn as looters and home-grown militias vie for power. In New York, a parade of luminaries try to talk John Galt into taking over economic planning. Mr. Thompson offers riches and power, Dr. Ferris threatens to euthanize everyone over 60 years old, and Dr. Stadler just blubbers all over the place. All the while, Galt holds fast against these entreaties: if they order him to sit at a desk that says “ECONOMIC DICATOR,” he’ll do it, but they can’t force him to think for them.

Dagny plays her part as a new convert to Mr. Thompson’s expedient vision and, in order to make sure that the government doesn’t just kill Galt, advises the Head of State that Galt can be convinced, given enough incentive and time. Thompson attempts to force Galt’s hand by holding a massive dinner at, where else, the Wayne-Falkland to announce Galt’s cooperation and the creation of the John Galt Plan. On the night of the event, Dagny watches the assembled reptiles smarm their way around the dais, giving windy, contradictory speeches before Galt’s final remarks.  In front of a national television audience, Galt jukes out of the way long enough for everyone to see that his ‘secretary’ has a gun pointed at him, and says directly into the camera, “Get the hell out of my way!”

Reflections: Wait, are there really less than a hundred pages left? Praise Xenu! There IS light at the end of the tunnel! I’ve honestly forgotten that there was a time in my life when I wasn’t reading this book. Who is president? Have we landed on Mars yet? What’s with these young people and their saggy pants and raps music?

Quotes:

“‘That wasn’t real, was it?’ said Mr. Thompson.” That head of state never misses a trick.

“The attendants of a hospital in Illinois showed no astonishment when a man was brought in, beaten up by his elder brother, who had supported him all his life: the younger man had screamed at the older, accusing him of selfishness and greed–just as the attendants of a hospital in New York City showed no astonishment at the case of a woman who came in with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.” So apparently the looter method of coercion through guilt-trips is giving way to the Galtian ethic of random violence. Incidentally, that ‘best toys to the neighbor kids’ vignette is a reference to the primal scene of Ayn Rand’s philosophical development. Apparently, her parents made a similar demand of her when they were living in Russia. Needless to say, she never got over it.

“‘I will perform any motion you order me to perform. If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I’ll move into it. If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it. If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue.’

‘Oh, but I don’t know what directives to issue!’

There was a long pause.

‘Well?’ said Galt. ‘What are your orders?’

‘I want you to save the economy of the country!’

‘I don’t know how to save it.’

‘I want you to find a way!’

‘I don’t know how to find it.’

‘I want you to think!’

‘How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?'” Physical assaults and passive aggression, the two mightiest weapons in the Objectivist arsenal, apparently.

“‘The John Galt Plan,’ Wesley Mouch was saying, ‘will reconcile all conflicts. It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor. It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits. It will lower prices and raise wages. It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations. It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the of a planned economy.'” Alright, Ayn, that’s a pretty good distillation of the sort of political rhetoric that has led to record deficits, record spending, and all-time low income tax rates.


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”


“Well, this certainly looks like a lot of words, in record time, I’m very impressed…Unfortunately, I am also disgusted. This is incoherent drivel! This is a total redo, and I’m assuming I need it right away.” — J. Peterman



J. Peterman or John Galt? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.

Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”

Reflections:

Well, that was pretty much exactly what I expected…and yet, so much worse.  Karl aptly covered the dramatic and literary failings of “the speech,” so I won’t shoot the broad side of that particular barn. I’m also not going to attempt a point by point refutation of Rand/Galt’s legion of philosophical failings. I may not have a life, but I do have to eat, sleep and move my bowels for the next month, so that’s right out.   John Rawls went through all the trouble of writing A Theory of Justice, after all.  Just go read that.

Go ahead, it shouldn’t take long. The whole thing is probably shorter than Galt’s speech.

Among the myriad logical and historical fallacies on display in the Galt speech (the Dark Ages were dark because of a strike by intellectuals? For realsies?), the most annoying for me is Rand’s deeply misinformed conception of scientific and technological progress. Rand seems to live in the grammar school universe where every major innovation on the road of human progress is the result of a single individual applying their brilliance to a particular problem.

