An Open Letter to Hollywood, et al.
Dear Movie and Television Producers,
I believe in, and like, the American way of life: the liberty and freedom which generations before us have fought to create and preserve; the freedom to speak, to think, to live, to believe, to work, and to govern ourselves as individuals, as free people; the right to succeed or fail as free people, according to the measure of our ability and our strength.
Believing in these things, I find ourselves in sharp revolt against a rising tide of socialism, fascism, and kindred beliefs, that seek by subversive means to undermine and change the American way of life.
In the movie and television industries, I resent the growing impression that the industry is made of, and dominated by, socialists, radicals, and crackpots. I have no new plan to offer. I want no new plan, I want only to help defend against its enemies that which is our priceless heritage; that freedom which has given the people of our country the fullest life and the richest expression the world has ever known.
As members of the movie and television industries, you must face and accept a special responsibility. Motion pictures and television are inescapably among the world’s greatest forces for influencing public thought and opinion, both at home and abroad. In this fact lies solemn obligation. You must refuse to permit the effort of socialist, fascist, and other totalitarian-minded groups to pervert this powerful medium into an instrument for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs.
The influence of socialists in television and movies is due, not to their own power, but to the unthinking carelessness of those who profess to oppose them. Leftist propaganda has been put over in some films and programs produced by innocent people, often by loyal Americans who deplore the spread of socialism throughout the world and wonder why it is spreading.
If you wish to protect your movies and TV shows from being used for socialistic purposes, the first thing to do is to drop the delusion that political propaganda consists only of political slogans.
Politics is not a separate field in itself. Political ideas do not come out of thin air. They are the result of moral premises which people have accepted. Whatever people believed to be the good, right and proper human actions — that will determine their political opinions. If people think that every independent action is vicious, they will vote for every measure to control people and to suppress human freedom. If people believe that the American system is unjust, they will support those who wish to destroy it.
The purpose of the socialists in the movie and TV industry is not the production of political films and TV shows openly advocating socialism. Their goal is to corrupt our moral premises by corrupting non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories — thus making people absorb the basic premises of Collectivism by indirection and implication.
Few people would take socialism straight. But a constant stream of hints, lines, and touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like the drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock they are trying to split is Americanism.
Following is a list of the more common devices used to turn non-political movies and TV shows into carriers of political propaganda. It is a guide list for all those who do not wish to help advance the cause of socialism.
It is intended as a guide and not as a forced restriction upon anyone. Americanism is unalterably opposed to any political “industry code,” to any group agreement, or to any manner of forbidding any political opinion to anyone by any form of collective force or political pressure. There can be no “group insurance” in the field of ideas. Each person has to do his own thinking. This list is offered to the independent judgment, and for the voluntary action of every honest person in the movie and television industries.
DON'T TAKE POLITICS LIGHTLY.
Don't fool yourself by saying, “I'm not interested in politics,” and then pretend that politics does not exist
We are living in an age when politics is the most burning question in everybody's mind. The whole world faces a critical political choice — freedom or socialism, which means Americanism or totalitarianism. Much of the world is in ruins after wars fought over political and religious ideas. To pretend at such a time that political views are not relevant and that people pay no attention to them is worse than irresponsible.
It is the avowed purpose of the socialists to insert propaganda into movies. Therefore, there are only two possible courses of action open to you, if you want to keep your pictures clean of subversive propaganda:
1. If you have no time or inclination to study political ideas — then do not hire leftists to work on your movies or TV shows.
2. If you wish to employ leftists but intend to keep their politics out of your movies — then study political ideas and learn how to recognize subversive propaganda when you see it.
To hire socialists on the theory that “they won't put over any politics on me” and then remain ignorant and indifferent to the subject of politics is an attitude for which there can be no excuse.
DON'T SMEAR THE FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM
Don't pretend that Americanism and the free enterprise system are two different things. They are inseparable, like body and soul. The fundamental principle of inalienable individual rights, which is Americanism, can be translated into political reality only in the form of the economic system of free enterprise. That was the system established by the American Constitution, the system which made America the best and greatest country on the earth. You may preach any other form of economics if you wish. But if you do so, don't pretend that you are preaching Americanism.
Don't pretend that you are upholding the free enterprise system in some vague, general, undefined way while preaching the specific ideas that oppose it and destroy it.
Don't attack individual rights, individual freedom, private action, private initiatives, and private property. These things are essential parts of the free enterprise system, without which it cannot exist.
