In my endless, tireless…well, in my endless campaign to push Atlas Slugged AGAIN, the definitive parody of Atlas Shrugged now available for a limited time (until the heat death of the universe) here, I think I’ve hit upon a neat-o analogy linking two of America’s most notorious public figures from the 1950s.
Commenting on a blogger’s post on the Huffington Post, I wrote, “In Ayn Rand, capitalism got the pornographer it had been waiting for.” Not bad, eh? But that’s not even the best part. The best part came when I suggested deep similarities between Rand and Hugh Hefner. Both created a fantasy version of American society, which they then presented to the world nicely gift-wrapped in “a” “philosophy.” Yes, Objectivism is Rand’s “Playboy Philosophy.”
I also noted that at least Hefner practiced what he preached. Rand–that supposed champion of individualism, personal genius, and freedom from the limiting constraints of the mob–not only ruled her cult-like “Collective” with the kind of authoritarian diktats she had supposedly foresworn when she fled the Soviet Union, but also found a way to accept Medicare and Social Security from exactly the sort of quasi-”socialist” government programs she spent a career deriding.
What they have in common is the service they provide to the fantasists who derive pleasure from self-arousal via idealized images–and which of us, when we were 14-year-old teenage boys, wasn’t one? And if you either are or were a 14-year-old teenage girl, perform the mutatis mutandis by noting that Atlas Shrugged is, among other things, the world’s longest romance novel, featuring no fewer than three (3) hunks of perfection vying for the favors of the beautiful, brilliant, etc., etc. protagonist and climaxing, like any mass market bodice ripper, in long-and-teasingly-delayed intercourse and, naturally, true love.
From Hefner we got the idealized image of the single, hetero man: successful seducer, hip to hi-fi and jazz and “modern art,” stylishly dressed and more than eager to read interviews with Vladimir Nabokov and Mort Sahl and–dig it–Jean-Paul Sartre. From Rand, we get the idealized image of the individual in capitalist society: untrammeled by obligations to others, self-aware and unyieldingly true to his “code,” certain (with the certainty that comes from absolute certitude) of his genius and his vision, proudly willing to risk all that he might reap the rewards of his “achievement,” and asking only to be free of enslavement to leeches, moochers, parasites, and all the other members of the human race.
Both images are enticing. Both speak to the needs we have, growing up in a society that grooms us to be, before anything else, sellers (of labor, “skills,” etc.) and buyers (in service to our “lifestyle”). What Kind of Man Read Playboy (And, in The Fifties and Early Sixties, Bought the Whole Schmeer)? The same kind who stares defiantly into his iPhone video lens and intones, “I am John Galt”–a man (or woman) aspiring to an identity, a sense of self, in which strength, fearlessness, and unique ability will be sufficient to defeat their opposites, i.e., the powerlessness, anxiety, and nobody/loser anonymity that comprise capitalism’s version of Original Sin.
“Make something of yourself” is the Prime Directive of the Industrial Revolution, and its implicit message (“…because until you do, you are by definition nothing”) is only partially mitigated by the contemporary command to go for, and don’t give up on, “your dream.” What found a popular embodiment in the heroes of Horatio Alger reached its apotheosis in John Galt, Rand’s super-hero, the comic book reductio ad absurdum of self-made American manhood.
“We won the War. We saved Civilization. We’re entitled to some fun. (And don’t worry–nice girls like sex, too.)” was the implicit theme of Playboy, itself embodied in “Hef,” with his ten thousand Pepsi’s a day and the pajamas, the pipe, the clean and cherubic bunnies, and the Mansion.
In either case, what’s not to want? And, as long as you’re an adolescent either chronologically or emotionally, what’s to make you think it’s only a fantasy?