What does it mean that the makers of the final installment of a three-part film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s controversial 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged are asking for donations at the crowdfunding site Kickstarter? Isn’t that the book where characters pledge to “never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine”?
To critics of the first two movies in the trilogy (released in 2010 and 2011) and of Rand’s stridently individualistic philosophy, it’s just the latest indicator that the author of The Virtue of Selfishness and her fans are obnoxious hypocrites. “Ayn Rand Movie Producers Beg for Money,” reads a Buzzfeed headline. “Atlas Shrugged producers turn to Kickstarter for help warning others against moochers,” snarks The AV Club.
But regardless of the reasons for why producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow are seeking $250,000 via crowdfunding (and we’ll get to those in moment), the fact is that Kickstarter and other sites like it are best understood as today’s answer to “going Galt,” a concept that’s central to Rand’s dystopian novel. Crowdfunding uses the internet to match up like-minded people who are spread all over the place to connect and support all sorts of projects, from staging of concerts to starting businesses to just about anything you can imagine.
In Atlas Shrugged, entrepreneurs and other creative types face an America controlled by petty bureaucrats and other “looters and moochers” who pass all sorts of stultifying policies, confiscatory taxes, and others laws to punish high-achievers. Rather than suffer such indignities, the most productive, visionary people literally escape to “Galt’s Gulch,” a hidden valley of unbridled capitalism, voluntary exchange and unregulated sexual passion. By going Galt, these people were able to live life on their terms.
In a post-war America that emphasized conformity and consensus in business operations, sexual identities, housing, attire and more, it made sense to conceptualize freedom and the pursuit of happiness in terms of physical escape—of going someplace where you could start over with people understood you. It’s not coincidental that just as Rand was pushing the concept of going Galt that another iconic malcontent, Jack Kerouac, was constantly talking about going “on the road.” Freedom and fulfillment were always someplace else.
Due to a combination of technological and cultural advancements, 21st-century America no longer requires us to think in such metaphors. Cable TV, the internet, e-commerce and globalization have in many ways brought the world in all its variety to even the most remote town in America. The result is that we are all more comfortable not just with different foods and clothing, say, but with different ways of living that were unimaginable to us even a few decades ago (wasn’t that former President George H.W. Bush acting as a witness at a gay marriage the other day?). You don’t have to go on the road to find freedom these days. You can go online instead.
(MORE: Atlas Shrugonomics)
In such a world, crowdfunding represents a new, high-tech way of going Galt. It allows creators and funders to escape conventional financial, ideological and aesthetic gatekeepers who have long suppressed heterodoxy in media, business, the arts and more. Arguably more important, it allows for the creation of a virtual community of like-minded folks who may live thousands of miles from each other.
With the Atlas Shrugged movie project, the community-building is front and center, as the producers don’t need the money to finish their film. As they explain at their Kickstarter page, they’ve already fully secured the movie’s budget of just under $10 million. The Kickstarter project, which includes different levels of swag depending on the amount of money pledged, is a means of giving hardcore fans various ways of being part of the process. Fifteen dollars gets you a PDF file of the final shooting script, for instance, while $2,500 earns you a trip to the set and $5,000 secures you a role as an extra.
Whatever else you can say about the unimpressive box office take to date for the first two movies, the Kickstarter project for Atlas Shrugged is going gangbusters. Indeed, in just a few days, it’s already reached $175,000 in donations.
This may or may not prove Aglialaro and Kaslow’s argument that their Kickstarter experiment represents capitalism at its finest—these are purely voluntary “value-for-value” transactions, they say. But it does seem incontrovertible that we can now all go Galt at the touch of a keyboard.