I really enjoyed The Incredibles, because it was beautifully animated, decently written and had great action sequences. (So shoot me, sometimes my mind likes candy.) But at the same time, I thought its politics were pretty regressive, and vaguely thought I’d write a post on it. I didn’t, but thankfully I don’t have to, because Sally of Prednisone Nation did such a great job.
Here’s my fave bit:
…Fundamentally, this is a movie about the social role of talented people. I read a review today that said that it was a polemic against mediocrity, but I don’t think that’s right at all. The movie’s real target is not mediocrity but equality. Some people, according to The Incredibles, are just born better than the rest of us. This superiority is innate and inherited: superheroes make up a kind of master race. The movie doesn’t just suggest that it’s destructive to stifle talented people; it also derides the notion that everyone has talents that should be celebrated, and it raises and dismisses the idea that ordinary people could make their way into the elect. You don’t choose to be a superhero; you can’t earn it through ingenuity or hard work. You’re either born super or you’re not.
An unstated but necessary corollary to the idea of an innately superior group of superheroes is the notion that they will always use this power for the common good. Otherwise, we might have to confront the pesky notion that powerful elites might use their strength to oppress others. It’s not that it’s impossible for ordinary people to become super-talented: with the help of his inventions, the villain becomes an equal match for any member of the Incredible family. The problem seems to be that it’s unnatural to elevate people who are destined to be ordinary; it messes with the proper order of things. When given extraordinary power, normal people will be corrupted. Only those born superheroes can be trusted to use their powers for good. This movie says that powerful, hereditary elites are good for society not because they’re more talented but because they’re more moral. It’s a nineteenth or even eighteenth-century version of how society should be ordered: it’s a celebration of natural aristocracy and the concept of knowing your place.
Another unstated but clear assumption is that real, important powers are physical, not mental. The Incredibles’ powers all reside in the body: they can lift, throw, contort, run, or disappear. There’s no thinking involved. In fact, Mrs. Incredible tells Violet that in case of an emergency, she should not think. Thinking just trips Violet up, and she’s more effective when she shuts her brain off and just acts. The villain of the piece, on the other hand, is depicted as that comic-book cliche, a genius inventor. His powers reside in his mind, and he is capable of creating machines that could give everyone extraordinary powers. This mental prowess, however, is not a super power. His ability to design and create makes him an imposter, not a superhero. His intelligence is a destructive force, while the Incredibles’ bodily strength is a force for good. The movie suggests that the whole society should mirror the social hierarchy of your typical high school: the football players should lord it over the losers in the chess club.