Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nerd revenge porn . . .

WHATEVER is an acerbic blog by S-F writer (he's a creative consultant for Stargate: Universe) John Scalzi. He has a delightful piece, "What I Think About Atlas Shrugged", which is worthy of perusal.

I enjoy Atlas Shrugged quite a bit, and will re-read it every couple of years when I feel in the mood. It has a propulsively potboilery pace so long as Ayn Rand’s not having one of her characters gout forth screeds in a sock-puppety fashion. Even when she does, after the first reading of the book, you can go, “oh, yeah, screed,” and then just sort of skim forward and get to the parts with the train rides and motor boats and the rough sex and the collapse of civilization as Ayn Rand imagines it, which is all good clean fun. Her characters are cardboard but they’re consistent — the good guys are really good in the way Rand defines “good,” and everyone else save Eddie Willers and the picturesquely doomed Cherryl Brooks are obnoxious shitheels, so you don’t really have to worry about ambiguity getting in the way of your zooming through the pages.

• • •

A good way for me to describe how I relate to Atlas Shrugged is to note that one time when I was in college in Chicago, the only way for me to get back home to California for the Christmas holidays was to take a Greyhound bus. This meant a 53-hour-long bus ride in the company of felons (no joke; the bus stopped at Joliet and some rather skeevy-looking parolees from the prison got on. One of them decided to sit by me and I was treated to delightful stories of prison rape all the way through Iowa). The way I handled the trip was to take Atlas Shrugged along for the ride, and when I was bored, to crack open the book and start reading. The book would put me in a fugue state and when I looked up again from the pages, an entire state would have gone by. It’s no exaggeration when I say that Atlas Shrugged probably saved my sanity on that bus trip. So well done, Ms. Rand, and thanks.

That said, it’s a totally ridiculous book which can be summed up as Sociopathic idealized nerds collapse society because they don’t get enough hugs. Indeed, the enduring popularity of Atlas Shrugged lies in the fact that it is nerd revenge porn — if you’re an nerd of an engineering-ish stripe who remembers all too well being slammed into your locker by a bunch of football dickheads, then the idea that people like you could make all those dickheads suffer by “going Galt” has a direct line to the pleasure centers of your brain. 

• • •

All of this is fine, if one recognizes that the idealized world Ayn Rand has created to facilitate her wishful theorizing has no more logical connection to our real one than a world in which an author has imagined humanity ruled by intelligent cups of yogurt. This is most obviously revealed by the fact that in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick. 

Worth the read.

2 comments:

LuLu said...

This might be second only to John Rogers' description:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Unknown said...

that was frickin' beautiful!