NBC’s Dracula and Atlas Shrugged

Matthew traces a literary parallel between Ayn Rand's infamous Atlas Shrugged and NBC's new autumn drama, Dracula...

Sleepy HollowThe Following, and Hannibal are all recent television shows that represent a growing trend amongst the major networks in that they are attempting to provide mature and engaging horror based content fit for the consumption of a mass audience. NBC in particular seems very interested in creating intellectually engaging content, especially with the recent addition of Dracula to their late autumn line-up. What makes Dracula such an intellectually stimulating show is that many of the show’s themes and ideology appear to have come straight out of one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century, Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.

Dracula seems to be taking its inspiration from Atlas Shrugged in regards to both its narrative and visual content. However, Dracula seems to at times put an almost progressive spin on some of the most controversial themes in the novel. The plot of Atlas Shrugged centers around the mysterious disappearance of the world’s most successful and innovative businessmen. A young entrepreneur named Dagny Taggart spends the novel trying to solve this mystery and becomes obsessed with finding a man named John Galt. It turns out that John Galt is the man responsible for this grand conspiracy as he has been removing the world’s top businessmen and industrialists and placing them in a secret location. It is a belief that in this ‘horrific’ socialist world that the characters inhabit that the only way that a man or women can truly be free is to remove them from this society. According to John Galt, this society must fall apart in order for it to be remade in a better and more ‘properly’ ordered fashion.

Dagny’s involvement into this conspiracy unfolds throughout the novel but in particular her relationships with Henry “Hank” Rearden, a prominent businessman and Francisco d’Anconia, who was her childhood friend, help to illuminate the perils of the world that she finds herself in. A world where hard work is rewarded with more work and there is the ever present idea that the rich are to be servants of the poor. The novel champions a free market approach to civilization that in many ways is exceedingly distorted and almost perverse it its total disregard for the idea that social inequity can exist. It also refuses to acknowledge that at times people from lower socio-economic classes have been preyed upon by the wealthy elite. In fact The American Revolution was fought for many reasons but one was to rid America not so much from the supposed tyrannical rule from an absent king, but to free the colonies from a bourgeois society that created an utterly rigid social class whose existence was based on the violent exploitation of the poor.

Dracula in many ways so far during its inaugural season has taken up the same basic principles of Atlas Shrugged in regards to the idea of a social class being exploited, but in Dracula the wealthy industrialists are anything but victims. In this version of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, Dracula, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers resurfaces to the world as an innovative and eccentric industrialist who is seeking to destroy a brotherhood of exceptionally secretive and lavishly wealthy businessmen known as The Order of The Dragon. Through monopolistic practices, coercion and good old fashioned greed they control the business interests of the newly industrialized England at the turn of the nineteenth century and possibly the entire world as well.

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Dracula, who is pretending to be an American, is viewed by the elite members of this English society as being an undignified charlatan, and has created a new type of energy that will literally change the face of the world. The creation of a new energy source is exactly what John Galt did in Atlas Shrugged. However, Galt abandoned his project because he lost faith in the world and Dracula wants to use his new technology to cripple The Order of the Dragon. It is Dracula’s belief that this new energy source will make his enemies’ business interests (which are more then coincidentally tied up in oil) completely useless. Dracula unlike Galt is motivated by revenge because his wife was taken from him centuries earlier by The Order of the Dragon and as such he is hell-crooked on revenge and will use any means necessary to exact his vengeance. Making Dracula a figure who acts out of the love he had for his wife makes him a tragic a sympathetic figure in much the same way that Francis Ford Coppola did with his version of Dracula in the 1992 movie of the same name. In many ways, Dracula has now become a character audiences have been invited to view as something more than the anti-Christ monster that he was portrayed as in Bram Stoker’s original novel.

Dracula, unlike John Galt, and despite his selfish reasons, wants to destroy the old industrialized world and bring in a more democratic society. One of the reasons that he wants to do this is because he was personally exploited by this wealthy class of individuals. This arguably makes him a progressive anti-hero. He is the reverse John Galt in this regard.

