Friday, July 23, 2010

Fascism, Ayn Rand, and The Incredibles


 (Note: File this under clumsy early writings.)

Some argue that The Incredibles pushes a Randian-fascist ideology where only the most special are allowed to succeed and those not gifted in the same way are told to keep their place. This is symbolized by the way the Parr family is celebrated for the way their superpowers allow them to do things others can’t, while Syndrome is demonized for attempting to artificially give himself powers instead of accepting his pace as a non-super-powered human.
This interpretation is wrong for several reasons: first is the non-sensical pairing of Ayn Rand and fascism, two ideologies diametrically opposed to one another. While Nazism emphasized the master race, this was not necessarily a part of other fascist movements, and Ayn Rand celebrated human achievement but never advocated keeping others in their place. Instead, she abhorred the attempts by the masses to constrict, leech off, and subjugate the gifted instead of taking care of themselves. And in fact, The Incredibles does seem somewhat influenced by her vision. The Parr family starts out essentially in hiding, confined by both government and large corporation to be an average, unremarkable family, despite their potential for great individual achievement. When they finally are unleashed, they have the ability to save the world and succeed in doing it. Syndrome is a complicated character in that he started out as a little kid who just wanted to follow his heroes. When Mr. Incredible rejects him, he does it offhand but nevertheless cruelly, and when Mr. Incredible later apologizes for this treatment it is an honest admission that this was wrong. In fact, one of the major story lines of the film is the way Mr. Incredible comes to realize that he does need help, that he can’t always “work alone.” Syndrome’s angry reaction, however, is a far greater wrong--but not because he builds his own weapons and gadgets to approximate having powers himself. It is rather because he feels the need to repress and kill all the other superheroes so that he alone can be great. Syndrome is, in fact, another person trying to hold back and stunt the achievement of others. It is not that they are gifted and he is not, therefore he should know his place. It is that he refuses to allow those others to be gifted at all and opts to kill them rather than honestly compete. Holding others back, restricting their freedom (and killing them) because of one’s own jealousy us the crime here, not the attempt to become great oneself. That is encouraged, as each child finds their own unique talents and learns to use them morally in their own way. Indeed, the film ends up deviating from Rand significantly in it’s affirmation of traditional morality and altruism. Rand was an atheist who believed all decisions ought to be based on objective self-interest, but a superhero’s life is composed entirely of saving others from harm at great personal risk to oneself. What could be more altruistic than that?
In the end, the film celebrates achievement by affirming the existence of great natural talents. It admits the existence of mediocrity and doesn’t falsely promise everyone is equally special, but it argues that this is no reason to place restrictions on those who have greater talents and it encourages one to develop one’s own gifts to he fullest instead of hiding them or letting others hold one back.

1 comment:

  1. But it's also saying that if you're not naturally talented, you shouldn't try to improve yourself or you're evil, which is why anyone who doesn't hate it is a Nazi and hence deserves to die horribly.