February 27, 2006

Just because I'm watching it tonight

Is one of my favourite films of a piece with the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand?

the movie revolves around a hero -- a concept that Rand greatly lauded over the muddy protagonists of most modern work. Mr. Incredible is by no means flawless, but he is shown to be exceptional in a world of mediocrity, as are the movie's other superheroes.

Well, sure. Rand's followers like to rail against mediocrity, but of course this is a huge strawman -- does anyone going around defending mediocrity and conformity? Okay, maybe Rousseau, but he also says a community ought to try to kill everyone who's not part of it. Certainly you don't find this in any serious social/political or ethical philosopher of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries (fascist paeans to the glory of a totalitarian state don't count as serious philosophy because they're not). Even Marx's (in)famous dictum starts with the clause `From each according to his ability'.


On its flip-side, the movie's villain is also a classic Objectivist foil. Voiced expertly by Jason Lee, Syndrome is everything that Rand deplored in her novels -- a conniving, manipulative man who seeks personal gain without honest work or achievement.

Well, er, no. Certainly Syndrome is conniving and manipulative and seeks personal gain at the expense of others, but he works even harder than the Supers to get his power -- he's born with nothing more than a genius for invention, not special abilities, and spends fifteen years building his fortune and developing his weapons. He conducts himself with an utter lack of respect for those he perceives as his inferiors (that is, everyone else), but, in Rand's ethics, that's a virtue of the superior, not a vice.

What's more, consider Rand's 'heroic' character Howard Roark, who destroys a building, killing the people inside, to keep others from taking credit for his work. Does this sound more like the altruistic and self-sacrificing Supers, or Syndome's plan to gain fame by launching a giant robot at the city and pretending to defeat it in battle? (Not to mention Syndrome's fit when the people he's 'rescuing' mistake him for some of the old Supers.)

Certainly The Incredibles calls on us to celebrate and develop our natural talents. But the heroes of the film develop their talents in pursuit of the greater good and classical notions of duty and virtue, not out of Rand's twisted ideal of self-aggrandizement no matter the cost to others. If anything, The Incredibles is an anti-Objectivist film.


MosBen said...

Though I'm certainly no Rand expert, I seen The Incredibles compared much more often to The Watchmen, a comparison which I think is apt.

Noumena said...

Well, they're both works of art in a genre not usually recognised for having artistic merit. Or did you have something deeper in mind?

Unknown said...

Great post, Noumena, and I agree 100%. The article completely misses one of the important themes of the film, which is the need to put talents to productive social use.

The supers were once uncontrolled heroes, and they occassionally did real damage in their efforts to fight evil. So they were banned. This reaction was too extreme.

By the end of the movie, there is an agreement between Mr. Incredible and the anonymous government goon to find a way where the abilities of the supers can be harnessed (either by, or with the cooperation of, the government) to the benefit of society. This is anathema to Rand's sophomoric philosophy.

MosBen said...

As I've heard it told, Moore was really the first, or at least the most influential, to take the spandex hero crowd and write about what effect they would have if they actually existed in a real world. What kind of people become heroes? What would the reaction of the general populace be to the damage caused by heroic combat? The anti-heroing law in The Incredibles is pulled straight from Watchmen.

It's not to say the whole film is directly pulled from Watchmen, but rather that it seems influence heavily by Watchmen and likely couldn't have been made without the study of super heroes Moore did twenty years ago.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you read more closely in the future, though for the moment, I will assume you have some conception of The Fountainhead's plot. The public housing project Howard Roark destroys in Aynd Rand's novel, The Fountainhead, is still under construction; he destroys the bastardization of his work before it is complete. The building, explicitly stated in the text, is unoccupied. Moreover, Roark makes a concerted effort to lure away the sole night watchman responsible for guarding the construction site. You will remember, Dominique Francon claimed to the watchman: her car had broken down; accordingly, the night watchman left the construction site to seek out a garage for assistance. The only casulity in Roark's demolition of the housing project is Dominique Francon, whose wounds are self-inflicted in order to obfuscate her connection to Roark. What is more, Roark is not motivated by public recognition or popularity in creating a building, as you imply in your fallacious comparison to Syndrome. In the novel, Roark agrees to design the housing project for Peter Keating, though he does not wish to receive credit. The only condition is that the work be done to his exact specifications. In this he is selfish, he will not compromise his values. To sacrifice one's values to the values of others is altruistic. The embodiment of that ideal is seen in the antagonistic character of Peter Keating, who panders to public approval, not in Howard Roark. Thus, your comments are as factually erroneous as they are illogicall. Neither the protagonist nor the antagonist of The Incredibles is Ms. Rand's conception of the heroic. And, lastly, to address drew's comments: your opinion of The Fountainhead, moreover of Objectivism, as "sophmoric" is negated by your agreement with Noumena's factual inaccuracy.

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about, "killed everyone inside"? There was nobody inside! The project wasn't even complete when Roark blew it up!

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