Ayn Rand Issues 13 Commandments to Filmmakers for Making Good Capitalist Movies (1947)

Annex - Cooper, Gary (Fountainhead, The)_07

A cou­ple Christ­mases ago, we fea­tured the sto­ry of how Ayn Rand helped the FBI “iden­ti­fy” It’s a Won­der­ful Life as a piece of com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da, which does make one won­der: what kind of movie would she have Amer­i­ca watch instead? We know exact­ly what kind, since, in 1947, the author of The Foun­tain­head and Atlas Shrugged, nev­er one to shrink from the task of explain­ing her ideas, wrote the “Screen Guide for Amer­i­cans,” accord­ing to Pale­o­fu­ture, a pam­phlet meant for dis­tri­b­u­tion to Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers in order to make them aware of what she saw as a com­mu­nist push to poi­son the movies with anti-Amer­i­can ide­ol­o­gy.

“The pur­pose of the Com­mu­nists in Hol­ly­wood, Rand writes, “is not the pro­duc­tion of polit­i­cal movies open­ly advo­cat­ing Com­mu­nism. Their pur­pose is to cor­rupt our moral premis­es by cor­rupt­ing non-polit­i­cal movies — by intro­duc­ing small, casu­al bits of pro­pa­gan­da into inno­cent sto­ries — thus mak­ing peo­ple absorb the basic premis­es of Col­lec­tivism by indi­rec­tion and impli­ca­tion.” And so, to coun­ter­act the sub­tly pro­pa­gan­dis­tic pow­er of It’s a Won­der­ful Life and its ilk, she pro­pos­es fight­ing fire with fire, issu­ing these thir­teen cor­rec­tive film­mak­ing com­mand­ments:

  1. Don’t take pol­i­tics light­ly. “To hire Com­mu­nists on the the­o­ry that ‘they won’t put over any pol­i­tics on me’ and then remain igno­rant and indif­fer­ent to the sub­ject of pol­i­tics, while the Reds are trained pro­pa­gan­da experts — is an atti­tude for which there can be no excuse.”
  2. Don’t smear the free enter­prise sys­tem. “Don’t preach or imply that all pub­licly-owned projects are noble, human­i­tar­i­an under­tak­ings by grace of the mere fact that they are publicly-owned—while preach­ing, at same time, that pri­vate prop­er­ty or the defense of pri­vate prop­er­ty rights is the expres­sion of some sort of vicious greed, of anti-social self­ish­ness or evil.”
  3. Don’t smear indus­tri­al­ists. “You, as a motion pic­ture pro­duc­er, are an indus­tri­al­ist. All of us are employ­ees of an indus­try which gives us a good liv­ing. There is an old fable about a pig who filled his bel­ly with acorns, then start­ed dig­ging to under­mine the roots of the oak from which the acorns came. Don’t let’s allow that pig to become our sym­bol.”
  4. Don’t smear wealth. “If the vil­lain in your sto­ry hap­pens to be rich—don’t per­mit lines of dia­logue sug­gest­ing that he is the typ­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a whole social class, the sym­bol of all the rich. Keep it clear in your mind and in your script that his vil­lainy is due to his own per­son­al character—not to his wealth or class.”
  5. Don’t smear the prof­it motive. “Don’t give to your char­ac­ters — as a sign of vil­lainy, as a damn­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, a desire to make mon­ey. Nobody wants to, or should, work with­out pay­ment, and nobody does — except a slave.”
  6. Don’t smear suc­cess. “It is the Com­mu­nists’ inten­tion to make peo­ple think that per­son­al suc­cess is some­how achieved at the expense of oth­ers and that every suc­cess­ful man has hurt some­body by becom­ing suc­cess­ful. It is the Com­mu­nists’ aim to dis­cour­age all per­son­al effort and to dri­ve men into a hope­less, dispir­it­ed, gray herd of robots who have lost all per­son­al ambi­tion, who are easy to rule, will­ing to obey and will­ing to exist in self­less servi­tude to the State.”
  7. Don’t glo­ri­fy fail­ure. “While every man meets with fail­ure some­where in his life, the admirable thing is his courage in over­com­ing it — not the fact that he failed.”
  8. Don’t glo­ri­fy deprav­i­ty. “Don’t drool over weak­lings as con­di­tioned ‘vic­tims of cir­cum­stances’ (or of ‘back­ground’ or of ‘soci­ety’) who ‘couldn’t help it.’ You are actu­al­ly pro­vid­ing an excuse and an ali­bi for the worst instincts in the weak­est mem­bers of your audi­ences.”
  9. Don’t deify “the com­mon man.” “No self-respect­ing man in Amer­i­ca is or thinks of him­self as ‘lit­tle,’ no mat­ter how poor he might be. That, pre­cise­ly, is the dif­fer­ence between an Amer­i­can work­ing man and a Euro­pean serf.”
  10. Don’t glo­ri­fy the col­lec­tive. “If you preach that it is evil to be dif­fer­ent — you teach every par­tic­u­lar group of men to hate every oth­er group, every minor­i­ty, every per­son, for being dif­fer­ent from them; thus you lay the foun­da­tion for race hatred.”
  11. Don’t smear an inde­pen­dent man. “Remem­ber that Amer­i­ca is the coun­try of the pio­neer, the non-con­formist, the inven­tor, the orig­i­na­tor, the inno­va­tor. Remem­ber that all the great thinkers, artists, sci­en­tists were sin­gle, indi­vid­ual, inde­pen­dent men who stood alone, and dis­cov­ered new direc­tions of achieve­ment — alone.”
  12. Don’t use cur­rent events care­less­ly. “It is a sad joke on Hol­ly­wood that while we shy away from all con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects on the screen, in order not to antag­o­nize any­body — we arouse more antag­o­nism through­out the coun­try and more resent­ment against our­selves by one cheap lit­tle smear line in the midst of some musi­cal com­e­dy than we ever would by a whole polit­i­cal trea­tise.”
  13. Don’t smear Amer­i­can polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions. “It is true that there have been vicious Con­gress­men and judges, and politi­cians who have stolen elec­tions, just as there are vicious men in any pro­fes­sion. But if you present them in a sto­ry, be sure to make it clear that you are crit­i­ciz­ing par­tic­u­lar men — not the sys­tem. The Amer­i­can sys­tem, as such, is the best ever devised in his­to­ry. If some men do not live up to it — let us damn these men, not the sys­tem which they betray.”

Have any real motion pic­tures passed Rand’s pro-cap­i­tal­ist test? (Read her full pam­phlet here.) The film adap­ta­tion of The Foun­tain­head came out in 1949, and Rand her­self at first praised it as “more faith­ful to the nov­el than any oth­er adap­ta­tion of a nov­el that Hol­ly­wood has ever pro­duced.” But lat­er she turned against it, claim­ing to have “dis­liked the movie from begin­ning to end” and swear­ing nev­er again to sell her nov­els with­out reserv­ing the right to pick the direc­tor and screen­writer as well as to edit the film her­self. She did­n’t live to exer­cise those rights on Atlas Shrugged the movie, which came out as a tril­o­gy between 2011 and 2014, so we’ll nev­er know for sure if the movie met her strin­gent ide­o­log­i­cal stan­dards — but with Meta­crit­ic scores of 28%, 26%, and 9%, we can safe­ly assume they would­n’t meet her cin­e­mat­ic ones.

via Pale­o­fu­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Iden­ti­fy It’s a Won­der­ful Life as Com­mu­nist Pro­pa­gan­da

The Out­spo­ken Ayn Rand Inter­viewed by Mike Wal­lace (1959)

A Free Car­toon Biog­ra­phy of Ayn Rand: Her Life & Thought

Žižek Blames the US Gov­ern­ment Shut­down on Ayn Rand’s Acolytes Who Caused the 2008 Col­lapse

Ayn Rand’s Phi­los­o­phy and Her Resur­gence in 2012: A Quick Primer by Stan­ford His­to­ri­an Jen­nifer Burns

Ayn Rand’s Reviews of Children’s Movies: From Bam­bi to Frozen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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