Don't preach the superiority of public ownership over private ownership. Don't preach or imply that all publicly owned projects are noble, humanitarian undertakings by grace of the mere fact that they are publicly owned — while preaching, at the same time, that private property or the defense of private property rights is the expression of some sort of vicious greed, of antisocial selfishness, or evil.
DON'T SMEAR ENTREPRENEURS
Don't spit into your own face or, worse, pay miserable little rats to do it.
You, as a movie or television producer, are an entrepreneur. The film and television industries provide a good living for many, many people. There is an old fable about a pig who fills his belly with acorns, then started digging to undermine the roots of the oak from which the acorns came. Let's not allow that pig to become the symbol of Hollywood.
Throughout American history, the best of American entrepreneurs were people who embodied the highest virtues: productive genius, energy, initiative, independence, courage. Socially (if “social significance” interests you) they were among the greatest of all benefactors because it is they who created the opportunities for achieving the unprecedented material wealth of the industrial revolution and the information age.
In our own day, all around us, there are countless examples of self-made people who rose through the ranks and achieved great entrepreneurial success through their own energy, ability, and honest productive effort.
All too often entrepreneurs, industrialists, bankers, and business leaders are presented on the screen as villains, crooks, chiselers or exploiters. One such production may be taken as non-political or accidental. A constant stream of such productions becomes pernicious, subversive political propaganda: it creates hatred for all business leaders in the mind of the audience, and makes people receptive to the cause of socialism.
While political correctness has a strict code that forbids us to offend or insult any group or nation — so we dare not present in an unfavorable light the tiniest Balkan kingdom — we permit ourselves to smear and slander American business leaders in the most irresponsibly dishonest matter.
It is true that there are vicious business leaders — just as there are vicious people in any other class or profession. But we have been practicing an outrageous kind of double standard: we do not attack the individual representatives of any other group, class or nation, in order not to imply an attack on the whole group; yet when we present individual business leaders as monsters, we claim that no reflection on the whole class of business leaders was intended.
It's got to be one or the other. This sort of double standard can deceive nobody and can serve no one's purpose, except that of the socialists.
It is the moral — no, not just political, but moral — duty of every decent person in the movie and television industries to throw into the trashcan, where it belongs, every story that smears entrepreneurs and business leaders as such.
DON'T SMEAR WEALTH
In a free society — such as America — wealth is achieved through production, and through the voluntary exchange of one's goods or services. You cannot hold production as evil — nor can you hold as evil a person's right to keep the result of his own effort.
Only savages and socialists get rich by force — that is, by looting the property of others. It is a fundamental American principle that every person is free to work for their own benefit and to go as far as their ability will carry them, and their property is theirs — whether they have made one dollar or one billion dollars.
If the villain in your story happens to be rich — don't permit lines of dialogue suggesting that he is the typical representative of a whole social class, the symbol of all the rich. Keep it clear in your mind and your script that his villainy is due to his own personal character — not to his wealth or class.
If you do not see the difference between wealth honestly produced and wealth looted — you are preaching the ideas of socialism. You are implying that all property and all human labor should belong to the State. And you are inciting men to crime: If all wealth is evil, no matter how acquired, why should a person bother to earn it? He might as well seize it by robbery, fraud or expropriation.
It is the proper wish of every decent American to stand on their own feet, earn their own living, and be as good at it as they can — that is, get as rich as they can by honest exchange.
Stop insulting them and stop defaming their proper ambition. Stop giving them — and yourself — a guilt complex by unthinkingly spreading the slogans of socialism. Put an end to that pernicious modern hypocrisy: everybody wants to get rich, and almost everybody feels that they must apologize for it.
DON'T SMEAR THE PROFIT MOTIVE
If you denounce the profit motive, what is it that you wish people to do? Work without reward, like slaves, for the benefit of others?
An entrepreneur has to be interested in profit. In a free economy, entrepreneurs can make a profit only if they make a good product or service which people are willing to buy. What do you want them to do? Should they sell their product or service at a loss? If so, how long are they to remain in business? And at whose expense?
Don't give to your characters — as a sign of villainy, as a damning characteristic — a desire to make money. Nobody wants to, or should, work without payment, and nobody does — except a slave. There is nothing dishonorable about a pursuit of money in a free economy because money can be earned only by productive effort.
If what you mean, when you denounce it, is a desire to make money dishonestly or immorally — then say so. Make it clear that what you denounce is dishonesty, not money-making. Make it clear that you are denouncing evildoers, not capitalists. Don't toss out careless generalities which imply that there is no difference between the two. That is what the socialists want you to imply.
DON'T SMEAR SUCCESS
America was made by the idea that personal achievement and personal success are each person's proper and moral goal.
