Comics

Ayn Rand and The Incredibles

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A Christian Science Monitor suggests that the animated blockbuster The Incredibles may have been filmed at Galt's Gulch:

"The Incredibles" suggests "a thorough, feverish immersion in both American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand," writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times, referring to the founder of "objectivism," a philosophy anchored in capitalism and atheism.

When the "Incredibles" hero "balances a globe-shaped robot on his shoulders, should we be thinking of 'Atlas Shrugged'?" writes Newsday critic John Anderson, citing Rand's most famous novel, about a "strike" by gifted leaders that brings an ungrateful society to its knees. The movie's chief subplot, about a superhero imitator, "suggests not only class warfare, but also something approaching a Divine Right of Superheroes," he adds.

"The Incredibles" is great fun, these reviews agree, but they all sense a subtext that's serious. The film is "a fun-filled foray into animated action, fantasy, and adventure," as Mr. Anderson puts it. "And objectivism. And tort reform," he adds, noting that the villains include citizens who sue superheroes over injuries they've incurred during rescues.

Whole thing here.

Dunno about that, but there's something Randian about superhero costume designer Edna Mode.

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  1. All Edna needs is a cape, a dollar sign broach, a cigarette holder, and a pop psychologist in the bedroom to cure her of her “writer’s block.”

    I suppose cracks like this make my “anti-life” or some such Objectivist blather.

  2. Or it could be that they are inspired by the Atlas of Greek Mythology.

    …but also something approaching a Divine Right of Superheroes…

    That’s been standard in comics for decades.

    People have to realize that creator of the movie is re-treading all kinds of themes, motifs, etc., from comic books.

  3. Anyone check out the Pixar short that played at the beginning of the movie, “Boundin'”? I thought while watching it that it could be summed up as a song-and-dance parable to convince you that paying taxes wasn’t that bad; and furthermore, that you can’t beat the system so you might as well not even try. That in fact, getting fleeced (literally, and once a year to boot) was an opportunity to, well, sing and dance.

  4. Count me as another person who thought of Objectivism while watching the Incredibles go from miserable self-denial to euphoric self-affirmation. Although Rand wouldn’t approve of the depiction of a cartoonishly evil insurance exec.

    Great movie, in any case.

  5. I don’t get pop psychologist reference.

    But I do like the dollar sign brooch. Where can I get one?

  6. Actually, I can’t think of a less Randian genre than four-color superheroes. People risking their lives and finding their greatest fulfillment through dangerous, altrustic acts.

    “Honey, it’s for the greater good!”

  7. Toxic,

    The “pop” psychologist would be Nathaniel Branden, who was, at the time of their affair, 25 years her junior and scared to say no to his idol. During Rand’s later and more vicious years, he was purged from the objectivist movement. Now he is a reasonable libertarian.

    To this day, The Ayn Rand institute represents the “true believers,” while the Objectivist Center represents the reasonable ones who were purged from the movement all those years ago.

    Branden himself wrote a very good memoir called “Judgement Day: My Years with Ayn Rand.” Of course, to the “true believers,” it is heresy.

  8. Ah ok. Yeah, while I have been very influenced by Objectivism, I was always very troubled by the way it developed into a personality cult… and how Ayn managed to totally ruin her life and her husband, N.B. and his wife… I read her book a long time ago.

  9. BTW, Rand had harsh words for parents who squelched their kids’ interest in comics heroes, using Buck Rogers as a positive example in The Romantic Manifesto.

    I’m sure Spider-Man co-creator and Rand fan Steve Ditko appreciated that.

    Kevin

  10. I thought The Incredibles was the best Pixar film yet (and there are many true gems), and loved the story.

    Buuuut… geez. Why did they have to be modeled almost exactly like the Fantastic Four? From what I understand, FF is currently in production as a live-action, and people are going to be “been there, done that”. Also, I’m guessing that in the next X-men film, Bobby Drake will FINALLY be Iceman.. but we’ve already seen what’s in store (though I really liked the Incredibles character).

  11. Anyone else think it was odd that the supers were just assumed to be agents of government, or, at least, the the government was responsible for picking up the tab for damage caused by supers?

