Friday, August 19, 2011

In Which I Weigh In on Ayn Rand (spoiler: she's a dick).

I'm a bit late to this party, but here's a quickie from me about Objectivism and seasteading in which I make the subtext of every joke made over the last week about either topic achingly concrete. And now, your bonus blog-only Tom's Thoughts.

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It occurred to me while watching Brad Pitt's performance in The Tree of Life (really, the most like Terranigma any film has ever been, which is to say singularly astounding) that Objectivism has undergone basically the ideal character arc over the past ten years. I remember in the early '00s when Pitt was running his mouth off about how great it would be to make a movie of The Fountainhead, and how the whole idea of Rand and Objectivism were this secretive badge of pride that certain public figures would wear poking out from under their lapels. The notion seemed imbued with a terrible sort of grandeur -- a gilded villainy that at least commanded a presence, even if it looked a bit scuffed and chipped up close.

But the past ten years have been rubbish for Objectivism as a cultural element. It now just seems a dirty, shameful, shabby sort of thing, a spite-faced lizard of a woman scurrying in the shadows of skyscrapers, her long coat stinking of stale cigarettes and ridiculous fumbling half-hearted attempts at humanness. Today more people, so the news reports and bestseller lists tell us, are looking into Rand and her work than ever -- but the larger the movement grows, the more malformed and cancerous it reveals itself to be, shiny-faced jackasses braying buzzwords as they stockpile increasingly useless cachet and preside over the darkest Age of Grimness since the Seventies were burned at Comiskey Park, a frustratingly inauspicious 35 days before I was born. The first Atlas Shrugged movie, presented Twilight- or Harry Potter-like in multiple momentous epic installments, had direct-to-video sloppiness written all over it and went largely unnoticed even despite the promotion of what we're assured is the most powerful political force since cocaine, the Tea Party movement -- surely the least self-aware group of people in the history of ostensible mental competence, not to mention the least glamorous assemblage of ruiners since the Bonfire of the Vanities.

Objectivism has got what it needs -- for a lot of people, preferably some of them owning property and mostly-clean clothes, to rally around it -- but it has lost what it wants, which is for the glamorous and respectable to extol its virtues. Which is the perfect position, from an audience standpoint, for a character to arrive at. Of course Objectivists will tell you that they neither want nor care for your respect or disregard; but then, why do they make so goddamn many speeches about it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

In Which Everything is Mentioned.

My article on the past 30 years' Touchstones of Gaming - in which I survey the culture, politics and media (also video games) of every year since 1980 - is now up on Gamesradar. If you want an article which mentions the Falklands War, Waco siege, Lost, Bobbitt Trial, Elvis Presley, Doom and Ronald Reagan's relationship to Princess Toadstool, it is your lucky day! Of all the things I've written about games, this is the one most geared toward people who don't give a shit about games (well, apart from this, anyway).

Bonus blog content: I'd have said the touchstone of this year was Modern Warfare 3, whose heartfelt paean to the terrible euphoria of techno-militarism - not to mention embroilment in unending corporate, legal and political skirmishes - perfectly represents an age of corporatized war without end pushing us ever closer to the brink of extremely cinematic Armageddon. LA Noire is all very well, but I don't see the publisher of that game (whoever it is) starring in a Brad Pitt movie.