Theodoric of York knew that he shouldn’t have just slapped leeches on his patients, but his brain was on strike against the Catholic Church.

Eli Whitney “inventing” the cotton gin. Samuel Morse “inventing” the telegraph. In reality, of course, no invention in the history of humanity has a single author. Whitney and Morse, as well as Edison, Marconi, and every other famous inventor in human history, made their names and fortunes by innovating within an existing line of research being carried out across the years and by countless individuals. More importantly, their inventions came in the context of all the human knowledge that came before them. As brilliant as he was, Thomas Edison could not have invented an iPod. Not because he wasn’t smart enough, but because he didn’t have access to the corpus of collective human scientific advancement that occurred in the 20th century. Isaac Newton may have been the smartest man in human history, and he spent thirty years trying to turn lead into gold because he didn’t know what the hell an atom was. Not to mention the fact that he whiffed big-time on that whole “relativity” deal.

Isaac Newton: Father of modern physics and alchemist.

At one point in Galt’s speech, Galt challenges  his lumpen audience to imagine what would happen if they had to survive by themselves in the untamed wild without the guiding intelligence of their betters. I’m guessing they’d do just about as well as Hank Rearden or Johannes Gutenberg: they’d scratch out a living for a while on grubs and tree bark, then die of exposure. Hank isn’t making any Rearden metal out of leaves and rainwater. Even more ridiculous is Galt/Rand’s parallel claim that corporate employees owe the same debt of gratitude to their bosses as the rest of us owe the inventive geniuses who make our comfortable lives possible.

The Cotton Gin: NOT invented by Eli Whitney.

In 1957, when Atlas Shrugged was first published, the President of the Ford Motor Company was Henry Ford II. Now, whatever claim to genius that Henry Ford Senior may have had (it’s not like the dude actually invented the automobile: he simply devised a more efficient way of manufacturing someone else’s invention), it didn’t necessarily extend to his son. Henry Ford Junior had the good fortune to be born the son of an industrial magnate. His crowning achievement as President was the introduction of the Edsel. Yet according to Rand, the employees of Ford, who significantly differed from the President of their company only by an accident of birth, owed him their entire devotion and should have been happy with any wage he chose to offer them.  Every human being benefits from the collective intellectual and physical efforts of every other person, both past and present. Now, Rand might be willing to concede that point, but still hold that these efforts and intellectual products must be traded on an open market by individuals. Fair enough, but that’s not how Rand conceives the creation of human knowledge in the Galt speech. Instead, she posits an alternate universe where every human mind operates in a locked, lightless cell, uninfluenced by any other intelligence. Rand can’t acknowledge the self-evident fact of intellectual interconnectedness even when it wouldn’t necessarily invalidate her view on the correct way to structure an economy. Once again, we’re confronted by the fact that what Rand is peddling in the seemingly endless pages of Atlas Shrugged isn’t philosophy, it’s pathology.


Without the visionary genius of Henry Ford Junior, we never would have had the chance to buy the Edsel.


Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”


John Galt opines on the merits of Objectivism to the general public.  He is given much positive affirmation.

Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”

Pages: 1000 – 1069

Pages of John Galt’s Speech: 1009 – 1069

Summary:

James Taggart drags Dagny along with him to an important meeting.  All around the country, placards and radio announcements notify the public that Mr. Thompson will address the global situation on November 22nd.

When Dagny enters the radio station, the various straw men paraded before the reader in previous chapters meet her.

Mr. Thompson is about to give his speech to a worldwide audience when, suddenly, all the radio stations get jammed by a force beyond the understanding of looter idiots.

And then John Galt gives a speech.

It’s really, really, really long.

Here Mr. Smokestoomuch, aka John Galt, goes to a travel agent.

Reflections:


HOVE (adj.)
Descriptive of the expression seen on the face of one person in the presence of another who clearly isn’t going to stop talking for a very long time.

The Deeper Meaning of Liff, by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.

I’ll be honest; the notorious John Galt Speech was one of the reasons for my interest in the book.  Much like The Phantom Menace, I wanted to see what all the hype was about.  And much like the Phantom Menace, Atlas Shrugged suffers from many similarities:

  • Both focus on the issues of taxation.
  • Both have terrible writing, pacing, characterization, and plot development.
  • Both possess a fandoms whose fanaticism is in direct proportion to the work’s suckitude.  A = A.  (The degree of an Objectivist’s fanatical devotion to Atlas Shrugged = How much Atlas Shrugged sucks.  Read the book.  The logic is self-evident.)