    I found myself saying ‘right on’ during the ‘celebrating mediocrity’ speech.

    ‘Bounding,’ by the way, was supposedly an awareness-raising piece for a condition called Alopecia Areata, not like they ever mentioned it; a guy in my office, who has the condition, was expressing his frustration that the whole thing was so badly coordinated.

    G

  12. I thought that “Bounding” piece was a real groaner. I really, really tried to like it, but lost steam about halfway through. Nick Park could’ve done it twice as interesting/amusing in half the time.

  13. I came out thinking that the thing was pretty Randian, too. It isn’t a divine right of superheroes, it is the just a note that people should be as super as they can be.

    I am delirious that they made an animated feature with that theme. I put this together with Team America as a sign that maybe pop culture isn’t as uniformly leftie as I once thought. Maybe in the Incredibles 2, they can smack Che off of his motorcycle. That would be for the greater good, too.

  14. Anyone check out the Pixar short that played at the beginning of the movie, “Boundin'”?

    I thought it was effing hilarious. As deeply drug-induced a piece of animation as I have seen in quite some time.

    Glad I didn’t know it was supposed to be some kind of lame-o public service announcement for hair loss. Would have sucked all the fun out of it for me.

    I have a hard time accepting any claim that a movie is Randian when one bad guy is a big-shot executive, and the other is a John Galt clone in tights.

    No, the biggest influence on this movie was early James Bond. And good on it for that, too.

  15. And there was no rough sex involving Elastigirl, so I’d say the Rand connection is tenuous, at best.

  16. R.C. Dean,

    You mean early Ian Fleming (who also wrote Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang of all things.

  17. Actually, Jason, I meant the look and feel of the early James Bond movies, not just the Fleming scripts.

  18. “And there was no rough sex involving Elastigirl, so I’d say the Rand connection is tenuous, at best.”

    Yeah, that was what made me give up on The Fountainhead. Maybe I’m a prude, but I sorta draw the line at rape fantasies. The boundary between brilliance and psychosis is apparently pretty thin.

  19. Yawn.

    This is a typical “Oh Look! This Film Pushes Right-Wing Ideas on the Populace!” opinion piece. They surface every time a movie gets distributed that fails to push left-wing ideas.

  20. I found Rand’s books to be largely full of tiresome plots, cardboard thin characters and overworked cliches.

  21. Larry A.,

    I dunno, did anyone flip when Tucker or Seabiscuit came out? Both protray businessmen sympathetically, indeed, even heroically.

  22. I guess you could throw Batman and Blow into that mix as well.

  23. I found Rand’s books to be largely full of tiresome plots, cardboard thin characters and overworked cliches.

    indeed, mr bourne, the work of an ideologue more than an author. if you don’t subscribe to the idea, they aren’t very compelling.

  24. Jason, you’re 10:33 post was dead-on. Although I disagree with the 9:55 post. Her plots engaged me. Her charecters weren’t what some would call “complex”, but I don’t believe that was her intention.

  25. Gaius,

    Those are astute observations (the 10:11 post). Now, I think that author/idealogue is a false dichotomy.

  26. “I dunno, did anyone flip when Tucker or Seabiscuit came out? Both protray businessmen sympathetically, indeed, even heroically.”

    JB: I think you may be reaching with Seabiscuit. Though The Horse That Saved the Common Man’s owner made a fortune, his virtue certainly wasn’t tied to such things. Virtue lies in understanding the emptiness of business and the importance of the New Deal. Certainly we were to understand what the Mr. Moneybags owner of War Admiral represented.

  27. gaius:

    It isn’t so much surprising that people in America in the 21st century are individualists. It is surprising, to me anyway, that a product of mass entertainment was produced with an unambiguous individualist message.

    Beyond that, when I look at the rest of the world, I see a broad disdain for American individualism. I always wonder who will wind up influencing whom. If this is a sign of the times, I’ll take it with a smile.

