American Heroism and Pixar’s Animation feature films.
In 1776, the founding fathers of the US wrote the definition of the “American Dream” in the United States Declaration of Independence: liberty, equality and democracy (Wikipedia, 2013). With hundreds years of efforts, American people made the American Dream come true. Within these hundreds of years, American people created another definition of the American Dream. It is that everyone has the chance to fight for a better life. Together with other core American world views, the American Dream values the importance of independence. It is also the root of the American Heroism. The American Heroism reminds me of the nameless boxer in one of Jack London’s novels. In that novel, the boxer plays hundreds of underground boxing matches to earn money for the revolution that could bring freedom to his home. Freedom finally came true because there were thousands of nameless people fighting for it, just like him.
In this article, I mainly talked about two characteristics in American Heroism: (1) everyday people as a hero and (2) individualism in American Heroism.
Everyday people as a hero.
Image from the film The Incredibles by Pixar.
In almost every Pixar’s film, there is an everyday people that finally saved the world. In Pixar’s films, those everyday people explained the core meaning of the American Dream and the American Spirit with their heroism themed stories. People would not expect Wall-E (in the movie Wall-E) to be a high-end and fully functional super robot. Instead, Wall-E is just a small, rusty and obsolete robot designed to collect grotesque objects. Yeah Bob Parr (in the film The Incredibles) is a super hero. But in his normal life, he is just a fat small staff who has to endure traffic jam and the censure from his boss every day in his life. Those are all normal characters that live in every class of this society. However, in Pixar’s films, they have the ability to go through adventures and save the world. When conducting scripts, Pixar combined the American Dream with normal people’s lives and portrayed the encouraging stories with a theme of heroism.
Image from the film Prometheus directed by Ridley Schott.
In European’s medieval fairy tales, most of the heroes are “gods”. Such heroes have supernatural abilities and they were always the leader of people. Those stories were made because of people’s religious worships. Most of the European countries have long histories of feudal societies. In their histories, religion is one of the most important factors that rule the society. Not until the Renaissance took place did people begin to realize the value of individuals. That’s why most of their early heroes are “thousands miles away from normal people”. However, the US was founded by immigrants, in other words, the US was founded by “normal people” (but not gods). The US did not have a history of clericalism. Instead, it has a long history of capitalism. Capitalism encourages people to explore, to build and to make profits. People are no longer a member of the society controlled by a king or a god. American people believe that as individuals, they have the abilities to “make things happen”.
Image from the film The Incredibles by Pixar.
In the film The incredibles, Bob Parr has three children, a lovely wife, a big house and a car. As a normal people, he is a normal staff working for a company. All of Bob Parr’s characters indicate that he represents the general American middle class, which is also the majority of American people. But when things go south, he will come out as a hero to save the day. In Bob Parr’s house, there is a room filled with Bob Parr’s history as a superhero. In this room, audiences can find things such as his uniform and newspapers reporting his heroic stories. Basically, Bob Parr’s story is a praise to the American middle class and the room can be considered as Pixar’s praise to the fight of the American middle class. In the history of the US, the American middle class is one of the most important forces that developed this country. With the story of Bob Parr, Pixar tried to tell people that people who belong to the American middle class are all normal people you can find every day in your life. They built this country and they are the writers of the American history. When bad things happen to this country, the American middle class will stand out and take the lead. With the American middle class, this country is able to walk through whatever difficulties it faces. So people who belong to the American middle class are the heroes who created the glory of this country. The ideology in Pixar’s films matched the hegemony of the American culture. In a culture like this, the heroes are all from people’s everyday lives. People who built this country, in other words, the “normal people”, should be remembered as heroes.
Image from the film Ratatouille by Pixar.
Also, the American culture encourage normal people to fight for their lives. It claims that every person in this society, no matter he is nobody or he is famous, has the right to pursue their happiness and achieve their goals. In the film Ratatouille, Alfredo Linguini’s story is basically an abstract of the American Dream. In this film, Alfredo Linguini is yet another nobody that finally became a hero. With the help of his friend Remy, he fought so hard for his life. Finally his dishes were approved by the famous gourmet. I still remember the warm and touching scene that the famous gourmet finally found out those delicious dishes were all made by a nameless cook and a mouse. In the end of this scene, the gourmet said that this world is unkind to new creations and new things. But the world needs new creations and it is worth for people to discover and defend new things. Not everyone can become a great artist but a great artist can come from anywhere (Bird, 2007). By reading the famous gourmet’s lines, it is easy to find out that what he said is generally a summary of the American Dream: this country needs people to create new things. Even if you are a nobody you can still achieve your goals with your hard works. People like Alfredo Linguini are the heroes who were once a nobody. With his story, Pixar praised normal people’s fights and encouraged normal people to fight for their happiness.