There are many forms of success: spiritual, artistic, industrial, financial. All these forms, in any field of honest endeavor, are good, desirable and admirable. Treat them as such.
Don't permit any disparagement or defamation of personal success. It is the socialists' intention to make people think that personal success is somehow achieved at the expense of others and that every successful person has hurt somebody by becoming successful.
It is the socialists aim to discourage all personal effort and to drive people into a hopeless, dispirited, gray herd of robots who have lost all personal ambition, who are easy to rule, willing to obey and willing to exist in selfless servitude to the state.
America is based on the ideals of human dignity and self-respect. Dignity and self-respect are impossible without a sense of personal achievement. When you defame success, you defame human dignity.
America is the land of the self-made people. Say so on the screen.
DON'T GLORIFY FAILURE
Failure, in itself, is not admirable. And while every person meets with failure somewhere in their life, the admirable thing is their courage in overcoming it — not the fact that they failed.
Failure is no disgrace — but it is certainly no brand of virtue or nobility, either.
It is the socialists' intention to make people accept misery, depravity, and degradation as their natural lot in life. This is done by presenting every kind of failure as sympathetic, as a sign of goodness and virtue — while every kind of success is portrayed as a sign of evil. This implies that only the evil can succeed under our American system — while the good are to be found in the gutter.
Don't present all the poor as “good” and all the rich as “evil.” In judging a person's character, poverty is no disgrace — but it is no virtue, either; wealth is no virtue — but it is certainly no disgrace.
DON'T GLORIFY DEPRAVITY
Don't present sympathetic studies of depravity. Go easy on stories about murderers, perverts and all the rest of that sordid stuff. If you use such stories, don't place yourself and the audience on the side of the criminals. Don't create sympathy for them, don't give them excuses and justifications, don't imply that they “can't help it.”
If you preach that a depraved person “couldn't help it,” you are destroying the basis of all morality. You are implying that people cannot be held responsible for their evil acts because people have no power to choose between good and evil; if so, then all moral precepts are futile, and people must resign themselves to the idea that they are helpless, irresponsible animals. Don't help to spread such an idea.
When you pick these stories for their purely sensational value, you do not realize that you are dealing with one of the most crucial philosophical issues: These stories represent a profoundly insidious attack on all moral principles and all religious precepts. It is a basic tenet of Marxism that people have no freedom of moral or intellectual choice; that they are only a soulless witless collection of meat and glands, open to any sort of conditioning by anybody. The socialists intend to become the conditioners.
There is too much horror and depravity in the world at present. If people see nothing but horror and depravity on the screen, you will merely add to their despair by driving in the impression that nothing better is possible to man or can be expected of life, which is what the socialists want people to think. Socialism thrives on despair. People without hope are easily ruled.
Don't excuse depravity. Don't drool over weaklings as conditioned “victims of circumstance,” a “victim of their background” or a “victim of society” who “couldn't help it.” You are actually providing an excuse and an alibi for the worst instincts in the weakest members of your audiences.
Don't tell people that humans are helpless, twisted, drooling, sniffling, neurotic weaklings. Show the world an American kind of person, for a change.
DON'T DEIFY “THE COMMON MAN”
It is only in Europe — under social caste systems where people are divided into “aristocrats” and “commoners” — that one can talk about defending the “common man.” What does the word “common” mean in America?
Under the American system, all people are equal before the Law. Therefore, if anyone is classified as “common” — they can be called common only regarding their personal qualities. It then means that they have no outstanding abilities, no outstanding virtues, no exceptional intelligence. Is that an object of glorification?
In socialist doctrine, it is. Socialism preaches the reign of mediocrity, the destruction of all individuality and all personal distinction, the turning of people into “masses,” which means an undivided, undifferentiated, impersonal, average, common herd.
In the American doctrine, no person is common. Every person's personality is unique — and it is respected as such. They may have qualities which they share with others, but their virtue is not engaged by how much they resemble others — that is the socialist doctrine; their virtue is properly gauged by their personal distinction, great or small.
In America, no one is scorned or penalized if their ability is small. But neither are they praised, extolled and glorified for the smallness of their ability.
America is the land of the uncommon. It is the land where people are free to develop their genius — and to get it's just rewards. It is the land where each person tries to develop whatever quality they might possess and to rise to whatever degree they can, great or modest. It is not the land where one is taught that one is small and ought to remain small. It is not the land where one glories or is taught to glory in one's mediocrity.
No self-respecting American is or thinks of themselves as “little,” no matter how poor they may be. That, precisely, is the difference between an American worker and a European surf.