First, I want to offer any Objectivist out there to a simple challenge.  Objectivists like challenges, right?  They don’t back down from them like looter cowards?  Then I’ll comment on the proportion of John Galt’s Speech to the rest of the novel.  Finally, I’ll compare Atlas Shrugged to another philosophical novel, Juliette, by the Marquis de Sade.

A Challenge to Objectivists:

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

John Galt’s Speech is really long and explains in excruciating detail the particulars of the Objectivist philosophy.  My challenge: Take it out.

Matt and I have already shown that Rand has made these points repeatedly in the novel.  Why one more time?  The goal of free market economics is efficiency and speed of capital turnover.  The Speech embodies an inefficiency that slows down the pace of the novel to sub-glacial speed.  One can easily read Atlas Shrugged and get the same explanation of the philosophy without John Galt’s Speech.

Unfortunately, removing the Speech from the novel exposes a few things to Objective Reality™:

  • Rand’s rank amateurism as a novelist.
  • Rand’s lack of examples and evidence to support her claims.  All this talk of “savages” and “cannibals” and “mystics of the spirit” and “mystics of muscle.”  In the words of Seinfeld: “Who are these people?”  The overall vagueness of the speech really irritated me.  Surely a philosopher of such genius as Ayn Rand could cite examples and counter-examples backing up her philosophy?  You know who also doesn’t cite examples?  Mystics.  Hell, even the Marquis de Sade gave examples from the real world in his philosophical novels.
  • Rand’s Jupiter-sized inferiority complex.  (For someone with a monstrous ego and a conviction of her own genius, wouldn’t it be better to clearly state the philosophy of Objectivism once?  Animal Farm and Brave New World explained their philosophical perspectives in far fewer pages.)
  • Rand’s mistaking quantity as an aspect of quality.  (See above re: Animal Farm.)  Drowning the reader in bloat and poorly edited fiction just devalues the work as a whole.  Rand even acknowledges the fact: The three-foot tall dollar sign made of pure gold in Galt’s Gulch.  Francisco d’Anconia says it was a joke.  The Speech – in a novel littered with multi-page speeches – can be seen as nothing other than a joke.
  • Rand’s unquestioning fanatical fans who, superficial differences aside, behave no better than the jackbooted thugs associated with Stalinism, Fascism, and all other mass movements.
  • Rand’s desire to convert others to her philosophy: By this far along in the novel, one falls into two camps.  The first are adherents to Objectivism.  Each speech reinforces the philosophy, Objectivist nodding knowingly, as he or she basks in the golden light of their One True Faith.  The second camp are full of doubters, skeptics, and people who like well-written fiction.  Much like Jerry Falwell’s comments after 9/11, Rand’s controversial statements could persuade someone to become a card-carrying member of the Communist Party simply out of spite.  “Yes, Communism is awful.  Yes, the Gulags are reprehensible and inhuman.  Yes, planned economies have numerous flaws.  But seriously, fuck her!”  This response isn’t anomalous.  People react this way in numerous other situations, especially when morally duplicitous and mentally questionable authority figures (spiritual, temporal, or otherwise) say something really stupid and infuriating.  Heck, I’m sure Objectivists have reacted similarly to my assertions and observations.  But one can understand and explain a philosophy without accepting it.  That’s called “critical thought.”  It’s also called “having a brain.”

The Mathematical Proof of Atlas Shrugged’s Galactic Suckitude:

Wednesday: I don’t want to be in the pageant.
Gary: Don’t you want to help me realize my vision?
Wednesday: Your work is puerile and under-dramatized. You lack any sense of structure, character and the Aristotelian unities.
Gary: Young lady, I am getting just a tad tired of your attitude problem.

