Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are you hot or not?

I can't really say that I'm a big fan of the Competent Man in fiction. My belief is that stories are more interesting when based around people who can barely keep up, although I'll grant some exceptions. So that's probably why I've never really gotten into Robert Heinlein. Still, he was an interesting man and this essay on his continuing influence is extremely intriguing.

The opening paragraph sets up the key idea, as it classically should.

If the zeitgeist has a face, it supposedly belongs to Ayn Rand and her capitalist philosophy of Objectivism. Talk radio hosts adore the author’s demands for limited government; Congressman Paul Ryan insists that his staffers read her overstuffed opus Atlas Shrugged; picket signs at Tea Party rallies suggest that we all “READ AYN RAND.” And yet, some pieces are missing. Ayn Rand was anti-war, but spending for hundreds of military bases and two-and-a-half wars remains sacrosanct even as Congress made the debt ceiling a major issue. She found homosexuality “immoral” and “disgusting,” and yet gay marriage has regained the initiative in the public square. And Randian heroes are explicitly — nay, objectively — elitist. They are genius millionaire square-jawed heroes who walked right off the screen at the movie matinee. The average Tea Party rallier, not so much.

As you may or may not know, the first of a projected Atlas Shrugged film trilogy was released earlier this year. And as you may suspect, it tanked, perhaps endangering the next two films.

In what would seem like it's historical moment, why would this be? Well, from the IMDB page you might gather that the leads are rather bland compared to the collectivist trolls trying to bring them down. (In an intersection of ironies, both Michael Lerner and Jon Polito reperesented the dark and corrupt side of Hollywood in Barton Fink.) But movies don't have to be good to be hits. It may be that, per Mamatas, the people who were politically in sync with the film couldn't see themselves in the high cheekbones of the heroes. The rage of Caliban and all that.


susan said...

Heinlein is one science fiction writer I've never re-read since my early forays into the genre. His views about people and their various cultures was far too narrow to hold my interest for very long. At one point I did read Atlas Shrugged, probably because I thought I should attempt to understand libertarianism. It was far too ridiculously utopian to be worth considering as intelligent philosophy so I made a mental note to dismiss it and anyone who tried to incorporate the system into their personal guidance system.

The article was very interesting and I laughed at his reference to the funny looking nerds. I've been on their side for a long time. We might not know where we're going but there are those on similar enough paths that we can provide mutual entertainment along the way.

Ben said...

The kind of libertarianism I like would mean everybody gets to do what they want, and if there are conflicts we work it out. The kind of libertarianism that actually has political force means that some people are able to do what they want, and everyone else has no choice but to go along. Liberty for me but not thee.