Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

Good Guys, Not Superheroes
by Ross Elliot

Superman was always my favourite. Batman came in a close second for sure, but I figured if you're claiming superhero status, you need to be something magical and unique, and not just another guy who looks good in tights and has lots of gadgets .

But that's superheroes. Fantasyland. The heroes that Ayn Rand created for Atlas Shrugged didn't possess fantastic powers or ingenious technology, but still, there were some that were more likeable than others. Francisco d'Anconia is my favourite, followed closely by Hank Rearden. Ellis Wyatt and Ragnar Danneskjold rate pretty well, too. John Galt comes further down the list. In fact, I'm not even sure he should be on the list.

You see, Galt is an archetype. In fact, he's the prototypical Randian archetype. As such, he's excruciatingly well drawn, meticulously chiselled and buffed to a deep lustre. He's a bronze-coated marble statue that can walk and talk. He's as close to a superhero as you can get without tumbling into fantasy. As befits his status, Galt has some of Atlas Shrugged's best scenes. In the hotel room where he is kept captive, his former mentor, Dr. Robert Stadler, psychobabbles himself into a hole so deep he can't get out of it. Galt never utters a word, but his very presence and Stadler's guilt are enough to cause the fallen scientist to flee in terror. Only Galt remains, unmoved.

Later, in the dank basement of the State Science Institute, Galt turns to his captors and calmly tells them how to fix the electrocution machine they have been torturing him with. Chilling. Wonderfully drawn drama. Art. And it's with Galt that Rand's well-crafted fiction truly becomes art. If the purpose of art is to stylise reality and show us the world as it could be, then Rand succeeds brilliantly with Galt. No denying it.

So, if Superman is so damn great, why do I like 'Frisco and Hank so much more than Galt? Well, for a start, Atlas Shrugged ain't a comic and Rand wasn't a fantasist. So the same rules don't apply. Sure, Francisco and Henry needed a Galt to look up to, but by the same token, and instructively, Dagny needed those two as waypoints on the journey to finding her main squeeze. But these men were not just placeholders, minor deities to Galt's Greek god; they were Rand's most alive characters. They gave definition to the theme of Atlas Shrugged. We saw their struggle more intimately than we could ever have seen Galt's, for he had to be born into our world fully formed. Gods never go through puberty. Hank had the bitchy wife and the cloying family. Francisco assumed the role of the reckless playboy and destroyer of fortunes. They were us, and in being us they showed that redemption and triumph are possible within a context of imperfect, un-godlike existence.

Objectivism is a grand abstraction to which we must all attach our own frame of reference, our own context. We live our less-than-perfect lives through illness, arguments, tragedy, destitution and heartache. We're defined not by these hurdles, but by how we overcome them, by how we use our minds and our passion, guided by that grand Randian abstraction, to live decently and triumphantly.

I don't want to be some caped crusader with a big "O" on my chest, quoting precise and wonderfully apropos Objectivist tidbits. Superheroes have their place. So do Greek gods. But, I want to be like Hank and 'Frisco. I want to be one of the good guys.
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