Addams Family Values (1993, Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay by Paul Rudnick)

One of the foundations of Objectivism involves making assertions based on physical evidence.  A method to attain evidence involves the discipline of mathematics.  Let’s use math to prove how much Atlas Shrugged sucks.  Only tyrants and looter second-raters deny the power of mathematics.  (That and people still embracing the laughable idiocy known as the Laffer Curve.)  2+2=5.  I don’t think so.

Let’s look at the percentage of John Galt’s Speech in relation to the novel.

Percentage of John Galt’s Speech to Chapter VII: 87%

Percentage of John Galt’s Speech to Atlas Shrugged: 5%

(Someone with more heroic literary stamina will have to come up with the percentage of all speeches to Atlas Shrugged as a whole.  I can only recommend ingesting horse tranquilizers and watching installments of the Saw series when commencing with that experiment.)

Every time she has a character recite a multi-page speech, she devalues her literary worth.  Seriously, I understood her philosophy the first time.  No need to beat a dead horse.  Ayn Rand doesn’t act like a philosopher; she acts like a hectoring lunatic.

The upcoming release of Atlas Shrugged, Part I is seen by some as a great triumph.  But John Galt’s Speech was released as a concert film.  Here’s a clip:

Juliette and Atlas Shrugged, or “Wow, these characters sure give horrendously long monologues.”


Atlas Shrugged isn’t the one novel where characters give really, really, really long monologues explicating an allegedly profound philosophy.  By comparison, let’s examine Juliette (1797 – 1801) by Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade.  It’s a doorstopper like Atlas Shrugged, comprising of six parts, and 1193 pages, a few more than Atlas Shrugged’s 1168.

Needless to say, Sade has a much more notorious and maligned reputation than Rand.  Unlike Rand, Sade espouses a coherent philosophy of brutality and power.  Unlike Rand, Sade can write well.  (We’ll get to that later, with some choice tidbits from John Galt’s Speech.)

In Juliette, we meet the eponymous heroine, a greedy atheist hell-bent to accrue pleasure, wealth, and power.  Juliette is a ferocious figure with insatiable appetites untainted by such looter-ish concepts like pain or fear or guilt.  How did she become this way?  By listening to and giving incredibly long philosophical monologues.

The novel begins with our plucky protagonist being raised in the Panthemont convent.  One of her teachers is Madame Delbéne.  Following a series of saucy interactions, Madame Delbéne gives young Juliette a précis of Sadean philosophy lasting seven pages.  Long speeches become de rigueur.  Ironically, for all the similarities between Sadean and Objectivist philosophies, people see Sade as an Antichrist, rarely read and more often demonized.  Rand, by contrast, is held in the highest esteem, even by conservative Christians, who apparently have no qualms about her Richard Dawkins-esque strident atheism.

Not to be outdone, Sade has a philosophical monologue of over 100 pages, dwarfing John Galt’s verbal spasms.  Sade’s writing talent is undisputed, since most criticisms regarding his characterizations and plotting do not apply to 18th century standards of literature.  Expect long philosophical monologues when reading Sade.  He is not Nicholas Sparks nor Jodi Picoult, although all three relish in killing their characters.

But Rand should be held to account by the standards of 20th century writing.  John Galt’s Speech was one long harangue against those opposing modernization.  Yet Rand’s novel reads like a bastard stepchild of a 18th century philosopher and a cheap-ass romance novel … and the results are worse than both.  The bad result stems from Rand’s sub-standard talent using the English language.

Want proof?  I’d like to see an Objectivist apologist explain this elementary malapropism:

“You who lost the concept of a right, you who swing in impotent evasiveness between the claim that rights are a gift from God, a supernatural gift to be taken on faith, or the claim that right’s are a gift of society, to be broken at its arbitrary whim – the source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity.  A is A – and Man is Man.  Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. … Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.”

Or Ayn Rand said: “A culture is made — or destroyed — by its articulate voices.”  The quote above shows how utterly inarticulate Rand is with her philosophy.  Content aside, she builds this excerpt on a false premise.  What’s the false premise?  Not knowing the difference between the multiple meanings of the word right.  There is right used in terms of morality (right vs. wrong).  There is a right in terms of the law (right to bear arms, speedy trial, illegal search and seizure, etc.).  These definitions are not the same.  Did Rand mistakenly attribute these two different meanings as contradictions?  (Can’t have any of those in Objectivist craniums, now can we?)

