In 1958, when television sets were still relatively new in households across America, the television show, “Twenty-One”, captivated thousands of viewers a week. “Twenty-One” ruled the airwaves and became one of the most popular quiz shows on television. Ratings skyrocketed for the show when Charles Van Doren, a Columbia University professor who was from one of the most renowned literary families in America, became a contestant. Charles Van Doren quickly became a widely popular champion of the show, and was soon seen as a national hero.
Week after week, audiences tuned in to watch Charles Van Doren use his incredible knowledge and correctly answer the most obscure questions. Van Doren seemed to be unbeatable; no one was able to match with his uncanny knowledge. Millions across America fell in love with Charles Van Doren and put him on a pedestal of intellectual superiority. That is however, until a scandal surfaced rocking viewers across the nation and changed the viewers’ perception of Van Doren from an honest man, to a deceitful con artist.
A former contestant from the expansively popular television show, Herb Stempel, accused the show “Twenty-One” to be nothing more than a fraud. He claimed that the viewers were fooled and saw only what the network and the program’s producers wanted them to see. Investigator Richard Goodwin was put on the case, and uncovered the facts that exposed the deception, viewers across America were stunned. The movie “Quiz Show” is based around the rise and fall of what was once one of America’s favorite televisions shows, “Twenty-One”.
Ayn Rand’s “Universal Rational Ethical Egoism” is the philosophical thought that everybody ought to act in their own rational self interest. In simpler terms, take care of yourself first. Unlike most philosophers, who take the more common route of do whatever as long as it is “for the greatest happiness for the greatest good”, Rand takes a more egocentric approach. Rand describes selfishness as “concerns for one’s own interests”. So if one were to life their selfishly, they would put themselves and their values, before anyone else’s. Some may not agree with Rand’s views, however, a lot can be gained from her.
Rand may be saying always to make yourself your number one priority, but Rand also declares that you can still help others, as long as they’re worth it. In Rand’s point of view, integrity is respect for one’s own values, your values being most important. In Rand’s mind, we don’t owe anybody anything. Furthermore, we hold no obligations for anyone but ourselves. Rand explains sacrifice as “the surrender of a greater value for a lesser one”. Rand states that you shouldn’t sacrifice anything for a stranger, because unlike for a loved one, it contains no self interest for yourself.
Rand came-up with the hierarchy of values to help us determine what, or who, is worth our time. Rand’s hierarchy of values puts the cost of one’s own self interest and compares the value of others to determine whether or not they’re worth the sacrifice. Basically, the hierarchy of values goes; you above all, your family, your friends, and then everyone else. You should only risk more for those of a higher value. So Rand isn’t always leading the self centered life style, she just promotes it on a higher level than living in an altruistic way.
In “Quiz Show”, the main character Charles Van Doren was faced with many tough decisions conflicting between his integrity toward himself and to the nation that admired him. Throughout the story line, Van Doren infringed Rand’s normative principle and ultimately fell victim to the consequences. When first given the opportunity to be on “Twenty-One” Van Doren was unconfident to join because he didn’t believe his intelligence would be enough to win. The show’s producers, Dan Enright and Albert Freedman, assured Van Doren he’d be guaranteed to win because they would give him the questions he answered correctly during the interview.
At first, Van Doren was completely against the idea of cheating and was concerned for the current winner of “Twenty-One” at the time, Herb Stemple’s, well-being. Enright and Freedman claimed that it wouldn’t be cheating because he still derived the correct answeres from his own knowledge. They continued to coax him with the fact that he’d win a lot more money than his $86 a week salary as a professor payed him. When Van Doren still showed concern over Herb Stemple’s best interests Enright and Freedman were quick to point out that Stemple wasn’t a role model for the kids and the audience didn’t like him anymore.
They needed Van Doren to be the role model the kids across the nation were looking for and the hero the audience wanted. Still, Van Doren was adamant if he was going to be on “Twenty-One”, that he would beat Herb Stemple the honest way. Enright and Freedman agreed to Van Doren’s standards and scheduled him to appear against Stemple on the next episode of “Twenty-One”. By putting his own self-interest aside for the fairness of the game and honesty toward the audience, Van Doren went against Rand’s normative principle of putting his personal gain aside for the integrity of not only thers, but strangers. As it turned out, when Van Doren appeared on “Twenty-One” for the first time, he was given the questions he answered correctly from interview. Instead of sticking with his values of honesty, Charles went along with the show and defeated Herb Stemple. Van Doren walked away not only as the winner of “Twenty-One”, but as a new celebrity known across the nation. Van Doren continued to go along with the deceit, collecting large paychecks and the admiration of others the entire time.
As Rand would have assumed, life was good for Charles Van Doren. That is, however, until Investigator Dick Goodwin started questioning “Twenty-One’s” validity, and began to interrogate Charles Van Doren. As Van Doren was interviewed by Investigator Goodwin, he became nervous for his well being, yet he continued to put himself on the line with the possible chance of the truth coming out. If such events were to happen, it would expose him as a liar to the entire nation, ruining not only his name, but his entire highly-respected family’s as well.
