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.