Incredible -- for a Modern Journalist

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Over at Vulture is an article that attempts to address a common speculation about The Incredibles, namely whether the franchise is influenced by Ayn Rand's thought and, if so, by how much. Author Abraham Riesman then does a very strange thing for a modern journalist: Rather than concoct a ridiculous caricature of Objectivism and run with it, he (gasp!) consults a speech by Ayn Rand and takes the trouble to interview several people familiar with Rand's thinking. (I'll overlook his use of the term "reformed Objectivist" for one of these since his treatment of the subject matter is nevertheless light years ahead of the vast majority of others who comment on Objectivism.) Among the highlights of the piece are a couple of quotes from Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute, the second of which is below:

Image via Wikipedia.
But when it comes to Syndrome, Ghate is skeptical that he fits the ideal of a Randian villain. After all, he, himself, is exceptional: He manages to build an entire island's worth of murderous gadgets and gizmos. "He's a standard Bond kind of villain, an evil-genius scientist," says Ghate. "If you have that kind of mind and can create these kinds of things, as when he fights with Mr. Incredible and the others, he has built something incredible out of himself. That's not the way Ayn Rand thinks of villains. For her, villains are impractical and incompetent. They don't want to have to achieve and produce."
Having expressed my own reservations about superheroes here, it was enlightening to learn -- or perhaps be reminded of -- Rand's thoughts on the subject, which Riesman quotes near the beginning. Overall, I enjoyed the piece.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

While I applaud the specifics of the analysis, I have to wonder why this is a question. One theme of this movie is that superiority is dangerous. Lip service is paid to the crushing burden of constraints the supers live under, but it's portrayed as a necessary evil--the hero that rebels against it doesn't do so for any principled reason, but as a whim, a midlife crisis. The villain of the movie attempts to destroy superheroes--by making a world were everyone has super powers, thus rendering superheroes "normal". The movie ends with the family, rather than embracing their abilities, learning to hide them except when they use them for altruistic reasons.

In an Objectivist work, these both would be reversed: The idea that normal people could have access to superpowers would be applauded, while the abuse endured by superheroes (who are treated as criminals for the "crime" of being born with superior abilities) would be properly portrayed as evil.

I see no way to interpret this as an Objectivist movie. If anything, it is ANTI-Objectivist.

Kyle Haight said...

I always thought the 'Randianness' of THE INCREDIBLES was overblown. Rand is probably the most well known defender of the rights of the able, so any cultural product that upholds the exceptional in a conflict with the mediocre or incompetent brings her to mind. But that alone isn't enough to make an artwork Randian.

Two obvious counter-points that were not mentioned in the article. There's an exchange between Elastigirl and her daughter Violet, in which she tells her "Don't think. When the time comes, you'll know what to do. It's in your blood." This is a pivotal conversation in Violet's character arc, and it's utterly un-Randian -- in fact, it's straight-up Nietzschean. I can't imagine a genuine Rand hero ever telling anyone *not to think*.

This Nietzschean notion of super-heroes as inherently different and superior to regular humans can also be seen in Syndrome's villainy. Part of what makes him evil, in the world of the film, is that he doesn't know his proper place. He doesn't have any 'special powers', but he wants to be a hero anyhow, and he uses his mind to build technology that would let him do so. But he's doomed to failure because being a hero isn't 'in his blood'.

In a Randian world Syndrome would be a hero, because he would have been celebrated for his creative genius. In the Nietzschean world of THE INCREDIBLES he's pushed into villainy because he aspires to a role beyond his station.

Gus Van Horn said...

Dinwar and Kyle,

Thanks for offering your opinions on how "Randian" the Incredibles are. I found the movies enjoyable, but quite mixed. The fact that a movie that celebrates superiority (however inconsistently) is so easily regarded as "Randian" perhaps reflects at once how radical Ayn Rand is, and how sadly odd it is to see this in newer cultural products like movies.


Jennifer Snow said...

I'm a little disappointed that Onkar didn't mention a parallel between Syndrome and the villain in Think Twice, who wants to sell weapons of mass destruction to the Soviets. Syndrome was a weapons manufacturer who didn't care who he sold to--the man who put his mind in the service of destruction, the "longest-range killer in the world".

So, Syndrome IS very similar to at least one Ayn Rand villain.

In his power-lust and desire to destroy real heroes to prove that his course is justified, he's also rather similar to Gail Wynand.