Nevertheless, after the interview, Van Doren went the show’s producers and told them he doesn’t want the answers anymore, just the questions. Even so, being on the show was too risky. On the next show, Van Doren purposely let another contestant defeat him so he would no longer be on the show. If Rand were to examine Van Doren’s predicament, it is highly likely she would have told Van Doren he shouldn’t of wasted the once in a lifetime opportunity, and stayed on the show as long as he could to gain that much more. Goodwin’s investigation of “Twenty-One” continued, putting Van Doren and his reputation on the edge.
As Goodwin collects more and more evidence against “Twenty-One” Van Doren was unable to contain himself and his shameful secret any longer. Van Doren first came clean to his father, Mark Van Doren, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, writer, and critic. After Charles told his father about the web of lies he was tangled in, Mark Van Doren became upset and shouted, “Your name is mine! ” Meaning he was ashamed to be associated with his own son’s fraudulent behavior. Even though Mark Van Doren didn’t support Charles’ actions on the show, he was there right beside him when it came to confessing his secret to America.
Charles Van Doren went down to the committee of counselors and confessed that he was deeply involved in “Twenty-One’s” perception and that he knowingly and willing deceived millions of people. This is exactly what Charles Van Doren Confessed: ‘I would give almost anything I have… to reverse the course of my life in the last year . The past doesn’t change for anyone. But at least I can learn from the past. I’ve learned a lot about life. I’ve learned a lot about myself… and about the responsibilities any man has to his fellow men.
I have learned a lot about good and evil. They’re not always what they appear to be. I was involved… deeply involved, in a deception. I have deceived my friends… and I had millions of them. I lied to the American people. I lied about what I knew… and then I lied about what I did not know. In a sense, I was like a child who refuses to admit a fact in the hope that it’ll go away. Of course, it did not go away. I was scared… scared to death. I had no solid position, no basis to stand on for myself. There was one way out, and that was… simply to tell the truth.
It may sound trite to you, but I’ve found myself again after a number of years. I’ve been acting a role, uh… m-maybe all my life, of thinking I’ve, I’ve done more… a-accomplished more, produced more than I have. I’ve had all the breaks. I have stood on the shoulders of life, and I’ve never gotten down into the dirt to build… to erect a foundation of my own. I’ve flown too high on borrowed wings. Everything came too easy. That is why I am here today. ” The audience in the courtroom was shocked. Charles Van Doren would never be seen as an honest man to the American people again.
Although his reputation had been ruined, Van Doren felt relieved for finally getting the truth off his chest. Van Doren’s Dad still stood behind him, but ultimately he lost his job as a professor, and the respect from his peers, and his first-rate reputation. Ayn Rand’s normative principle weighs the loss and gain one gets to determine whether or not an event is worth doing, in this case…the loss was much more than what was gained. In Rand’s view, Charles Van Doren may have gained a lot in a materialistic retrospect, however the ultimate and most important values Van Doren had as a person, will always be lost.
In the end, based on her normative principles, I believe Ayn Rand would see the loss too great to tolerate, and either turn down the show in the beginning or bring the secret to her grave. John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, was an influential proponent of utilitarianism. Mill’s Benevolence Principle holds “that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. Essentially, it is the idea that an act is right if it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, happiness being pleasure and the absence of pain.
Unlike Rand, Mill encourages a more social philosophy. In Mill’s eyes everyone is responsible for everyone else’s happiness, not just their own. With Mill, there are only two types of pleasures, mental and physical. Mental or intellectual pleasures such as feelings, imagination, or morality are considered higher pleasures. Mental pleasures are cultivated over time making them superior in quality while forming a better character for those who obtain them. Where as physical pleasures are ranked lower and are of less importance because they can be easily obtained and rarely serve as any importance to the development of a person’s character.
Toward the end of the film, Freedman, the producer, justifies the fraud by suggesting that “no one was hurt” and that, in fact, the sponsors and participants benefited financially and that the audience was more interested in the money trail rather than in the integrity of the player or in the intellectual content of the show. Based on Mill’s position of an act is good, or in this case justified, if it promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest amount of people with the absence of pain, I believe Mill would agree with Freedman’s position.
Although I’m sure Mill would ultimately conclude that sitting in front of a television is the epitome of a lower pleasure, he would mostly likely agree that money was made for a lot of people involved and the audience was entertained watching the show. Mill’s logic would argue that no one was hurt by the fraudulent TV show, and actually many obtained sensual pleasure from watching it. Given the situation, it seems to me that Mill wouldn’t find “Twenty-One’s” actions wrong or unjust. Given the choice between the two philosophers, Rand and Mill, I would have to say that I prefer Rand’s way of thinking.
Like Rand, I believe that everyone should live in their own rational self interests. I have always considered myself to be a very independent person. Rand’s idea that we should all make ourselves our number one priority supports my life style. I am also intrigued by Rand’s hierarchy of values. I believe it is very important to have priorities in life. That way, if life gets a little chaotic as it sometimes does, your priorities assist in determining which affair to handle first and so on. Same goes for sacrifices.
I agree with Rand’s initiative to rank yourself and those in your life to establish who deserves my time and what I can give. For instance, I’d give my mom a kidney without hesitation because it would gain me more precious time with her. But I wouldn’t sacrifice something at that level to a person I am merely acquainted with. Such as Rand would think, it wouldn’t be worth it for a person I don’t care about. Although I appreciate Mill’s way of thinking, to me, Rand is not only more efficient, but realistic. Like the saying goes; you have to help yourself, before you can help others.