Lay off the speed, Ayn, check your sources and do your research!

In the words of Dark Helmet, “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

I’m sorry, but if you can’t understand the basics of American English, it’s hard to take this much-hyped philosophy seriously anymore.  Rand not knowing the operations of her adopted tongue smacks of looter second rater laziness.  Then again, laziness in writing has been a constant refrain of these posts.

“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Listen chaps, here’s a chance for us all to learn something.  Carry on, John:


  • “A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time.”  John Galt has never touched dry ice.
  • “Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.”  Whither Russell’s Paradox?  “Suppose that every public library has to compile a catalog of all its books. The catalog is itself one of the library’s books, but while some librarians include it in the catalog for completeness, others leave it out, as being self-evident.”  In a logical and non-contradictory way, where would John Galt put the catalog of all the library’s books?
  • “The symbol of all relationships among such men, the moral symbol for human beings, is the trader.”

  • “The name of his monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.”  John Galt, Mormon.  “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions.” (“The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” by Joseph Smith)

  • “The word that has destroyed you is ‘sacrifice.’

  • “If you surrender your power to perceive, if you accept the switch of your standard from the objective to the collective and wait for mankind to tell you what to think …”  Foul!  Objective is not the opposite of collective.  Objective/Subjective; Collective/Individual.  Yet another false premise of Objectivism by Ayn Rand, sub-par writer who doesn’t understand how English works.
  • “When men render their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels – and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.”  Sounds like a succinct description of what happens whenever Democrats and Republicans sit down together “in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
  • “Stop supporting your own destroyers.” That would make a nice sign for Madison marchers and Jasmine Revolutionaries.
  • “We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter, a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets, and inviolate homes.”  Those who deserve to enter? Is this a new society or a Streisand concert?  All this talk of exclusivity makes Objectivism fit the criteria of crazy cult.  Only Mormons can enter the Salt Lake City temple, only Christians go to Heaven, only devout Muslim men get 72 virgins, etc.

Atlas Shrugged: The Trailer, or a Prolegomena on Heavy-handed Political Satire in Film

February 13, 2011 1 comment

Well … that was underwhelming.  But I’m hardly one to judge a film based on a trailer.  It does remind me of Avatar, especially the dourly over-serious tone and the weapons grade self-righteousness.  The inevitable release of Atlas Shrugged, Part I, after decades in development hell, reveals an old truism about Hollywood.  It is show business.  And business is all about capitalizing on trends.

Let’s take a step back from this and examine the phenomenon more closely.  With the release of the trailer, there will be the motley crew of jellyfish-like leftists waving their hands in the air, gnashing their teeth, and yammering on about such-and-such apocalypse.  The pro-business Right will gloat, drink their martinis, and wallow in the glow of their success.  Finally, finally, finally, after decades of oppression from the Communist Velvet Mafia that secretly controls Hollywood, they released a film based on the book by Ayn Rand – Peace Be Upon Her – that shows the virtue of making money and being selfish.  (The previous sentences had a light dash of sarcasm.  Although given the hyperventilating, anti-intellectual, psychotic-off-his-meds tone of the national political discourse, how can ya tell?)

The focus of this essay will be the phenomenon of the heavy-handed political satire film.  And Ayn Rand can be particularly heavy-handed when it comes to getting her point across.  I’m surprised copies of Atlas Shrugged don’t come with a trowel.

After reading nearly 1000 pages of Atlas Shrugged, one can only hope that the screenwriter has trimmed a little bit from this bloated text.  And perhaps added a joke or two.  Just because one is making a political point doesn’t mean one has to be dour and serious.  The American film going public has a short attention span.

Upon reading Atlas Shrugged, I came to the realization that it resembled Avatar.  The only difference is the politics and that is superficial at best.  Rand’s book is about a miracle metal, Cameron’s film is about Unobtainium.  The tone is what is most bothersome about Avatar.  The CGI and creature design created an amazing array of visuals and a gorgeous alien world, the narrative sucked!  The alien became less alien when the Navi became the Blue Indian Stand-ins riding atop Blue Horse Stand-ins.  The facetious put-down calling the movie Dances with Wolves IN SPACE was true.  The narrative copied Dances with Wolves down to its condescending, retrograde, and racist White Man Set Them Free theme.  The additional stereotyping of the two major human sub-groups into flat caricatures made it even worse.  Every military-type figure was a dumb jarhead and every scientist-type figure was a pansy-ass bookish nerd.

