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Why is John Galt?

The rational self-interest in turning the conservative movement into a cash cow
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Last week, from the stage of the main theater in the Ronald Reagan building, “Atlas Shrugged Part II” producer John Aglialoro took aim at the chattering critics who panned his first movie and will likely pan his second. Here’s what he said:

I don’t expect a lot of positive endorsements from the academic-media complex or from the MSNBC crowd who are now the handmaidens of the governing political class and who immaturely dismiss Ayn Rand out of hand, with no serious academic or media intellectual analysis or investigation. …

The movie critics en masse, 42 out of 42 immaturely bullied Atlas Shrugged mercilessly, not because of the cast, the producers, technically or artistically, but because of the philosophic message of individualism. The critics prostituted their profession for politics.

Aglialoro seems to believe that the critics would have gushed over the film if he had produced a collectivist version of Atlas Shrugged. He is, apparently, unwilling to entertain the notion that his movie just sucks. But one of the uncomfortable truths hanging above the production is that the free market will never produce an adaptation of the book with the production values to which the American moviegoer is accustomed.

Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review aggregator, tweeted Tuesday that they hadn’t collected any reviews  yet, which is highly unusual two days before the theatrical release. Today Fox’s ‘Pop Tarts’ columnist Hollie McKay reports on the reason for the radio silence—the producers kept them in the dark:

“The integrity of the critics are going off a cliff,” producer John Aglialaro told FOX411 Pop tarts column. “Why should I give them the sword and they are just going to use to decapitate me with?”

She goes on to include quotes from Newsbusters, and a very irresponsible one from some conservative blogger claiming the film could “dampen the president’s chances of re-election.” The Media Research Center repeated Aglialoro’s outrage that reviewers objected to Ayn Rand’s ideas rather than the movie itself:

“There is almost no media interest in the movie, and that is no surprise given how the first part was treated. Hollywood wants it to go away – quickly,” said Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture for Media Research Center. “The movie is already a success just by making it to the theater. Whenever the media get around to acknowledging this film exists, they are sure to attack it.”

Let’s take this claim on headfirst: it doesn’t matter if the critics are separating the unremarkable, mostly green-screened movie from the ideas of the unpleasant émigré novelist. They are inseparable, especially given the rigor with which the creators assure us they brought to the adaptation. Besides, Aglialoro and others have said themselves that the whole point of making the movie was to get Ayn Rand’s ideas out there.

Moreover, and perhaps this is a cheeky thing to bring up, but making such a distinction is very un-Randian. To Rand, appreciation of artistic works is a rational process related to the ideas conveyed therein. The Ayn Rand cult, during its early days, took this godless Thomism to extremes, blacklisting certain books and proscribing Rand-disapproved music. An Objectivist is supposed to approve or disapprove of things precisely because of the ideas conveyed.

The problem is that they’re bad ideas, and bad ideas wrapped up in a cult of personality. Rand wrongly castigated libertarians for plagiarizing her ideas, but it was really the other way around. She turned a political philosophy into a easily-sold comprehensive philosophy based on simplified moral precepts. It’s a common technique among hucksters, to bundle unoriginal or unappealing thinking beneath a complete, marketable View of the World. In that she has more in common with L. Ron Hubbard or Edgar Cayce than Aristotle.

But all of this would be relegated to the universe of eccentrics and eccentrics funding eccentrics were it not for the fact that the primary marketing vehicle for the film is the conservative movement. Groups like Americans for Prosperity are holding screenings, and Sean Hannity and other Fox contributors have been tweeting their excitement about cameo appearances. Atlas Society founder David Kelley, who provided advice on the script, has made himself available for interviews.

So are the movie’s creators and institutional boosters simply mounting a good-faith defense of capitalism via the conservative movement? Or are they exploiting a politically active, underserved, media-aggrieved demographic to elevate their own profiles and make a buck? Objectively speaking, which would Rand prefer?

Jordan Bloom is the Associate Editor of TAC. Follow him on Twitter.



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