"Ayn Rand, More Popular than God!"
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
On UseNet, a lass posting by the name of Sue offered the following heartfelt statement as though it were a fact, in defense of Ayn Rand:
"No less a body than the Library of Congress conducted a study a number of years ago & found that Atlas Shrugged was second only to the Bible in terms of the number of people greatly influenced by it."That assertion is of course nonsense, but it's surprising how many credulous naifs believe in the urban folk tale about the Library of Congress having undertaken such a survey or study proving Ayn Rand the #2 author in the universe. It has been repeated on UseNet & the World Wide Web thousands of times, without anyone being able to cite the specific study, because there was none, but by weight of repeating a legend, increasing numbers of naifs begin to assume it must be true.
This notion originated initially with the Book of the Month Club advertising department. In 1991, the 2,000 forms labeled "Survey of Lifetime Reading Habits" were sent to Book of the Month Club readers in a bizarre scam that hornswoggled the Library of Congress in promoting the Book Club. The Library of Congress fit it into their reading promotion project but this was a survey of nothing but the effectiveness of Book of the Month Club's adveritising. This the top ten books included similar offerings from the Book Club come-on-attractions leaflet, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, & Gail Sheedy's Passages. Truly a list of immortal classics.
A study or a credible survey with any degree of applicability would have required statistical controls & other factors to insure some degree of scientific validity & would not have been restricted to book club customers selected by the book club. But inasmuch as this was just a promo & not legitimate research on reading in America, the only "statistical finding" required was the finding of good advertisement copy.
This Book of the Month Club promotion mailed out in cooperation with the Library of Congress reading promotion program not surprisingly established that Book of the Month Club titles were very significant to Book Club customers, most especially the few titles listed on the introductory offer form. Among which Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged placed #2, after the Bible.
So this "finding" applied to 1991 Book of the Month Club readers, but somehow in the wake of this phony study it was transmuted into Rand having written the most important book to all Americans for all time. That now decade-plus old ad campaign still gets paraphrased by Randians as "recent" & as "a study" when it is (or was) neither, claiming always that it was conducted by the Library of Congress, since even Randians know that citing ad copy composed by the Book Club sounds just as cheezy as it is.
A bit more recently (in 1999), advertising hacks hired by television producers began promoting a made-for-TV Ayn Rand docudrama, plus a cable documentary, & associated book tie-ins & videos. Being it would seem a cut-rate outfit, they just found the old Book of the Month Club blurbs, paraphrased this so closely that the Book Club ad writers should have sued them as plagiarists, then did a massive press release campaign which repopularized the 1991 Book of the Month Club ad scam in context of how important it is for everyone to watch TV.
That 1999 publicity packet was afterward copied onto the back covers of new editions of Rand, trying to take advantage of the television exposure, so that by now it is "common knowledge" that the Library of Congress proved something it never proved with a study it never conducted.
The momentary resurgence of interest inspired by the television program has already faded away, but a tiny handful of hard-core Objectivists will persist, & their psychology seems to resemble that of Scientologists for Hubbard, in promoting their personal divinity's significance to everyone every where, & as good philosophy to boot.
The last dozen living members of all the Randian Objectivist clubs, plus hucksters pitching films, documentaries, books, or workshops, keep promulgating this disinformation, by paraphrasing the Book of the Month Club advertisement, but citing no published study because there was none. Quite obviously more Americans have been influenced more profoundly by the Talmud or the Koran or the Book of Mormon (if scripture is to be the measure, as was in the much-repeated ad blurb claiming Rand the most inspirational writer since God). But it's obvious that this is political crackpotism & the idea that Rand is second only to God is nonsense. I doubt she's even second to the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook, but that would be more the direction of comparison, not that AA members were going to be out there padding the voting list & boasting about being ex-drunkards in much the same way that aging Randians happily boast they actually did finish one book 40 years ago.
I've seen this Book of the Month Club blurb quoted & requoted by a hundred vendors & a thousand credulous alternate-politics wackos & a few editorialists working off publicity packets which is quite a usual way to write quick editorials for a daily paper. But never once is the real source (the Book of the Month Club advertising gimmick & the television program publicity packet) ever admitted.
The other source was a "populist list" which Randians & Scientologists simultaneously inspired by crabbing at Random House after they promoted the 100 Most Important American Books & failed to put Hubbard or Rand on the list. When the Modern Library subdivision got deluged with complaints from Randians & Scientologists, Modern Library responded by setting up an on-line voting system that Randians & Scientologists blitzed to try to get Rand & Hubbard top ratings. The ad hoc net-poll was not well publicized, was not a "study" in even the loosest sense of the word, it was self-selecting for Randians & net-nerds. Therefore all of Ayn Rand's books placed in the top quarter of the list, & Atlas Shrugged placed #1 (the bible did not place at all, so Rand is bigger than God). I remember well when this voting-page was first put up & Usenutter Randians were telling each other how to pad the voting right away. Modern Library liked the free publicity & called this the "Populist List" but never misrepresented it as any kind of "study" nor did they suggest it had any credibility to match the actual best-100 list which did not include Rand at all.
Rand's upraising of the loner, the loser, the failure, the selfish eternal adolescent, the self-important moron who does finally destroy everything, to the rank of godhead, who can & does destroy the world but is personally still standing, certainly appealed to a sorry-ass selfish generation that likewise believed all answers were in LSD & you can't trust anyone over the age of 29. Boomers when young needed a false dream that would redefine all evidence of their own limitations as actually evidence of their greatness. Boomers who did not achieve anything in life, or achieved something but by the 1990s or in 2002 realized it was all an unfulfilling waste of their brief time on earth, are presently returning to Rand's tiresome reassurance that a world laid waste is better than the world these profound losers actually live in & spent their pathetic lives sustaining.
The fact is, Ayn Rand inspired a lot of teenagers who were geeky & maybe smarter than average but if not smarter then at least more alienated from their parents than on average, & devoid of friends. They did not dig very deep for their special dream, & they were not very mature in their choices or their thinking; but it made for many exciting though inevitably juvenile discussions at the rear of that bright orange junior high school bus. They might have held on to their childish notion of profundity all the way through college, but eventually these kids finally did mature enough to have outgrown Rand. Thereby the Rand clubs diminished & disbanded after the fad had passed. Some Objectivist clubs that once had thousands of members literally found they had only one member left, some self-appointed club president.
Those forlorn teen geeks are now facing old age & getting nostalgic for the books of their childhood. Previous generations sought out their juvenile editions of Tarzan for nostalgia sake, & subliminally for the same reasons as Rand has nostalgia power for purposeless geeks. Tarzan books promoted primitivism, self-reliance, with an underlying philosophy of white supremacy, Lord Greystoke being inherently superior to black people because even being raised by apes cannot diminish white superiority over all other races. It's no coincidence Rand too had to peddle her nonsense in the framework of science fiction, since science fiction is all it is. Rand does the same thing for white would-be capitalists who have failed in their lives. Presently an aging Boomer population is withdrawing into that nostalgia for lost youth, as Rand was almost as significant as the Beatles in 1965, & the choice for some of that generation boils down to embracing John Lennon or John Galt.
Objectivists relying on the John Galt Society & made-for-tv movie advertisers for their notion of Ayn Rand's popularity are like Klansmen relying on some Klan publication or D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation for an assessment of the Klan's popularity & significance. Objective assessments always look rather different doncha know.
Copyright © by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, all rights reserved
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