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December 16, 2004

The 12th Day of Christmas: The Incredibles, Christmas List

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here. You can get to the whole list a here and to all my lists since 1988 here.

12. The Incredibles, 2004. An aristocratic and bourgeois animation movie combining Toy Story with James Bond, about a family of superheroes. It teaches elitism and devotion to honor against the whines of the mediocre, yet the family is perceptively 1950's American.

The aristocratic element is the stress on heroism and the special talents of a minority who are obligated to use those talents for the community. The superheroes are proud of themselves, but in a fitting way, and their pride is not combined with any need or desire for recognition from the masses. Buddy, the villain, only has the talent of high intelligence and creativity, and he burns with envy. What he wants above all is recognition from others. He has an inferiority complex, and he is indeed inferior, morally if not in terms of his overall power. Nothing he does can overcome that. What he ought to have done was to accept his place in the world, because we do not create ourselves. When you are born without superhero powers, you cannot make yourself a superhero, any more than a man can become a wife or a dog a man.

Yet these are American aristocrats. That is one reason they feel duty to the community, which is perhaps not strictly speaking a universal aristocratic trait. They work for a living; they have secret identities; they like blending in; they behave the same way as the rest of us most of the time, and it is a bourgeois lifestyle. They are not looking for gigantic challenges; they just want to do good, a even a mere fire or mugging is enough of a bad to call forth their effort.

Posted by erasmuse at December 16, 2004 02:28 PM

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I'd have to disagree with the "you can't make yourself a superhero" comment. Batman was always one of my favorites. He was just an "ordinary" (ableit driven & obsessive) guy who became a superhero through incredible hard work, intelligence, and a cool set of gadgets.

Posted by: dadalt at December 18, 2004 10:17 AM

Good point. I was really just thinking of within the movie, but it's worth exploring further. What Batman has that Buddy does not is character. Both of them have brilliance and drive and gadgets-- Buddy even more, perhaps-- but Buddy can't rise above his concern with his image.

It's really quite humbling. First, it seems one has to be brilliant to be successful. Then we discover that one must have a good character too. The third step, perhaps, is to be content with a humble but worthy place.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at December 18, 2004 09:36 PM

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