Why I’m Writing a Parody of Atlas Shrugged

I’m reading about Ayn Rand because I intend to write a parody of Atlas Shrugged, which takes the form of a novel that occurs immediately after the end of Rand’s novel (albeit changed enough to remove the threat of copyright infringement, and strengthen a fair use defense in case something weird happens). The purpose of the parody is to create a rejoinder to the political, philosophical, and economic principles that Ayn Rand lays out in the novel.

It is simply uncontroversial that Ayn Rand’s followers, particularly those at the Ayn Rand Institute, use the novel Atlas Shrugged to spread Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. In The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism A to Z, Atlas Shrugged is quote dozens if not hundreds of times to illustrate the philosophy of Objectivism. The Ayn Rand Institute has given hundreds of thousands of copies of Atlas Shrugged to schools with the express purpose of introducing new generations of readers to Objectivism. John Galt’s long speech in Atlas Shrugged is considered to be the first complete expression of Objectivist principles. It is also my personal experience that followers of Ayn Rand quote Atlas Shrugged the same way Christians quote the Bible – at nearly every turn for nearly any occasion.

It is also uncontroversial that Ayn Rand has considerable influence in modern society. Atlas Shrugged is a work worthy of parody because of Rand’s influence on the American government and economics.  Her cachet has long since expanded from mere writer to a cultural phenomenon. Long-time head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, was an acolyte of Ayn Rand, and his policies and economic philosophy that were inspired by Rand continue to have great weight at both the Federal Reserve and economists generally. Politicians such as Rand Paul and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have spoken in admiration of Rand’s work, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson has called Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book”, saying in a 2010 debate that it was a “warning” of what the United States could become. As I write this, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for President, Gary Johnson, gave a copy of Atlas Shrugged to his fiancee saying that to understand him she needed to understand it. Additionally, at Tea Party rallies all over America one can see signs saying “Who is John Galt?”, a catch phrase from Atlas Shrugged. A list of business people influenced by Atlas Shrugged would be so long as to be cumbersome, but they’re easy to find.  There is hardly a person on screen on Fox News that hasn’t praised Atlas Shrugged.

Rand’s influence in economics, government, business, and news media is everpresent. She is a suitable target for a parody, and I’m not even the first to do it, but I do think I can add something to the discussion. I think that Atlas Shrugged is uniquely positioned for a parody because of its influence and because it has many intriguing narrative situations that can be drawn upon to specifically criticize the philosophy of selfishness Rand illustrates in the book. I very much see my parody as a companion piece to Atlas Shrugged, not a replacement for it (because a parody is meaningless without the parodied work, after all – people unfamiliar with Atlas Shrugged are unlikely to care about a parody of it).

Honestly, if it was just a lousy book written in the 1950s, I wouldn’t care about it one way or the other. There are lots of books I don’t like. But what makes Atlas Shrugged unique is the extent of its influence in American society. More people have finished Atlas Shrugged than the Bible, by some reports. In a book with such a deep influence – much more than, say, Gone With the Wind, which is regarded a classic but is not held by anyone as an expression of their moral or political views – needs to be parodied in order to generate useful conversations about its extremely controversial content that often flies under the radar in political elections and economic debates. Often people draw arguments straight from Atlas Shrugged to defend real policies and actions without the broader audience realizing from whence these ideas have come.

Thus, my intent in writing a parody of Atlas Shrugged is to transform the original, to provide new insights into the characters and situations of Atlas Shrugged, as a political, economic, and philosophical rejoinder to the views expressed in Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand and the Ayn Rand Institute use Atlas Shrugged to engage people in the philosophy of Objectivism; my parody will engage those same people in a similar vehicle, the novel, as a rejoinder to what I consider to be the overt hypocrisy and moral vacancy of the philosophy of Objectivism as expressed in Atlas Shrugged.

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