Don't ever use any lines about “the common man” or “the little people.” It is not the American idea to be either “common” or “little.”
DON'T GLORIFY THE COLLECTIVE
This point requires you are careful and thoughtful attention.
There is a significant difference between free cooperation and forced collectivism. It is the difference between the United States and the People's Republic of China. But the socialists are very skillful at hiding the difference in selling you the second under the guise of the first. You might miss it. The audience won't.
Cooperation is the free association of people who work together by voluntary agreement, with each deriving their own personal benefits.
Collectivism is the forced herding together of people into a group, with the individual having no choice about it, no personal motive, no personal reward, and subordinating themselves blindly to the will of others.
Keep this distinction clearly in mind — in order to judge whether you are asked to glorify is American cooperation or socialist collectivism
Don't preach that everybody should be and act alike.
Don't fall for such drivel as, “I don't want to be different! I just want to be like everybody else!” You've heard this one in endless variations. If ever there was un-American attitude, this is it. America is the country where everyone wants to be different — and most people succeed at it.
If you preach that it is evil to be different — you teach every particular group of people to hate every other group, every minority, every person, for being different from them; thus you lay the foundation of race hatred.
Don't preach that all mass action is good, and all individual actions evil. It is true that there are vicious individuals; it is also true that there are vicious groups. Both must be judged by their specific actions — and not treated as an issue of “the one against the many,” with the “many” always right and the “one” always wrong.
Remember that it is the socialists aim to preach the supremacy, the superiority, the holy virtue of the group — as opposed to the individual. It is not America's aim. Nor yours.
DON'T SMEAR INDEPENDENT PEOPLE
This is the same issue as the preceding point.
The socialists' chief purpose is to destroy every form of independence — independent work, independent action, independent property, independent thought, an independent mind, or an independent person.
Conformity, likeness, servility, submission, and obedience are necessary to establish a socialist society. Don't help the socialists teach people to acquire these attitudes.
Don't fall for the old socialist trick of thinking that an independent person or an individualist is one who crushes and exploits others — such as a dictator. An independent person is one who stands alone and respects the same right of others, who neither rules nor serves, who neither sacrifices themselves nor others. A dictator — by definition — is the most complete collectivist of all, because they exist by ruling, crushing and exploiting a huge collective of people.
Don't permit the snide little touches which socialists sneak into scripts — all the lines, hints and implications which suggest that something (a person, an attitude, a motive, an emotion) is evil because it is independent (or private, or personal, or single, or individual).
Don't preach that everything done for others is good, while everything done for one's own sake is evil. This damns every form of personal joy and happiness.
Don't preach that everything “public-spirited” is good, while everything personal and private is evil.
Don't make every form of loneliness a sin, and every form of the herd spirit of virtue.
Remember that America is the country of the pioneer, the nonconformist, the inventor, the originator, the innovator. Remember that all the great thinkers, artists, scientists were single, individual, independent people who stood alone, and discovered new directions of achievement — alone.
Don't let yourself be fooled when the leftists tell you that what they want to destroy are people like Hitler or Mussolini. What they want to destroy are people like Shakespeare, Chopin, and Edison.
If you doubt this, think of a certain motive, in which a great composer was damned for succumbing, temporarily, to a horrible, vicious, selfish, antisocial sin. What was his sin? That he wanted to sit alone in his room and write music!
DON'T USE CURRENT EVENTS CARELESSLY
A favorite trick of socialists is to insert into pictures casual lines of dialogue about some important, highly controversial political issue, to insert them as casual small talk, without any connection to the scene, the plot, or the story.
Don't permit such lines. Don't allow snide little slurs at any political party — especially in a picture which is to be released just before election time.
Don't allow chance remarks of a partisan nature about any current political events.
If you wish to mention politics on the screen or take sides in an ongoing controversy — then do so fully and openly. Even those who do not agree with you will respect an honest presentation of the side you've chosen. But the seemingly random remarks, the casual wisecracks, the cowardly little half-hints are the things that arouse the anger and contempt of all those who uphold the opposite side of the issue. In most of the current issues, that opposite side represents half or more than half of your picture audience.
And it is a sad joke on Hollywood that while we shy away from all controversial subjects on the screen, in order not to antagonize anybody — we arouse more antagonism throughout the country and more resentment against ourselves by one cheap little smear line in the midst of some musical comedy than we would ever by a whole political treatise.