  28. So, would Ayn have approved of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire?

    The Impossibles/FF connection may seem obvious, but one could match-up:

    Mr. I with Superman
    Elastigirl w/Plastic Man, and her Doom Patrol namesake.
    Dash w/the Flash

    Violet does pretty much have the Invisible Girl’s powers, but she has Shrinking Violet’s name, from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

    Kevin

  29. “I found Rand’s books to be largely full of tiresome plots, cardboard thin characters and overworked cliches.”

    I find the plots to be engaging albeit poorly planned out, but I agree that Rand’s characters are very unbelieveable.

    For instance: Can anyone really see an architectural critic (i.e. Ellsworth Toohey) as a meglomanical villian secretly plotting to destroy all individual “greatness” and plunge the world in collectivism? A politician or a social activist, yes; but a guy who writes about buildings? Come on!

  30. “is there a randian component in that? maybe. the existence of this (sometimes) libertarian board, imo, suggests that the utter antisociety of rational self-interest is one of the religions of the age.”

    This strikes me as a bit heavy handed. We should not delude ourselves that this board is representative of anything in broad terms. In isolation, all this board means is that there is a tiny sympathetic voice. To me the implications of this and similar boards are: 1) The internet is more libertarian than the outside world and 2) The cost of delivering messages is very low by historical standards. It is difficult to argue these days that even a minority position simply won’t be heard. I view both of these as positives, but there might be something wider at work when resources sufficient to produce and distribute a Pixar feature were spent to make a clearly individualist film.

  31. “So, would Ayn have approved of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire?”

    I know she wouldn’t have approved of “Red Star”, Frank Miller’s dystopic “Dark Knight Returns” series, or the recent Superman graphic novel that postulates what might have happened if Kal-El would have landed in Soviet Russia and became a tool for Stalin.

  32. Well, in the film Seabiscuit’s owner turns a small bicycle business into a large automobile dealership by being innovative. And neither Seabiscuit (if one wants to anthropromophize the animal) nor its rider make it because of the New Deal, but because of their “can do” and “damn the odds” attitudes.

    wellfellow,

    Well, I gave her a go and didn’t like her writing.

  33. I’m no objectivist, but I wasn’t aware that people read Rand with the expectation of believable characters. They were supposed to be archetypes, weren’t they?

    Yes, I have too much time today. I have to be at work, but I have no client activity before Turkey Day.

  34. kevrob,

    I think you are just proving my point that he is drawing on comic book themes, motifs, etc.; individualism being one of those themes.

  35. Also note the CSM’s title to the article:

    Villainy! Have politics hijacked ‘toons?

    Anyone who writes that sort of remark is plainly ignorant of the nature of “toons.”

  36. I always wonder who will wind up influencing whom.

    i’ll wager each upon the other, mr ligon.

    there might be something wider at work when resources sufficient to produce and distribute a Pixar feature were spent to make a clearly individualist film.

    concur — perhaps i’m myopic about the board because i’mm too close to it. 🙂

  37. “And neither Seabiscuit (if one wants to anthropromophize the animal) nor its rider make it because of the New Deal, but because of their “can do” and “damn the odds” attitudes.”

    Hmm, you have a different read on it than I did. In, “You don’t throw away a whole life just ’cause he’s banged up a bit,” I am seeing a very large message in terms of who is the ‘you’ that is doing the ‘throwing away’.

  38. Brad Bird (who made “The Incredibles”) is on record as saying that the film was about the ways liberals encourage mediocrity in children. Note, he also made “The Iron Giant”, which was an anti-cold war film, so he’s no cookie-cutter conservative. In fact, I’ll wager a lot of liberals (including myself) have no use for the whole “Everyone is special” philosophy of education. I never see anyone endorsing it on the liberal blogs, so I’ll wager it’s on its way out.

    What’s weird is that the film endorses superheroes who are super due to an accident of some kind (mutation, radiation or whatever), while casting in the role of villain someone whose achievements are due to hard work and intelligence.

  39. the best thing about rand is that she inspired the
    “telemachus sneezed” parody in illuminatus.

    “what is john guilt?” that always makes me laugh. the idea of a cult obsessed with heraclitus is pretty funny too.

  40. and dammit, what’s that vonnegut short story where everyone has to wear brain reducers and clown noses so everyone’s equal?

