My blogmate writes:
Isn’t exceptional, by definition, not average? If everyone were normal, would anyone be exceptional?
Apropos of almost nothing, this reminds me deeply of a topic that irritates me every single time that I think about it, and that I’ve bene meaning to blog about, which almost certainly says many things about me, none of them flattering. Which, to be fair, is pretty much the case with anything true you can say about me. However, the point I’m ramblingly trying to get around to is that this philosophy, or actually its converse (if everyone were exceptional, would anyone be normal?) is at the heart of the otherwise-admirable Pixar movie The Incredibles.
Note that there are spoilers below, but let’s be honest – if you haven’t seen a, what, four-year old movie by now, it’s clearly not going to bother you too much to have some of the plot mysteries removed for you, right?
Anyhow, recall that the so-called supervillain, Syndrome, is, in fact, not a supervillain at all. He is, instead, the grown-up version of Buddy, the president of the Mr. Incredible fan club who, despite his lack of natural-born superpowers, wanted to be a hero, so he used his smarts to gussy up some fancy technological marvels, including flying boots, so that he could become Mr. Incredible’s sidekick. However, Mr. Incredible spurns him, on the basis that he doesn’t have real superpowers, thus can’t be a real superhero, and Buddy’s first attempt to help out turns out disastrously.
Anyhow, our little Buddy is all grown up now, and has his own entire tropical island, chock full of fabulous toys and an army full of anonymous troops. He has been luring retired superheroes back into the game, and then setting them against his super robot, the Omnidroid 8000, and using the results of these battles to improve the Omnidroid and ensure that no hero can defeat it. He will then sic the droid on a major American city, eventually flying to the rescue since he, as its creator, has a remote control to disable it.
Then, once his hero-dom is well established, Buddy will start selling his technologies publically, so that everyone can become a superhero, which leads to the climactic statement of his nefarious plan, when he says “and then, when everyone is special…no one will be.”
To me, this particular aspect of the movie plays incredibly poorly. Obviously Buddy’s methods, including the murdering of dozens of former superheroes, and the unleashing of a giant robot which will cause massive damage and undoubtedly kill hundreds or thousands more, are undefensible. But his goal, that of bringing new and wonderful technologies to the public at a price that everyone can afford, would seem to me to be the exact definition of a liberal paradise – everyone raised up to the ultimate level of human achievement and ability, through education and science no less!
But somehow, in the universe of The Incredibles, this is the height of villainy. Superheroes are born special, and it is their birthright. Anyone else aspiring to superherodom is simply wasting his or her time – those born lesser should be content with their lot in life, not be so gauche as to attempt to improve their station. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, Social Darwinism at its worst: the statement that those who are great, or rich, or powerful, are simply making use of the superior skills granted them by their creator, and those beneath them should be content to bask in their glow, and not wonder at the fact that, somehow, it’s always the sons of rich people who end up rich and powerful, never the son of a cobbler or carpenter.
Indeed, The Incredibles, not happy with making this point subtly, bashes us over the head with it like a giant steel girder in Mr. Incredible’s hands, as the children of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl all have superpowers, and thus are destined to become heroes as well, as we see by the end of the movie.
To my mind, although, again, Syndrome’s means are detestable, his ends should be admired! What’s wrong with raising everyone up to the level of superhero, if it can be done? Then, the truest heroes will be the ones who work the hardest, or train the most, or are the most clever and creative, not just those with the genetic luck to be born invulnerable, or stretchy, or able to run super fast.