Of all current questions, be most careful about your attitude towards the People's Republic of China. You do not have to make pro-China or anti-China movies or TV shows if you do not wish to take a stand. But if you claim that you want to remain neutral, don't stick into movies or TV shows casual lines favorable to the communist rulers of China. Look out for remarks that praise the People's Republic of China directly or indirectly, or statements to the effect that anyone who is anti-Chinese is pro-fascist; or references to fictitious Chinese achievements.
Don't suggest to the audience that the Chinese people are free, secure and happy, that life in China is just about the same as in any other country — while actually, the Chinese people live in constant fear under a bloody, monstrous dictatorship. Look out for speeches that support whatever is in the Chinese interest of the moment, whatever is part of the current socialist line. Don't permit dialogue such as: “The free, peace-loving nations of the world — America, England, and China. . .” or, “Free elections, such as in Russia. . .” or, “American imperialists ought to get out of China.”
DON'T SMEAR AMERICAN POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
The socialist political philosophy takes many turns and makes many changes to meet shifting conditions. But on one objective it has remained fixed: to undermine faith in—and ultimately to destroy—our American political institutions.
Don't discredit the Congress of the United States by presenting it as an ineffectual body, devoted to mere talk. If you do that — you imply that representative government is no good, and what we ought to have is a dictator.
Don't discredit our free elections. If you do that — you imply that elections should be abolished.
Don't discredit our courts by presenting them as corrupt. If you do that — you lead people to believe that they have no recourse except to violence, since peaceful justice cannot be obtained.
It is true that there have been vicious Congressmen and judges, and politicians with stolen elections, just as there are vicious people in any profession. But if you present them in a story, be sure to make it clear that you are criticizing particular people — not the system. The American system, as such, is the best ever devised in history. If some people do not live up to it — let us damn those people, not the system which they betray.
These are the things which socialists and their sympathizers try to sneak into pictures intended as nonpolitical — and these are the things which you must keep out of your scripts if your intention is to make non-political movies.
There is, of course, no reason why you should not make pictures on political themes. In fact, it would be most desirable if more pictures were advocating the political principles of Americanism, seriously, consistently and dramatically. Serious themes are always good entertainment if honestly don't but if you attempt such pictures — do not undertake them lightly, carelessly, and with no better equipment than a few trite generalities and safe, benevolent bromides. Be very sure of what you want to say — and say it clearly, specifically, uncompromisingly. Evasions and generalities only help the enemies of Americanism — by giving people the impression that American principles are a collection of weak, inconsistent, meaningless, hypocritical, worn-out old slogans.
There is no obligation on you to make political pictures — if you do not wish to take a strong stand. You are free to confine your work too good, honest, non-political movies. But there is a moral obligation on you to present the political ideas of Americanism actively and honestly — if you undertake pictures with political themes.
And when you make movies or TV shows with political themes and implications — don't hire socialist to write, direct or produce them. You cannot expect socialist to remain neutral and not to insert their own ideas into their work take them at their word, not ours they have declared openly and repeatedly that their first obligation is to socialism, that their first duty is to spread propaganda, and that their work in pictures is only a means to that end, the end being the dictatorship of the proletariat. You had better believe them about their own stated intentions. Remember that Hitler, too, had stated openly that his aim was world conquest, but nobody believed them or took it seriously until it was too late.
Now a word of warning about the question of free speech. The principle of free speech requires that we do not use political force to forbid the socialists the expression of their ideas — which means that we do not pass laws forbidding them to speak. But the principle of free speech does not require that we furnish socialists with the means to preach their ideas, and does not imply that we owe them jobs and support to advocate our own destruction at our own expense. The constitutional guarantee of free speech reads, “Congress shall pass no laws. . .” It does not require employers to be suckers.
Let the socialists preach what they wish (so long as it remains mere talking) at the expense of those and in the employ of those who share their ideas. Let them create their own motion production studios, if they can. But let us put an end to their use of our pictures, our studios and our money for the purpose of preaching our expropriation, enslavement, and destruction. Freedom of speech does not imply that it is our duty to provide a knife for the murderer who wants to cut our throat.
Yours in Reason,
The preceding open letter to all movie and television producers is entirely based on a combination of the "Statement of Principles" of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and the pamphlet "Screen Guide for Americans," written by Ayn Rand in 1947 for the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, neither of which are under copyright protection at this time, to the best of my knowledge. This revision is my own edit of the original work. While the purpose of my revisions was to "update" the writing to make it more appealing to a modern readership, yet remain consistent with the original work's purpose, I am solely responsible for the views expressed in this revision and I do not pretend to speak for Miss Rand or the MPAPAI. I welcome feedback or input for further refinement of this letter.