In the ideology of American Heroism, individualism is also an important notion that valued by American culture. In the movie The Incredibles, when facing a huge challenge, the super hero Bob Parr always said “I have to do this alone.” Besides, as a super hero, the first thing he has to do is protect his family. This is perhaps the most obvious difference between American Heroism and Asian Heroism. Also, the concept “family” is an interesting concept within the comparison between American Heroism and Eastern Heroism. In this comparison, there are “small family” and “big family”. The “small family” refers to the family constituted by family members and the “big family” refers to the society or the country. In American heroic films such as The Incredibles, Bob Parr would do everything to protect his “small family”. However, in eastern heroic films, the first thing the hero need to protect is the “big family”. Sometimes they even sacrifice their “small families” in order to protect the “big family”.
Image from the Film Hero directed by Yimou Zhang
In Asian cultures, instead of individualism, collectivism is the dominating world view. Asian countries, such as China, had been in dictatorial social forms for a long time. Religious ideologies in China such as the Confucianism and the Daoism were all aimed to solid the authorities’ rulings. Thus, they encouraged people to contribute to the society, obey the rules and advocate the collective interests. So in the ideology of Asian Heroism, the most important thing the heroes have to consider about is not their own wonderful lives but the interest of the whole society. The film Hero which directed by famous Chinese director Yimou Zhang talked about a story happened in the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476BC). The Broken Sword and the Flying Snow are knight couples. They planned to assassinate the King of Qin because he was a cold-blooded dictator that killed thousands of people. They spent decades to improve their Kung Fu to ensure that they can kill the King of Qin once there is a chance. However when the chance came, the Broken Sword changed his mind and he made a willful failure when assassinating the King of Qin. Finally he was killed by the King of Qin. At the last moment of his life, the Flying Snow asked him why he did that. He told the Flying Snow that He knew the King of Qin is a talented politician. He believed that the King of Qin can end the war lasted for hundreds of years in China and build a united and strong country. For the greater good, the hero gave up his own life (Yimou, 2002).
Unlike the American Heroes, the Asian heroes are born with a special mission and they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the collective interests. In Asian cultures, people who will sacrifice themselves for the greater good will be considered as a hero and will be praised by the whole society. It is true that American heroes will also contribute to the society’s interest. But in Pixar’s films, the heroes are not born with such a heavy “sense of mission”. Also, the ideology of American Heroism disseminated by Pixar’s films has a different focus comparing to Asian Heroism. Instead of disseminating the “sense of mission” and the “spirit of sacrifice”, Pixar’s films tend to pay more attention to heroes’ personal struggles and the courage, love among families and friends in their stories. By highlighting these factors, the main aim of Pixar’s films, just like other American heroic stories’, is to inspire people, to motivate people and to encourage people to face their challenges in their lives and to fight for better lives.
To sum up, the ideology of heroism in Pixar’s films focus on individualism and “everyday lives”. Because Pixar makes animated feature films for adolescents, in order to attract the audiences, there should be fantasy factors in those films. But overall, the heroes in Pixar’s films are all from everyday lives and they achieved their goals with their efforts. These two characteristics comply with the core spirit of the American Dream. In Pixar’s films, as a mass mediated ideology, the American Dream is deeply rooted in the audiences’ minds, in other words, it “corroborated and strengthened by an interlocking system of efficacious information-distributing agencies and taken-for-granted social practices that permeate every aspect social and cultural reality” (Lull, 2000).
Bird, B. (Director & screenwriter). (2007). Ratatouille [Film]. Burbank, CA: The Walt Disney Company.
Lull, J. (2000). Hegemony. Media, communication, culture: A global approach (2nd ed., pp. 61). New York: Columbia University Press.
Yimou, Z. (Director). (2002). Hero [Film]. Beijing: Beijing New Pictures Co.,Ltd.
Wikipedia. (2013). United States Declaration of Independence. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence