Best restroom graffiti I ever saw in college was, “Ayn Rand is L. Ron Hubbard in Drag.”
The above is a quote from a comments post, spotted while searching for connections between our two current protagonists in the collective Internet culture. There are a couple of other variants dating from 2005 onwards—try searching for the, “Ayn Rand is L. Ron Hubbard in Drag” part. All are posted in comments sections or discussion boards, twice by someone with moniker “nolo” (in March and August of that year), with an instruction to “pass it on” in his/her second post. While there is one ‘current’ instance from November 2009, in total there are only five (now six) occurrences of this phrase in cyberspace, so it doesn’t seem to have become an Internet meme so far. For me that’s a pity, as there is a neat poetry in the unification of this pair that feels indicative of the something-not-quite-yet-tangible at the root of my cultural interest in them.
Still, all is far from lost, as a search for +“ayn rand” +“l. ron hubbard” returns 22,000 hits from Google. An entirely unscientific* scan through a few suggests that, for the majority of commentators, the connection rests on their common ground as ‘middling writers’ and ‘cult leaders.’
A 1999 peak (see footnote) in content containing references to the pair appears to be a result of the Modern Library 100 Best Lists. The ‘readers’ polls’ for which returned seven of the top ten ‘best 20th Century novels’ (polled between July 20 and October 20 in 1998) to either Rand or Hubbard (4-3 to Rand), and four books on or by them in the top ten of the corresponding non-fiction category (polled between April 29 and September 30 in 1999; 4-1 to Rand.) These reader’s polls were widely criticised with respect to their value as a representative sample, both as regards the spectrum of people visiting the Modern Library and feeling passionately enough to vote, and the fact that it was possible to vote anew each day, allowing the opinions of the most persistent to hold a greater sway over the results—see The Harvard Crimson (1998) for an at-the-time response to the marketing implications of the list for Random House; and The Canadian Association of Journalists (2002) on the poll and Internet polls more generally.
As a native of Britain, one of the striking features of Rand on the Internet is how culturally significant she seems to be to those who grew up in the United States, yet how relatively unknown she is over here. A common theme among US readers is how Rand’s ideas attract young teenagers, who become briefly obsessed by them, but are later discarded as they discover other ideas and viewpoints (most self-commentators regarding this as a positive progression and expressing more than a little surprise that they ever took her so seriously). A summary of the (pejorative) ‘European perspective’ on Rand might be:
“Almost every major political and intellectual figure of the last 25 years has said, in an interview some time, that the seminal moment of their life was when they read Atlas Shrugged”
I’ll take your word that this is the case within the USA. Everywhere else most people haven’t even heard of it, let alone read it, and where it is known it is regarded with almost universal contempt. I don’t think contempt is too strong a word. I think one of the biggest revelations to Europeans from using the Internet is finding out how this twaddle is taken seriously in America.
My first encounter with Rand was via the references in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which I read in 2007 (many years after I ceased being a teenager) on the recommendation of my girlfriend. At the time she recounted her secondhand encounter with Rand, which seems to have more in common with a US experience. Whilst working at a summer job in a warehouse during university, she met a longtime worker there, who—on discovering that she was studying philosophy—told her that she absolutely had to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, as they were life changing philosophical experiences. I am left to assume one of the following: as a ‘rational egoist’ he had decided that his work was his highest value and was truly devoted to being the best warehouseman possible; he was waiting out his time to realise his designs as great architect, artist etc.; or he was Charles Freck. Suffice as to say, my girlfriend looked up Ayn Rand and decided not to bother.
I’ll end this post with links to a website I don’t visit nearly as often as a should (given how much pleasure it gives me): Uncyclopedia, who (obviously) manage to get ‘Elrond’ into the Ayn Rand page.
*Footnote: In doing this search I have just discovered Google’s ‘time line’ search view. This informs me that the peak of content containing references to both Rand and Hubbard was created across 1998-2001 (with the peak in 1999), with smaller peaks across 1987-1990 and 2007-2008 respectively. However, this is from a very cursory inspection and it would not surprise me if these peaks are relative to the ‘size’ of the Internet at the time, rather than representing absolute numbers. I will return to this search in future, with the benefit of some further research into how Google works this kind of thing out (maybe I’ll get the hang of ‘Google Analytics’ at the same time…) —Further to this it now seems that the time line relates to pages that are ‘timestamped’ in some way, returning a large number of online newspaper articles.