So, as you can see I couldn’t be buggered to try doing more Edge of Apocalypse stuff. In compensation I’d like to take a step back and do a comparison to another well-known work epitomizing the glorification of selfishness: Atlas Shrugged: Part I. Amusingly, at least one movie review has already panned it as being an over-the-top paean to the worst of humanity’s base instincts.
Not wanting to step on the toes of My Fellow Sporker Of Bad Crap, namely the one trying to go through Ayn Rand’s massive freakin’ tome (based on the nominal page count it weighs in at 1088 pages!) and deconstruct its implausible portrayals of human beings here — I want to just flip through the movie, and highlight scenes where I want to bring out similarities between the portrayals of the USA in the movie and that of Edge of Apocalypse. I’d also like to try and note the ways in which the movie holds up as virtues the same kinds of traits as the LaHaye and Parshall book does – in particular, how Josh Jordan’s behavior can be seen as essentially selfish and how that selfishness is nonetheless held up as a Christian virtue, just as Ayn Rand is known for holding up selfishness as a basic ethical system worth following.
The movie opens up on “September 2, 2016”, akin to the not-too-distant future of Edge of Apocalypse:
As the book was written in the 1950s Ayn Rand focussed on trains as the major transport infrastructure and this motif continues in the movie. The similarity here is just as the book Edge of Apocalypse opens amid a (rather faintly sketched) portrayal of ongoing economic and political crisis for the USA (high inflation and unemployment, devaluation of the US dollar, a recent attempted nuclear attack, and so on), the movie greets us with scenes we’d easily recognize amid the ongoing economic problems the USA has experienced since the start of the housing crash in 2007.
A man says, “If it’s this bad for rich people, how bad do you think it is for people like me?”
Then people march, holding up signs *I* certainly find no quarrel with.
An interesting note: The opening scenes have very washed-out, flat colors and are filmed in a way that’s reminiscent of rounded-off 1970s color photographs.
Then we see an oil and gas shortage, just as Edge of Apocalypse features fuel rationing in the USA. Incidentally, this is where I’d like to note a motif of selfishness: Josh Jordan thinks nothing of using a private helicopter or private airplane, both of which consume large quantities of fuel, at the drop of a hat and doesn’t even worry about how he’s going to get ration coupons, or how he’s going to pay for the cost of the fuel.
Must be nice to blow it all out the exhaust any old time he wants unlike 18-wheel truck owners who’re rioting because the government won’t let them get enough diesel to keep their trucks going.
The movie notes a badly crumbling infrastructure and that rail travel is becoming a major player again. This ties the 2010s-era movie back to the 1950s-era book, and sets the stage for Dagny Taggart to do her thing.
Incidentally, the movie also notes the US government imposing wage and price controls, just as in Edge of Apocalypse. It’s really weird how similar the premise-setting is, though not surprising given that the political and economic background is a reflection of current anxieties about the state of affairs in the world.
Now, meet James Taggart, who’s telling us “We must act to benefit society as a whole”, on a TV show news hour.
(He’s cute. 😛 )
The movie goes on to have the talking heads basically hashing out the SSDD from the book – train derailments, Jimmy Taggart’s screwing up his dad’s train company, etc. Oh, FYI, in this movie gas prices are $37.50 a gallon.
Now, we cut to a cafe where a businessman, Midas Mulligan, is accosted by a faceless fedora-wearing dude who talks about “working for yourself and not letting others mooch off you”; this is interestingly reminiscent of the way Josh Jordan’s Roundtable consists of people who’ve been clandestinely enlisted to begin creating the means to justify his prima-donna misbehavior in front of a Congressional committee, and also to oppose the “socialist second-rate USA” that he doesn’t like at all.
The idea of an actual steel works in the USA being the first to turn out a new, experimental metal for railway lines is a little surrealistic, if you ask me, but it’s kind of cool, too.
Whereas Jimmy Taggart is the ineffectual CEO who has a good heart and is talked down to by Dagny (reminiscent of the way Abigail Jordan talks at Cal), we shift to Hank Rearden, who’s the no-nonsense CEO who smirks with his secretary as he arrogantly ignores the steelworkers’ union’s message for him. I can imagine Josh smirking with his secretary as he blows off the Pentagon again to go play with his new R&D toys, knowing his ass is covered because he’s buddies with Rocky Bridger.
The movie goes on in this vein of taking digs at altruism and helping others, making the selfish people heroes and the altruistic people look like bumbling divs. There is an imperfect analogy to Edge of Apocalypse, where the Democratic leaders in the US government are variously portrayed as self-centered, vainglorious, and in general nasty politicians out for themselves; LaHaye and Parshall have to pay at least lip service to Christian concepts of service to God rather than service to oneself, and also to Republican mythology that they, unlike Democrats, want what’s best for Americans and for the USA and not just for what lines their own pockets or political ambition.
That said, when a RTC is selfish or acts selfishly (Josh qualifies, since there’s no doubt by any means that the book series will have him converting to be one) it’s excused on the basis that he or she does so for Godly reasons. Similarly, Ayn Rand excuses selfish behavior on the grounds that any other rationale for acting is fundamentally a weakness rather than a strength.
The movie has a scene between one of Hank Rearden’s sidekicks, Jim Taggart and a couple of Washington lobbyists, who disguise their plan to keep Rearden Steel from dominating the industry and cloak the entire thing in quasi-leftist bromides and aphorisms. It’s funny how a movie like this portrays perfectly reasonable things in a distorted lens and uses it to further an ideological objective, much as Edge of Apocalypse portrays a bizarro world of its own (and I have expounded upon this at length in past blog entries) designed to alter perceptions of otherwise reasonable things to be sinister or malevolent instead.
EDIT: I also note that much of the “conflict” in the Atlas Shrugged movie is artificially created. The people opposing Taggart and Rearden provide only the flimisest of rationalizations that barely stand up by themselves and wouldn’t make any sense in a non-bizarro world. The idea of only one scientific institute anywhere in the world making flat-out false pronouncements about Rearden metal is completely unbelievable. Scientists in Canada or Europe would be able to prove its worthiness. Even scientists in the USA would be able to, if they took samples from the Rearden steel works.
The highly artificial nature of the conflict used to justify the actions of the “good guys” is again reminiscent of how Josh Jordan’s behavior is justified by a highly artificial conflict, created by people who have completely mischaracterized the basic nature of how military R&D funding works and have purposely ascribed motives to politicians in such a manner as to further the artificial conflict.
Bottom line: Atlas Shrugged (the movie) is full of people who, on screen, puff themselves up as the saviors of the world even as they calmly insist that they don’t give a damn about anyone else. The similarities between Joshua Jordan and the likes of John Galt and Dagny Taggart have to do with embracing a way of thinking that leads inevitably to seflishness: thinking only of oneself and having an exaggerated sense of one’s importance to the world at large, and letting the devil take the hindmost.