Greg Proops explains the story of Thanksgiving:
One of the hallmarks of this most hallowed day is eating … eating lots of stuff, then collapsing in a tryptophan coma to watch football. Patton Oswalt talks about Black Angus Steakhouse in an ode to eating. Enjoy!
Granted, I think football is a technocratic game, alternately tedious and ultraviolent. But that’s just me. I can enjoy Thanksgiving but not football, because America is all about differences of opinion. We’re not North Korea … right?
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.)
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 1984. 1984 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.
One chapter left and we’re done with this overwrought literary abortion. Huzzah!
- “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.”
“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]
“And you’ll obey any order I give?”
“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.
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.”
Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist
I Blow Minds.
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?
“‘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.
Part III: Chapter VII: “This is John Galt Speaking”
Pages: 1000 – 1069
Pages of John Galt’s Speech: 1009 – 1069
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.
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.
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.)
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?
Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance
Summary: Strange doings are afoot at the Rearden Steel plant. The workers are demanding a raise, there’s a phantom tax lien placed on Hank’s assets, the parasitic Rearden family are clamoring for money, and a high conclave of Looters, including Wesley Mouch have summoned Hank for a meeting in New York. What’s it all about, Alfie? Turns out, the government ghouls are trying to leverage Hank into signing off on a Steel Unification Plan modeled on the disastrous Rail Unification Plan. All caps on steel production will be lifted, and all steel profits will be pooled between producers. Rearden, being all smart and stuff, instantly realizes that the whole thing is a scam meant to enrich Orren Boyle’s goldbricking ass at the expense of the uber-efficient Rearden mill, and that the end result will the be the bankruptcy of Rearden Steel. Hank tells the assembled slapdicks to get bent and drives back to the mill…where a pack of “workers” (actually government thugs under the direction of Cuffy Meigs) has set fire to the plant. Rearden’s REAL employees, who of course worship their brilliant boss, have rallied to the plant’s defense, shooting it out with the looters. Outside the mill, Hank finds the bullet-riddled body of the young government stooge who had slowly been coming around to the Hank/Dagny/Galt way of thinking. In a hilariously protracted death rattle of exposition, the young man, who Hank called “Non-Absolute” in a rare fit of terrible humor, explains that the government stooges had come to him with their plan to foment violence at the Rearden plant as a pretext for a looter takeover of the factory. Hank tries to carry the kid to safety, but he dies in Hank’s arms, even after Hank told him specifically not to. What a dick.
Not even vampire Pee Wee milked his death this much.
So Hank jumps into the fray, is waylaid by a pair of thugs but saved at the last moment by “Frank Adams,” a new employee at the plant and a crack pistol shot. Sure enough, “Frank Adams” turns out to be Francisco d’Aconia undercover. They share a meaningful look, and set the stage for Francisco to finally tell Hank the truth about Galt’s Gulch.
Reflections: After poor, young Non-Absolute dies in his arms, Hank lets rip with a blistering internal condemnation of the brainwashing of students in America’s public educational institutions. According to Hank, Non-Absolute wasn’t killed by some government thug, he was killed by the mental poison fed to him over years of so-called education, which left him unable to fend for himself in the cutthroat world of adulthood. This segment is typically tedious Rand, but it goes a long way towards explaining this book’s continued popularity among teenage boys. For instance, behold this bravura paragraph:
“From the first catch-phrases flung at a child to the last, it is like a series of shocks to freeze his motor, to undercut the power of his consciousness. ‘Don’t ask so many questions, children should be seen and not heard!’–‘Who are you to think? It’s so, because I say so!’–‘Don’t argue, obey!’ –‘Don’t try to understand, believe!’–‘Don’t rebel, adjust!’–‘Don’t stand out, belong!’ –‘Don’t struggle, compromise!’–‘Your heart is more important than your mind!’–‘Who are you to know? Your parents know best!’–‘Who are you to know? Society knows best!’–‘Who are you to know? The bureaucrats know best!’–‘Who are you to object? All values are relative!’–‘Who are you to want to escape a thug’s bullet? That’s only a personal prejudice!'”
“You’re not the boss of me!” –Ayn Rand/every fifteen year old in America
Doesn’t this sound exactly like the inner monologue of every half-bright, hormone-addled teenager to ever sulk their way through the halls of a junior high school? Hyperbolic, resentful, deeply put-upon, devoid of perspective…I certainly recognize the thought process from my own stifled and falsely-grandiose pubescence.
Rand speaks to the particular worldview of adolescence not only with her hot-house prose, but in the general thrust of her philosophy. Your average white American is most likely never going to feel more repressed and controlled than during the time of their secondary education. The mechanisms of social control are never more visible than when you spend every moment of your day under the thumb of parents and teachers. Also, your lack of personal freedom is coupled with a complete absence of personal responsibility. It’s the perfect environment to generate fantasies of unjust restraint and limitless genius, and Rand channels that sensation masterfully. Hopefully, most of the tragically oppressed mega-geniuses who spend their teen years railing against the hegemony of mediocrity mellow out a bit when the dead hand of educational/parental authorities lifts and they finally come to realize the limits of their thought-to-be limitless intellects.
“He remembered her hammering derision of his work, his mills, his Metal, his success, he remembered her desire to see him drunk, just once, her attempts to push him into infidelity, her pleasure at the thought that he had fallen to the level of some sordid romance, her terror on discovering that that romance had been an attainment, not a degradation. Her line of attack, which he had found so baffling, had been constant and clear–it was his self-esteem she had sought to destroy, knowing that a man who surrenders his value is at the mercy of anyone’s will; it was his moral purity she had struggled to breach, it was his confident rectitude she had wanted to shatter by means of the poison of guilt–as if, were he to collapse, his depravity would give her a right to hers.” Women! Amirite?
“‘Have you anything left to loot? If you didn’t see the nature of your policy before–it’s not possible that you don’t see it now. Look around you. All those damned People’s States all over the earth have been existing only on the handouts which you squeezed for them out of this country. But you–you have no place left to sponge on or mooch from. No country on the face of the globe. This was the greatest and last. You’ve drained it. You’ve milked it dry. Of all the irretrievable splendor, I’m only one remnant, the last. What will you do, you and your People’s Globe, after you’ve finished me? What are you hoping for? What do you see ahead–except plain, stark, animal starvation?'” –Hank Rearden
“I’d like to live, Mr. Rearden. God, how I’d like to!…Not because I’m dying…but because I’ve just discovered it tonight, what it means, really to be alive…And…it’s funny…do you know when I discovered it?…In the office…when I stuck my neck out…when I told the bastards to go to hell…There’s…there’s so many things I wish I’d known sooner…But…well, it’s no use crying over spilled milk…Over spilled anything, Mr. Rearden.'” –Non-Absolute
“On the roof of a structure above the gate, he saw, as he came closer, the slim silhouette of a man who held a gun in each hand and, from behind the protection of a chimney, kept firing at intervals down into the mob, firing swiftly and, it seemed, in two directions at once, like a sentinel protecting the approaches to the gate. The confident skill of his movements, his manner of firing, with no time wasted to take aim, but with the kind of casual abruptness that never misses a target, made him look like a hero of Western legend–and Rearden watched him detached, impersonal pleasure, as if the battle of the mills were not his any longer, but he could still enjoy the sight of the competence and certainty with which men of that distant age had once combatted evil.” NEVER MISSES A TARGET! Of course not!