Dracula also has many connections to the character of Francisco d’Anconia. For one thing, both are exceptionally good looking men who live a ‘playboy’ lifestyle. Francisco is actually using this lifestyle as a façade to convince the world that he is a spoiled rich boy who is only interested in chasing women, but Francisco uses this cover to help him to execute John Galt’s master plan. Both of these characters are luring women to their side with their sexual prowess but ultimately they share the common bond that they need these women for their ulterior motives. At least Francisco does not want to murder these women to provide for his own sustenance. Furthermore, Dracula unlike Francisco seems to enjoy being a seducer and hence relishes the chance to live a lavish lifestyle filled with seduction. Of course as this is a horror show and the vampire myth has always been linked to sexuality Dracula’s sexual thrill is connected to absurdly violent behavior. Hence sexuality and violence a more then common theme in most horror related programming is clearly present in this show. Watch Psycho or the first ten minutes of the original Halloween for more clarification.

Additionally, the placement of human beings working for and within this detailed industrial world which is heavily present in Dracula is also one of the key themes that Ayn Rand addresses in Atlas Shrugged. Of course Rand makes the case that technological innovation should be controlled by the ‘elite’ members of society. Rand believes that these people who made these innovations should be the ones in charge of their creations and hence the ‘elite’ is comprised in her world of people more than deserving of that title. It is a very noble idea about the free market being able to exist in its absolutely purest form but it is of course a complete fantasy.

No monopolistic or oligopolistic group will ever be able to benefit all of society if there is not some sort of entity that holds them accountable for their actions. Rand does not seem to understand that in the exploitation of an economic group that there are always other factors at play. This is where the people behind Dracula seem to be turning the themes of Atlas Shrugged on its head. The Order of the Dragon besides serving a narrative function on the show are a clear metaphor for any type of monopolistic entity that cares only about power and greed. They have destroyed families, yes for some reason that is why Abraham Van Helsing has enlisted Dracula’s help. Apparently they killed his family too and he needs the undead prince to help him exact his revenge against The Order.

Visually, Dracula paints the industrial revolution as a violent landscape where the wealthy play and fight their wars of power and money with the lower class as their pawns whom they seek to manipulate and control. That may be its biggest and most surprising departure from the central message of Ayn Rand’s grand opus. We had an important scene from the first episode when we see that Dracula’s marvelous technological innovations have caused people, clearly workers from a lower socio-economic class, to be killed or injured. This part about the Industrial Revolution being a cause for bodily harm on a massive scale is accurate because factories during this time caused many people to be permanently injured and even killed. In fact the absurdly high amounts of incidents involving children in factories during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in America helped to bring about very important changes to our society and helped create a set of child labor laws that we still follow today. Even Dracula preys on lower class victims and how apropos it is that probably the most infamous crime case in English history at least to the outside world, that of Jack The Ripper, is mentioned in the show because it really makes the connection to the idea that the lower class is being quite literally preyed upon.

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The suffering at the hands of the wealthy elite is exactly the kind of the theme that Atlas Shrugged refused to address in any way shape or form. That is why the novel is not only controversial but ultimately, severely flawed as a story. The only slack that I will cut to Rand is that she did attempt to create a strong female protagonist at a time when sexism was not even considered a worthy main stream topic to discuss and as a European women who lived through the rise of various totalitarian states and saw first hand what the ‘socialism’ practiced in the former Soviet Union was capable of doing to people it makes sense as to why Rand wanted to believe in the purest form of free market enterprise.

Lastly, Daniel Knauf is a producer on this show and he was the creator of the supremely underappreciated HBO show Carnivale which is another show that examines the exploitation of lower socio-economic groups. The reverse spin that Dracula is putting on Atlas Shrugged, should be reason enough to give this show a chance even if it is not the most compelling show on television or even the most compelling version of the famous myth. Undoubtedly, it is certainly trying to address some very complex and important sociological and political concepts.

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