OK, I may be going back a little while here, but occasionally you see something really irritating which festers for a while (and, trust me, I can bear grudges for a long time, sometimes even longer than high-court judges) but needs an extra detonator to set it off. So, this started when I saw Gene Simmons on The One Show in November 2011 giving the audience the benefit of his opinions on the free market. Now, everyone’s entitled to hold political opinions but I really object to musicians (in the loosest sense of the word) being invited on to chat shows to talk about their band, record, ghost-written self-serving autobiography or comeback tour hijacking the interview (and hapless, unprepared presenters) to pontificate about private health care and how much better it is than publicly-funded healthcare.
I’m not saying that musicians shouldn’t have political opinions and I don’t think Gene Simmons is wrong for believing in the free market; it’s a personal opinion that he’s perfectly entitled to hold. What’s wrong is airing that opinion in a situation where you’re supposed to be plugging your latest product and relying on a reputation gained in one area (entertainment) to validate opinions on another area (economic theory). And don’t think for a second that this is just a lefty rant; Billy Bragg quoted a flawed interpretation of some flawed research in his John Peel lecture in November 2012 in support of a theory that our musicians are now all privately-educated. That’s just as bad as Gene Simmons’ grandstanding and just as lazy.
Going back even further (in an attempt to bring this back to the present), Neal Peart (drummer and lyricist of Canadian prog-rock trio Rush) is a long-time admirer of the author Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy. Whatever you think of the band’s music (and I’m not a fan), you should be seriously worried about the influence of Ms Rand; and she hasn’t just influenced conspiracy theory-obsessed rock musicians. Do a bit of your own research online and you’ll see what I mean.
Personally, I’ve been putting this off for years but I finally decided to read the Ayn Rand novels and see what all the fuss is about. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read her books; you should. I am warning you that, because of the turgid prose, it’s bloody hard work and you might find yourself being wound up by the blatant casual racism, pro-Americanism and misogyny of books written by a woman and with female leading characters. The leading male characters (the heroes) are violent towards women and the leading female characters accept this violence while moving between successive alpha males to the top of the pecking order.
What else do you need to know about the novels of Ayn Rand? One of the reasons they’re such hard work is that they feature soliloquies that go on forever, belabouring simplistic ideas with the sledgehammer/walnut principle. Speeches lasting ten pages aren’t uncommon but the piece de resistance comes towards the end of the Rand magnum opus “Atlas Shrugged” when the enigmatic central character, John Galt, makes a sixty page speech which is supposedly a three hour live TV broadcast. Call me cynical, but two hours and fifty-nine minutes of it would have been lost as viewers found more pressing things to do (re-cataloguing the stamp collection perhaps) and the first minute would have been dismissed as rhetorical nonsense.
So why do so many celebrities follow the cult of Ayn Rand? Perhaps she emphasises the importance of individual effort and worth, or perhaps it’s insecurity and the attempt to validate a life lived in the spotlight and nowhere else. All I’m saying here is be very careful about following the lead of your artistic heroes because they’re as human as you and me (Matt Bellamy and 9/11 conspiracy theories, for example). Question everything and read the source material for yourself; it’s all out there. This plaque is featured at a very famous Disney attraction in the USA; it looks fine taken out of context, but the bottom line is that the Disney organisation is legitimising an extreme right-wing author (and that’s before we start on her views on homosexuality and poverty).