Our Anthem is silent
Would you kindly read this?
Anthem by Ayn Rand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Like many kids growing up in the American south, I had politically conservative parents. The kind that more or less blindly follow the philosophy of the Republican party and see almost everything that the Democrats do as the second coming of Adolf Hitler, or the usual BS that you hear the talking head idiot gallery spouting off day after day. Anyway, Part of that rhetoric I've heard over and over again (particularly after President Obama was elected) is this: "Ayn Rand was a visionary that painted the future with startling clarity." Of course, they were talking about Rand's ridiculously long, so-called masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, a book that I have yet to read...and if Anthem is anything to go by, I will never want to.
Let me be blunt here: Ayn Rand is a TERRIBLE writer whose political ideas are the equivalent of a three year old not wanting to share their toys (there I said it). And Anthem is a terrible book that makes no bloody sense on a narrative or philosophical level. Why? Where do I begin? The book is set in an alternate future in where the human race has entered another dark age and has devolved into a society that is laughably communistic. How ridiculous is it? The concept of individualism doesn't exist anymore (the use of the words "I" and "Ego" is forbidden for example) and people are given numbers instead of names, and the evolution of technology is tightly controlled by the government. But one man rediscovers electricity and and the light bulb and is sentenced to be put to death. But he escapes into the wild-where apparently nobody goes because it's dark and scawry. And out in the wild he rediscovers individualism and...urgh, it gives me a headache just talking about it.
It's not so much that a setting and plot like this can't work, its just that Rand execution is terrible. Her vision of a communistic paradise is cliched and juvenile, and not even in an entertaining or thoughtful way. It doesn't even make sense. Like for example, the part when the main character brings his light bulb before his society's ruling council. He spends half the bloody book trying to make it work; all the while spouting off to his buddy that he's going to make the ruling council accept his new idea by convincing them how it will change the world. Even though he knows how tightly controlled technological evolution is, and how much the council hates surprises.
And then he's flabbergasted when their reaction is out right revulsion and they start calling for his execution. And then abruptly, right in the middle of scene (because apparently he didn't get their oh so subtle hints) the main character actually asks them about adopting his idea and gets a very detailed lecture about how their economic system works...uh what? First off, why would he even ask that after seeing their reaction? And why on God's Green Earth would they take the time to explain that to him, weren't they just calling for his death? And secondly, Unless you're North Korea, no real communist nation in their right mind would reject a brilliant idea or revolutionary method of doing things simply because it's not the way they've always done it. Heck, if anything, they would turn said idea or method into a propaganda gold mine. In other words: that's not communism, that's just plain idiocy. You think the Soviet Union dissolved remained technologically static? Of course not, America and the Soviets were neck and neck in terms of technological advancements for decades. No, it collapsed because, by the 1990's, it could no longer economically compete with the west (among other reasons too numerous to list here). And try as they might, individualism and innovation does not go away simply because the government is a totalitarian state. Human beings are a bit more complicated than that, something that the characters in Anthem utterly fail to realize.
Speaking of the main characters, I can't think of the last time characters from any story were more flat, and melodramatic. The main character's (identified as Equality 7-2521...really) development is centered around his rediscovery/recreation of the light bulb and how that drive to create leads him to the rediscovery of individualism. And then there is his arbitrary love interest(called 'Liberty 5-3000') whom he introduces to his new found individualism by...well, by having sex with her basically. Yeah. I really didn't see a point to this character at all. Rand basically relegates her to the status of background color. Heck, we only see her for a chapter or two in the middle, and then again near the end when she follows him into the wild, and that's IT. And isn't it weird that she can't rediscover individualism until after she sleeps with him? It's so misogynist that it's almost funny, in a very depressing sort of way.
Nothing really happens in the the final chapters of the book. Equality just sits there and lectures the reader about his epiphany on the importance of individualism and how the government is stifling the progress of society. And the only thing that comes close to closure in this car wreck is when he tells us of his the plan to send Liberty back to the city to bring out more people and how they will rebuild society as it was. He tells us about it...and then the book just kinda stops. Uh, yeah no, screw that. Although, even if the book were longer (I finished it in an afternoon) it wouldn't really matter. It would only be a longer lecture in narrative form. But either way, it's a boring, over-hyped, fear mongering, bottom of the barrel, trashy dime novel. End of story.
Oh,and yes, I am fully aware that the communist utopia was exaggerated on purpose in order to prove a point; namely the dangers of conformity and the cultural and economic stagnation that comes with it. I understand it, and I don't care. I am also aware that the characters are basically avatars that are meant to show the basic principles of Objectivism, Rand's views on sexuality and whatever else she wanted to sign off about. Sorry, not good enough.
I'm not saying that I wholly disagree with the broad strokes of Anthem's (and Objectivism as a whole I guess) message, but the way that message is being conveyed, by the very woman who invented it no less, is both intellectually insulting and has absolutely no idea how the human animal actually works. Not only that, but it also reinforces all the negative stereotypes of those who adhere to both the Right-Wing and/or Objectivist ideology, and the stereotypes of those who adhere to the ideology of the other side. However, even if you ignored the political and philosophical connotations and forced Anthem to stand on its own merits, it still falls flat on its face. And I'm not one of those people who gives something a pass based solely on its message. Hell, You could have the best message in the world and it wouldn't mean a goddamn thing if you can't convey that message in a way that makes people think. And Rand lacks both the skill and the imagination to do this, in my opinion.
Anyway, needless to say, this book sucks, stay far far far away. And if just have to read a dystopian fiction novel, then go pick up 1984 again, or Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World. Hell, even Starship Troopers could satisfy your fix. You will be glad you did.
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