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Soliloquy: Libertarian Media Theory

February 5, 2009

Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.  Samuel Goldwyn*

Two things prompted this post – one, I get a hit every once in a while from somebody searching for “libertarian media theory” and two, I picked up Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto the other day, and some of the points she brings up point to that sort of analysis.  No one will mistake me for a Philosophy professor, and for dipping my philosophical toe into the river like this, I’ll probably get it bitten off by an epistemological snapping turtle, but here goes. I will not extend this essay to all of her points, but rather to the moving-picture (including both film and video) and written-word end of her arguments (the ones I personally am most familiar with). I’m also addressing Rand specifically, since most Libertarians start with her as a major influence.

Rand’s definition of Art is 1) it “serves no practical, material end” (Chap. 1, pg. 4)**, that it “belongs to a non-socializable aspect of reality which is universal (i.e. applicable to all men) but non-collective: to the nature of man’s consciousness” (ibid) and, probably most important for her, Art is, “a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.” (Chap.1, pg. 8).

Throughout her book, she examines particular art forms and decides which meet her standard of Art. To her credit, she does believe that one can recognize a particular work as Art, but disagree with that work’s premise on a personal level (as an example of this, Chap. 3, pgs. 33-34).  Music in the Western mode (I assume that she’s speaking of Western Classical music here, since she mentions The Blue Danube) is better than Primitive or Oriental music, which has “a paralyzing, narcotic effect on man’s mind”. (Chap. 4, pg. 53).  Hindu Dance, negative: Ballet, positive (Chap. 4, pgs. 58-59). Eventually, she arrives at film as a medium and generally finds favor with it (although Fritz Lang’s Siegfried seems to be her high point for the art form (Chap. 4, pg. 62)), but still photography, not so (“a technical, not a creative skill” and makes the distinction between film and still photography being Film having a story, without which the primary artist of Film, the director,”is merely a pretentious photographer”(Chap. 4, pg. 65).***

Later in the book, she also finds favor with certain writers (Victor Hugo, Margaret Mitchell, Ian Fleming) which, I believe, she shares certain traits with as a writer, especially so with Ian Fleming. Character driven, tightly plotted novels, with protagonists being “larger than life” and moving the plot along through “the character’s values (or treason to values)” (Chap. 6, pg. 100).

So, what would be my point in going through this?  My belief is that libertarian media theory is based solidly in showing idealized individualism coupled however tenuously with character-based principles, whatever those may be.  Consider: look at the James Bond franchise (according to Wikipedia, the longest running and most financially successful English-language film franchise to date). Or look at The Dark Knight (#24 on the Top 25 All-Time Box Office Winners according to IMDB) reaching $500 million in 45 days. I hate to make myself look like a fanboy here by talking about spy movies and super hero movies, but I choose to believe that their success had a lot to do with the way they were portrayed as being (dare I say it) heroic (and not just because James Bond gets women and Batman gets cool stuff AND gets women)?

Am I making any sense in this?  Commenting is enabled for this post simply to see if anybody could define it any better.

* And by the way, every malapropism attributed to him they published on Wikipedia rocks!

** All references to Rand are from the Signet Centennial edition of The Romantic Manifesto (ISBN 0-451-14916-5)

*** I cannot believe that she discounts the screenplay as being one of the primary elements of what makes a film great – she swallowed Truffaut’s auteur theory HOOK, LINE, & SINKER!

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