The Simpsons Take on Ayn Rand: See the Show’s Satire of The Fountainhead and Objectivist Philosophy

Say what you will about the tenets of Objectivism—to take a fan favorite line from a lit­tle film about bowl­ing and white Rus­sians. At least it’s an ethos. As for Ayn Rand’s attempts to real­ize her “absurd phi­los­o­phy” in fic­tion, we can say that she was rather less suc­cess­ful, in aes­thet­ic terms, than lit­er­ary philoso­phers like Albert Camus or Simone de Beau­voir. But that’s a high bar. When it comes to sales fig­ures, her nov­els are, we might say, com­pet­i­tive.

Atlas Shrugged is some­times said to be the sec­ond best-sell­ing book next to the Bible (with a sig­nif­i­cant degree of over­lap between their read­er­ships). The claim is gross­ly hyper­bol­ic. With some­where around 7 mil­lion copies sold, Rand’s most pop­u­lar nov­el falls behind oth­er cap­i­tal­ist clas­sics like Think and Grow Rich. Still, along with The Foun­tain­head and her oth­er osten­si­bly non-fic­tion­al works, Rand sold enough books to make her com­fort­able in life, even if she spent her last years on the dole.

Since her death, Rand’s books have grown in pop­u­lar­i­ty each decade, with a big spike imme­di­ate­ly after the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis. That pop­u­lar­i­ty isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly hard to explain as an appeal to ado­les­cent self­ish­ness and grandios­i­ty, and it has made her works ripe tar­gets for satire—especially since they almost read like self-par­o­dy already. And who bet­ter to take on Rand than The Simp­sons, reli­able pop satirists of great Amer­i­can delu­sions since 1989?

The show’s take on The Foun­tain­head, above, has baby Mag­gie in the role of archi­tect Howard Roark, the book’s genius indi­vid­u­al­ist whose extra­or­di­nary tal­ent is sti­fled by a crit­ic named Ellsworth Toohey (a card­board car­i­ca­ture of British the­o­rist and politi­cian Harold Las­ki). In this ver­sion, Toohey is a vicious preschool teacher in tweed, who insists on edu­cat­ing his charges in banal­i­ty (“medi­oc­rity rules!”) and knocks down Maggie’s block cathe­dral with a snide “wel­come to the real world.”

In response to Toohey’s abuse, Mag­gie deliv­ers a pompous solil­o­quy about her own great­ness, as Rand’s heroes are wont to do. She is again sub­ject­ed to preschool repres­sion in the clip just above—this time not at the hands of a social­ist crit­ic but from the head­mistress of the Ayn Rand School for Tots. The dom­i­neer­ing dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an tells Marge her aim is to “devel­op the bot­tle with­in” and dis­suade her stu­dents from becom­ing “leech­es,” a dig at Rand’s tendency—one sad­ly par­rot­ed by her acolytes—to dehu­man­ize recip­i­ents of social ben­e­fits as par­a­sites.

Read­ers of Roald Dahl will be remind­ed of Matil­da’s Miss Trunch­bull, and the bar­racks-like day­care, its walls lined with Objec­tivist slo­gans, becomes a site for some Great Escape capers. These sly ref­er­ences hint at a deep­er critique—suggesting that the lib­er­tar­i­an phi­los­o­phy of hyper-indi­vid­u­al­ism con­tains the poten­tial for tyran­ny and ter­ror as bru­tal as that of the most dog­mat­i­cal­ly col­lec­tivist of utopi­an schemes.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Hitchens Dis­miss­es the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advo­cat­ing Self­ish­ness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Rein­force­ment”

Flan­nery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)

When Ayn Rand Col­lect­ed Social Secu­ri­ty & Medicare, After Years of Oppos­ing Ben­e­fit Pro­grams

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Vivian D. says:

    Sigh. Rand is on record stat­ing that she con­sid­ered it com­plete­ly eth­i­cal to accept social secu­ri­ty. After all, one is forced to make invol­un­tary “con­tri­bu­tions” to the so-called “insur­ance pro­gram”. Why would it be uneth­i­cal to recoup that which was invol­un­tar­i­ly tak­en?

    As for Medicare, there’s no evi­dence that she received it.

    There is evi­dence, how­ev­er, that she gave thou­sands to a Russ­ian rel­a­tive who need­ed an oper­a­tion, late in her life; so it seems unlike­ly that she need­ed her own health­care sub­si­dized.

  • Symchesko says:

    This is just anoth­er hit peace on a dead woman by the par­a­sites she warned us about. They don’t care for the facts.

  • Heaventree says:

    As the pri­or com­menters demon­strate, noth­ing is fun­nier or more pre­dictable than the hyper­bol­ic but­thurt of the acolytes of Rand’s turgid pot­boil­ers and ludi­crous “phi­los­o­phy”

  • scott_sch says:

    The first video por­trays Rands phi­los­o­phy in name and deed, the sec­ond in deed alone with the names reversed. The Simp­sons were so good…

  • Carly Corday says:

    Sigh. Look, Dr. Freud. Anoth­er hit peace on Ayn Rand by some peace of crap who just can’t leave an unqui­et dead woman alone and just let the lady speak. PEACE SUX! Like we don’t all no that.

  • Silverlakebodhisattva says:

    There’s evi­dence that Rand allowed an appli­ca­tion for Medicare to be sub­mit­ted for her; short of a review of her med­ical billing records, not clear what evi­dence of her actu­al receipt of ben­e­fits could pos­si­bly exist.

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