Avatar remains an example of how not to do heavy-handed political satire.

By all accounts, the film They Live shouldn’t work.  Written and directed by cinema master John Carpenter, They Live focuses on an apolitical construction worker who discovers a magical pair of sunglasses.  When he put them on, he sees a zombified world controlled by ghoulish aliens.  The ghoulish aliens espouse beliefs almost exactly the same as Reagan Republicans.  The film’s musical score is simple, the plot equally so.  It stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Keith David.  Carpenter lays on his criticisms of Reagan’s economic and social policies with a trowel.  Anyone with half a brain would be able to pick up on the satirical element.  Yet the movie is Pure Awesome?

Why is that?

John Carpenter, like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Maya Deren, owns a seat in the Cinema Pantheon.  He created the slasher genre with Halloween.  He directed the action-comedy-martial arts cult classic Big Trouble in Little China.  Throughout his career, he worked with Kurt Russell, a vocal libertarian.  Kurt Russell is made of pure Awesome.

The magic of They Live occurs because of its light touch.  The political criticisms remain trenchant and serious, but the overarching story has huge dollops of the ridiculous.  The sunglasses?  Casting a WWF wrestler?  The really, really, really long fight scene?  The obviousness?  The ridiculous aspects become resolved with its bent humor.  The film wouldn’t work by casting Robert Redford as the lead.  This is hardly Dog Day Afternoon or Godard’s Weekend.

But seriousness isn’t a roadblock to an effective film with heavy-handed political satire.

Mislabeled as a thriller, Land of the Blind (Robert Edwards, 2006) lays the satire on thick.  In the film, Emperor Maximilian II runs a banana republic-type country.  Tom Hollander portrays Maximilian as a garish cartoon dictator, equal parts savagery and incompetence.  (Hollander also played a cold-blooded technocrat in a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.)  Maximilian’s world involves wealthy elites who don’t speak the native language, police setting monks on fire, blackface routines, and the Emperor helming atrocious action movies.  The Emperor also keeps charismatic political dissident John Thorne in prison.

Thorne used to work as a writer.  Then through the incompetence of Emperor Maximilian II and populist anger, Thorne is released.  Here is the pivotal point where Land of the Blind stands out among political satires.  The de rigueur critique of rightwing regimes has a long tradition in Hollywood.  The only thing easier than satirizing a Southern preacher figure is to satirize a rightwing dictator.  That’s easy money.  In the film, once Thorne gets power, things actually get worse.  Thorne, played by a bearded arrogant Donald Sutherland, turns the unnamed country into a theocratic hellhole, akin to post-Revolution Iran.  Land of the Blind succeeds in showing the awfulness of rightwing and leftwing regimes.  Hardly an endorsement for the mealy-mouthed centrism so beloved to voters in the United States, the film shows that regardless of where one goes on the political spectrum, the extremes will only bring poverty, atrocity, and despair.  (Something the mass of American devotees of the “lesser of two evils” method of voting should consider the next time they enter a voting booth and do their obligatory duty to further this republic into a neck-deep swill of corruption and incompetence.)

“Why’s he calling me meat? I’m the one driving a Porsche.”

The heavy-handed political satire can be done well on film.  It takes a light touch and a humanistic vision of society.  Like Crash Davis said, “Strike-outs are boring … and fascist.”  Atlas Shrugged has a lot of strike-outs in it.  I don’t agree with its philosophy, but sweet Christ! does it have to be so boring?  That’s the cardinal rule in Hollywood.  A movie flops not so much from any political consideration, but because it bored the audience.

Atlas Shrugged, Part I, good luck!  But if you bore your audience, it’s your own damn fault.  A book based on the philosophy of making money should at least have the good sense in actually making some money.

By the way, where’s Angelina Jolie?  Can’t Objectivism buy A-Listers or are Coen Brothers character actors (John Polito for the win!) the best that can be done?