  41. dhex:

    Harrison Bergeron. (F&SF, Oct. 1961, collected in Welcome to the Monkey House.)

    Kevin

  42. Can anyone really see an architectural critic (i.e. Ellsworth Toohey) as a meglomanical villian secretly plotting to destroy all individual “greatness” and plunge the world in collectivism?

    Well, there is Charley Saxe-Coburg Gotha Battenburg, and what about those those Bauhaus commies?

    Kevin

  43. Jason Ligon,

    Yeah, but that’s a private individual arguing that case, not the government. Indeed, despite the fact that this concerned events taking place in the 1930s, I don’t recall any heroic portrayals of the WPA, CCC, etc. in the film. There is economic desperation of course (and emotional), but people in the film work through that based on individual grit and voluntary collective effort.

    I found the film to be a giant middle finger FDR’s “New Deal.”

  44. I have to admit that I only half-watched that Peter-Parker-on-a-robotic-horse film when my girlfriend watched it on HBO, but there did seem to be lots of black and white psuedo-documentary sequences about how great the New Deal was, complete with maudlin narration by some guy whose voice I recognized from PBS documentaries.

  45. I could see Rand appreciating Superman dispite his altruism. She thought The Untouchables’ Elliot Ness was a paragon of virtue for being a moral absolutist, even though he was upholding an immoral law laid down by the gov’t.

  46. Clearly she’s based on the quintessential Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, who apparently is seen pinning a costume on someone in a 1997 Ayn Rand documentary.
    Head’s career, like Rand’s goes back to the 1920s, so who knows whose style was influencing whose?
    Mile High Comics nails both connections.

  47. Jeff,

    Rand’s fancies were often fairly idiosyncratic. I never thought that she systematically thought through much of her ideas; that’s why her “theory of universals” is so fucked-up and wrong-headed, but why she thought that it was so brilliant.

  48. Although I support and admire most of Rand’s philosophy, I qualify as a “lower case o” objectivist due to my total disregard for the artistic views. I find opera aestetically vile and depressing, yet somehow my listening to Robert Fripp makes me anti-man.

  49. Jason Ligon,

    If you want to see something rather subversive from Hollywood you should watch the (now cancelled) Greg The Bunny. The “anti-puppetism” episode is hilarious.

  50. Mark Borok writes:

    “What’s weird is that the film endorses superheroes who are super due to an accident of some kind (mutation, radiation or whatever), while casting in the role of villain someone whose achievements are due to hard work and intelligence.”

    Right. At one point in the film, the villian proposes to sell the technology he has developed so that anyone could become a superhero, not just those who received the gift by birth or accident.

    That would be something Ayn Rand would advocate.
    But the superheroes were chagrined by this. That was the only thoroghly non-obectivist moment I saw in the film.

  51. Haven’t seen The Incredibles — by all accounts, it is standard movie-going fare told via very good animation.

    But when I do end up seeing it on cable, I’ll be sure to look for any subtle (or not) objectivism/Rand themes. Thanks, all.

  52. Mark Borok writes:

    “What’s weird is that the film endorses superheroes who are super due to an accident of some kind (mutation, radiation or whatever), while casting in the role of villain someone whose achievements are due to hard work and intelligence.”

    Wouldn’t super intelligence, which is definitely the characteristic of Symptom, also be due to an accident?

    Both superheroes and villians were pictured as hard worker with limits as well – Mr. Incredible got fat and had to train, Dash was exhausted after powering the raft, and Violet had a hard time using her power in the beginning.

    The movie was more about the way in which power was used, why were the villians villians and not superheroes, because they made a choice, a choice towards evil. As Symptom and Underminer show, evil is not in the power but in the person.

    I would say the superheroes were chagrined at the thought anyone being a superhero because they feared the choices that many could make, not because they were fond of wielding their power over everyone.

  53. narikui,

    …because they feared the choices that many could make…

    Terrible, terrrible freedom.

  54. “yet somehow my listening to Robert Fripp makes me anti-man.”

    i’ve never read much about rand’s views on art.

    so what’s her beef with frippertronics?

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