Ladies and gentlemen, start your gloating: The producers of Atlas Shrugged, the critically derided, out-of-work-sitcom-actor-infested film “trilogy” based on Ayn Rand’s iconic Libertarian doorstopper, are begging in public. This Monday, the A.V. Club broke the news that they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign aimed at amping up the budget for the third and final installment of the series, and are hoping to raise $250,000 in donations.
On the surface, it might seem that Atlas Shrugged has been deemed as objectively lacking in value by the glorious Free Market, where Man comes to engage with Man in free and uncoerced value-for-value exchange, in a demonstration of Man’s transcendent spirit of Individualism and Production through the ultimate form of self-expression that is The Dollar. (Also, maybe Man should pick up some more coffee. You know, while Man is out.) But the producers of Atlas Shrugged assure us that it is much, much more than that. And indeed, your humble columnist agrees. This Kickstarter campaign may be a sign that Atlas Shrugged is at long last embracing its true place in history — not to mention the Glorious Free Market.
But first, some exposition. The Atlas Shrugged project has a long history, full of travail, but the shortest way to sum up that history is: These movies have bombed audaciously. The first installment of Atlas Shrugged, released in 2011 — dull and ambitious, with the feel of a very poorly-thought-out made-for-TV movie — cost $20 million to produce. It recouped a little over $4.6 million in theaters. The second installment — for which funds were raised via “private debt sale,” in which every single member of the original cast was replaced by a new actor, and to which many CGI explosions were added — had an estimated production budget of $10 million. It made just $3.3 million in return. So, at this point, what with Atlas Shrugged-mastermind/fitness-equipment-entrepreneur John Aglialoro having lost more than $20 million trying to make the public embrace a movie franchise in which Oswald from The Drew Carey Show plays a brilliant Libertarian scientist, you might assume that they just plain need the cash.
And yet, according to the Kickstarter page, they don’t: “The movie is actually already funded and is now headed into production this October,” we are assured. “The Atlas Shrugged Movie Kickstarter campaign is not so much about money though as it is about marketing.”
Specifically, it’s about marketing to the very small group of people who actually do watch the Atlas Shrugged movies: Bored progressives with Netflix subscriptions and a taste for schadenfreude.
“We know from our experience with the first two films that there is an incredible amount of vitriol out there and, we have every intention of capitalizing on it this time around,” says the public begging department of the Atlas Shrugged Motion Picture Experience. “As we launch the Kickstarter campaign, those haters are going to come ALIVE. They’re going to come after us in droves attacking us everywhere online. To them, we say thank you. Thank you for helping us spread the word. We’re looking forward to the onslaught of all those negative blogs, facebook posts, and tweets.”
To which I say: You’re welcome, moochers! For I have a confession to make: I have, in fact, watched both of the existing Atlas Shrugged films. And I found the experience thoroughly delightful.
Do you want to see a futuristic society that relies almost entirely on old-timey trains? My friend: The Atlas Shrugged movies have got you covered. Did you think the Ayn Rand’s work could have been improved by less passion and more shapeshifting? Because heroine Dagny Taggart ages ten years and transforms herself from Taylor Schilling into Samantha Mathis halfway through the project, and her new incarnation seems to have a permanent hangover. Want to see Libertarian icon John Galt dressed up like McGruff the Crime Dog? Would it help if he were played by a guy whose most notable prior accomplishment was getting his transplant heart eaten by a dog on One Tree Hill? When you envision villainous billionaire crony capitalist James Taggart hitting on a shop-girl while buying his fancy billionaire silken ties, do you envision him shopping for said ties at Duane Reade? Because the Atlas Shrugged movies certainly do. It’s a joy to behold.
To say that Atlas Shrugged is a hateful book is an insult to hatred. It is, in fact, a genocidal book. It is one of the few books I have read that posits the violent, painful death of all who oppose the Master Race as a happy ending (the Master Race being, in this case, tax-hating CEOs). Atlas Shrugged encourages terrible thinking, and terrible behavior, amongst willfully terrible people. But there is nothing more delightful than watching those people pour millions into justifying themselves, and failing with each and every attempt.
And this is precisely the kind of delight that the Atlas Shrugged Kickstarter is courting. The team knows we’ll blog about their latest public failure, and that we’ll take no small amount of joy in it. But what they also know — and how could they not know it, by this point — is that this mean, vindictive, progressive glee is the only viable marketing strategy they’ve got. The Atlas Shrugged movies have been greeted with resoundingly empty theaters since their inception and are at this point largely an Internet-based phenomenon. Like Asylum, the Californian B‑movie factory whose success is fueled largely by its audaciously bad titles, the Atlas Shrugged movie franchise is drawing in what tiny income it can through the joy Internet denizens take in hearing about — or watching — yet another horrible decision made in the name of Atlas Shrugged.
At long last, Atlas Shrugged seems to be embracing its true destiny: The Sharknado of quasi-fascist propaganda. Which is just fine by me. Who wants to see good crypto-fascist propaganda, anyway? That stuff is dangerous. The Atlas Shrugged movies are over-long, stilted, bizarre, and unconvincing — in other words, they’re perfect representations of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
Now: Rand’s novels will probably continue to sell for as long as there are dorky, alienated fourteen-year-olds who enjoy being told that they’re brilliant sexual dynamos in training, and that the rest of humanity will one day perish in a conflagration for denying this eternal truth. But those fourteen-year-olds grow up. Most of them eventually adopt a more realistic outlook on the world, and better politics. Some of them become aging fitness-equipment gurus who self-finance terrible adaptations of Atlas Shrugged. But that latter set is, wonderfully, doing the rest of humanity a favor. The ongoing public humiliation that is the Atlas Shrugged movie adaptation ensures that future generations will associate Ayn Rand’s work with the one concept that no self-respecting would-be-sexual-dynamo wants to attach himself to. When they think of Atlas Shrugged, they’ll think failure.
Jude Ellison Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributing writer. They are the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. You can follow them on Twitter at @sadydoyle.