Blogs > Liberty and Power > Rand the Incredible

Nov 18, 2004 10:35 am

Rand the Incredible

While we're on the subject of cartoons, David M. Brown at LFB tells us about how various reviewers are seeing the Ayn Rand undercurrents in the animated flick,"The Incredibles." In his post,"The Incredibles' Ayn Rand," Brown writes:

When the animated feature"The Iron Giant" came out in 1999, some libertarians saw a theme of man or robot versus the state, because the movie depicts the government, in the person of a repressive bureaucrat, trying to destroy an innocent and good giant robot. The Pixar production"The Incredibles," directed by"Iron Giant" director Brad Bird, boasts not only more sophisticated animation than"Giant" but perhaps a more sophisticated theme as well. At any rate, more than one reviewer is finding the footprint of Ayn Rand.

I've not seen the film yet, but have heard similar things from other colleagues and friends. If true, of course, it would not be the first time that Rand made it into animation. In my newest essay in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I discuss"The Illustrated Rand," that is, the ways in which Rand and her work have permeated popular culture, giving us a plethora of both positive and negative references. It's a much extended, much more developed piece than its predecessor,"The Cultural Ascendency of Ayn Rand." As I write:

Rand’s presence on television is not restricted to live action dramas or sitcoms. It has also been felt in cartoons. In a “Futurama” episode entitled “Second That Emotion,” the character Bender holds up Atlas Shrugged while commenting that, in the sewer among the mutants, they find “nothing but crumpled porn and Ayn Rand.” In an infamous “South Park” episode called “Chickenlover,” Atlas Shrugged is presented to Officer Barbrady, who has recently learned how to read, and who, upon seeing the massive size of Rand’s novel, laments his achievements in literacy.

I also discuss the more"philosophically astute ... Rand references" that have shown up on “The Simpsons.” In a terrific book (co-edited by our esteemed colleague Aeon Skoble), The Simpsons and Philosophy, authors William Irwin and J. R. Lombardo tell us about that Rand episode:

[I]n “A Streetcar Named Marge,” Maggie is placed in the “Ayn Rand School for Tots” where the proprietor, Mr. Sinclair, reads The Fountainhead Diet. To understand why pacifiers are taken away from Maggie and the other children one has to catch the allusion to the radical libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand. Recognizing and understanding this allusion yields much more pleasure than would a straightforward explanation that Maggie has been placed in a daycare facility in which tots are trained to fend for themselves, not to depend on others, not even to depend on their pacifiers.

My JARS essay also surveys Rand references in scholarship, film, television shows, music, and comic books, especially the work of Steve Ditko and Frank Miller. Rand herself was no stranger to illustrated media; her Fountainhead was illustrated in a Kings Features serial back in 1945 and Anthem made it into Famous Fantastic Mysteries. With Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom having been illustrated in" cartoon" format in Look, and Ludwig von Mises having being mentioned in Batman comics, and libertarian themes showing up in the comic book character Anarky, I'd say that illustrated media and pop culture are both prime areas for affecting (and reflecting) wider ideological change. Libertarians and individualists need to think more seriously about how to affect that change in entertaining projects that are as widely viewed and praised as The Incredibles.

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Aeon J. Skoble - 11/22/2004

Reuters has

Roderick T. Long - 11/20/2004

I remember the episode and the line. As I recall, the daughter/writer is a kind of drippy, bland, boring person, and the comparison of her to Rand struck me at the time as bizarre. Shatner as a Rush Limbaugh type was fun to watch, though.

Roderick T. Long - 11/20/2004

Ain't-It-Cool News (which is generally pretty reliable) has been running a series of newsbriefs about the Watchmen movie plans. Here are some links:

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/20/2004

Yes, I've seen some discussion of that, but I'd love to see the analysis you mention here. Send it on down! :)

The mid-90s "Columbo" episode stars William Shatner as a radio host. The murder victim is gay, from what I'm to understand. A friend of mine tells me: "The Shatner character's adopted daughter is a novelist whose first novel he is trying to prevent being published because he wants to keep his daughter working for him. The murder victim, her friend, had been trying to help his daughter's career, and at one point says to someone 'She's the new Ayn Rand' or some such...."

Obscure reference, I know, but there, nonetheless. :)

Charles Johnson - 11/20/2004

Or, better yet, you can use to chop those monstrous URLs into something manageable. For example, the review of the Incredibles can now be accessed through:


Aeon J. Skoble - 11/19/2004

Oh, actually, I did see that one, but the 90s rehashes don't stick in mind the way the 70s ones do. I don't recall the Rand reference.
By the way, Chris, as you've been cataloguing all the Randish threads in popular culture, I assume that somewhere, sometime, you've mentioned The Prisoner, but I seem to have missed it. I once read a really interesting analysis of that show from a hard-core Objectivist POV. If you like, I can snail you a copy.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/19/2004

A 1994 episode with William Shatner, "Butterfly in Shades of Grey." :)

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/19/2004

Chris, which Columbo episode? I am embarrased about not being able to recall it, but I can't.

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/19/2004

I wonder how much foundation that rumor has. The story you link to also mentions a Watchmen film project. Any truth to that?

Roderick T. Long - 11/19/2004

The comments suggestion as a bug when it comes to posting URLs; one has to weasel around it, like this:

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/19/2004

It does seem that a number of reviewers note the same tendency. Thanks for the link!

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/19/2004

Indeed, Geoffrey; my article surveys Rand mentions on "Andromeda," but also on other TV shows and films through the years: "Angels in America," "Undeclared," "Columbo," "Home Improvement," "One Tree Hill," "The Gilmore Girls," "Frasier," "Judging Amy," "Queer as Folk," and such games shows "Jeopardy" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The list goes on and on...

Jonathan Rick - 11/19/2004

In his review of The Incredibles in the New York Times on 11/5/04, A.O. Scott opines, "The intensity with which The Incredibles advances its central idea--it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand--is startling.

Roderick T. Long - 11/18/2004

> Nice to see you here!

And another hi to Gary McGath (hi, Gary!). He and I worked on the MIT-based Objectivist newspaper ERGO during the early 80s.

Roderick T. Long - 11/18/2004

I second the recommendation; and by the way, V for Vendetta may finally be coming to the big screen.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 11/18/2004

If I remember correctly, Rand has been put into the sci-fi tv series Andromeda as well. There is a genetically modified race of super-humans called Nietzscheans on the show. I believe that they were created on Ayn Rand Station or something like that. Unfortunately, this isn't a very good thing, for the Nietzscheans have a very tribal, Machiavellian culture.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/18/2004

This is very true, Gary... and not having seen the movie myself, I have no way of assessing it either. On the other hand, I'll keep my eyes open for any possible interviews with the writer, director, or other individuals who may have had creative input on the project.

Nice to see you here!


Gary McGath - 11/18/2004

The movie certainly has themes which I love (and is an excellent movie all around). I'm not sure whether it's a direct Randian influence, though. The ideas of honoring ability and achievement aren't unique to her.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/18/2004

Welcome. :)

And excellent suggestions; I mention these in my essay---but no essay is a substitute for actually looking at and reading these series.

Aeon J. Skoble - 11/18/2004

Thanks for the plug Chris. :-)
Besides the Simpsons book, though, I highly recommend Ditko's "Static" series, Miller's "Give me Liberty" series, and Alan Moore's "Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta," the latter of which is IMO required reading for anyone interested in anarchism.