Friday, April 28, 2006

Brad Pitt and Ayn Rand Make Strange Bedfellows

A recent article from Variety suggests that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt might team up to finally get “Atlas Shrugged” on film. I wonder if Ayn Rand would shrug or roll over in her grave at these casting choices. It strikes me that “Atlas Shrugged” may have become too popular for its own good, loved by people who probably have never read it (Mark Twain’s description of a great book) and name-dropped to imply a certain enlightened sophistication and post-modern sensibility. When definitive moochers and non-producers like Jolie and Pitt can claim to be Randian objectivists, I wonder if her points are fading and her ideas becoming less clear over time.

I know, I know, in a capitalistic system, heartthrobs like Jolie and Pitt are merely getting paid what the market will bear for their services. Maybe they’re not Captains of Industry and maybe they don’t have the next great invention that will change the way we use the world’s natural resources. But they’re good-looking, very talented and if the market says they’re worth $20 million/picture, then they’re worth it. It doesn’t make them any less of a producer than the Carnegies and Fords of the world.

Except, of course, it does. Jolie was born into the business (her father is Jon Voigt) and we all know if not for his boyish good looks, Pitt would have never made it as far as he did. He is talented, and I don’t doubt very intelligent. (At least he’s playing John Galt, who I never really liked. Please, Mr. Director, get Russell Crowe for Hank Reardon.) But these aren’t the sort of people that come to mind when I think of the word, “producer.” To me, they are the essence of the word “moocher.” They don’t create anything, they don’t offer the world great solutions to modern problems. If either one of them was a true libertarian, I might sympathize. But while I can’t speak for Jolie’s politics, I remember Pitt giving speeches on behalf of John Kerry (D-Mass) at the University of Missouri in 2004. Yeah, like college students need pep talks to be more liberal.

Regardless, that they are so interested in objectivism and “Atlas Shrugged” just strikes me as superficial. Why can’t celebrities just do what they’re best at? Act in average movies, be eye candy, and let us fantasize from time to time how great it must be to be them. That’s it. That’s all we need from them. You don’t have to pretend to be some intellectual or to be well read. You don’t have to look down from above as though you single-handedly have the answers to all the world’s problems. I applaud you for your adoptions and efforts to help those less fortunate, but name-dropping Ayn Rand when you petition for John Kerry is like name-dropping Pope Benedict XVI at a Dan Brown book signing.

My own feelings on Ayn Rand are mixed. I love that she was able to portray so clearly the distinction between producers and moochers, and define what makes capitalism a moral economic system. I love her epic backdrops, her enormous settings that make “Atlas Shrugged” explode off the page, and give it a feeling of immense importance. I love that she has the ability to pinpoint very subtle behaviors and sayings that moochers have and use, that she is able to write a novel that makes a philosophical argument convincingly and unashamedly.

Of course, from my religious point of view, I find it lacking, a critique Rand couldn’t have cared less about. Her idea of the superman is grossly immoral and a breaking of the first and only commandment, to love God above all things, including ourselves. I find it irritating that she lumps all religious leaders into the category of mystics, and doesn’t recognize the contributions religion has made to free societies, only their detriments (which I agree are numerous). Her take on capitalism, though dead-on in the world of economics, is not sufficient to build a philosophy around. Any philosophy that points back to the human person is the equivalent of a dog chasing after its own tail.

But even though I have my issues with Rand, “Atlas Shrugged” (and I realize I’m name-dropping!) was a formative book for my understandings of capitalism, and hence conservatism. In its own way, it helped me to appreciate the Fall, to define greed, and to immediately recognize the language of hateful, bitter and resentful people. And like everyone who reads the book, I feel like I have a little stake in its future. So Brad and Angelina, please, stick to your silly “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” picture shows and leave the real art to real artists.


Anonymous said...

youre a fool,you have the gall to call there ethics into question when you think religion is a positive influence on the world!?please

Unknown said...

Sorry, you are showing your ignorance. Pitt is highly intelligent and insightful, a serious student of architecture, and has good producer credits (eg. The Departed and The Assassination of Jesse James..) He is highly qualified for an Ayn Rand project. Jolie is no slouch either.