The other day, Andrea called to read from an article by John Hodgman in The New Yorker, Ask Ayn. In it, he created excerpts from a column she had supposedly written for Parade Magazine shortly before her death. Of course, the article isn’t presented that way. It starts, “After a couple of appearances on the interview program Donahue, in 1979 and 1980, the author and philosopher Ayn Rand enjoyed something of a renaissance in popular culture, including a week as a panelist on Match Game and a guest appearance on Fantasy Island as the Spirit of Capitalism.” I did not get the joke.
I knew she had been on Donahue, so it wasn’t a stretch that she was on a second time. And the truth is that Rand had a love a pop culture. Corey Robin’s essay on her is titled, Garbage and Gravitas. And the fact that I have read a couple of biographies of her made the joke much more opaque. She was a supremely strange person. In addition to this, I knew that she had written a column for a popular audience. It turns out it was for The Los Angeles Times, but that isn’t too far off.
Anyway, Andrea started reading to me the fake columns. Here’s the first one she read:
Again, I was confused. I remembered that she did claim to like the show Charlie’s Angels. And she was totally hung up on beauty. Whatever else you can say about her, Ayn Rand was not a beautiful woman and she was painfully aware of it. She idolized Marilyn Monroe, writing at least one entire essay about her. So I was kind of confused because all of the fake columns started off with things Rand believed, written in ways that Rand wrote. Hodgman recreates her style very well. But then the columns slid off sideways but rarely into total absurdity—rather typical of Hodgman.
The whole experience was yet another example of how it is not healthy to know a lot about Ayn Rand. But luckily, John Hodgman performed the piece live and it is on YouTube. And it is hilarious. But at the start of it, he mentions that all of the bits start off with “pretty much verbatim quotes from Ayn Rand.” That would have helped a lot—context is everything in comedy. But you can’t miss the comedy with his performance. Even after having heard most of it, I still really enjoyed this:
For the record, Ayn Rand hated Reagan. She also hated the libertarian movement. She hated pretty much everyone. Even among her circle of Objectivists, people were constantly being excommunicated over trivial matters. There are very good reasons why people call Objectivism a cult. I don’t know if I would go that far. But it was typical of small revolutionary groups so brilliantly parodied in Life of Brian: