In an election year with the debut of the new movie The Amazing Spider-Man, it is finally time to grow up and give an aknowledgement to how much Spider-Man owes to controversial novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand.
Every time I bring up this subject, some one yells at me. Here is the deal. Fans of Spider-Man are not fans of Ayn Rand. If you can quote ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ you probably do not have a favorite passage of The Fountainhead. Even former Rand supporter Paul Ryan stated that the Randian hero only appealed to “18 year olds with delusions of grandeur.” I am here to tell you that if you love Spider-Man, you are in love with the ultimate reflection of the Randian ideal of heroism.
First, lets look at the characteristics of a Randian hero. Randian heroes have a few physical attributes that run throughout. They share a commonality of slender, hard, supple physiques. Go take a look at Spider-Man. Come back to me. Look at Spider-Man. Re-Read the sentence about supple, hard, slender physiques. Look deeply into those arge arachnid gray eyes of that costume. Does that seem like a coincidence that Spider-Man happens to match the exact same physical description of say John Galt?
Starting to scare you? Believe me, it gets worse. Randian heroes are also exceptionally creative individualists in a bland world. Lets look at Equality 7-2521 from the novella Anthem.. Equality was a street sweeper who witnessed the death of a free thinker. This inspired Equality to develop technology in order to rebel against the society around him. After the death of Ben Parker (which we are getting too), Peter Parker developed the web shooters using his creativity and originality to rebel against the society around him. This is all a lot more familiar than any one is going to admit.
If you know anything about Randian heroes, the first thing you would come up with is “heartless capitalists.” What exactly do you think Peter Parker is? Peter Parker did not stop the crook who killed Ben Parker because he was not paid too. Early on, Parker wanted to be a wrestler precisely because it was a way to use his special talents to make some coin. In order to join the Fantastic Four, Parker wanted a paycheck. In an early Spider-Man comic book, Spider-Man was frustrated by his inability to cash a check. Parker took pictures of “Spider-Man” in order to become a featured photographer at the Daily Bugle. Did you think that Parker was so on your side that he never learned a single thing from J. Jonah Jameson? Peter Parker was a capitalist before, during, and after the time in which he became Spider-Man.
What about the objectivist philosophy? Randian heroes will attempt to help people out of compassion rather than guilt. Couldn’t you argue that Parker is all about guilt with the whole ‘with great power becomes great responsibility” thing? No. You want guilty vengeance? Look no farther than billionaire Bruce Wayne. The Randian heroes motivation is personal happiness. Pursuing criminals in order to live up to a personal sense of happiness is the essence of Spider-Man. What is one of the primary attributes of Spider-Man? It is Spider-Man’s sense of humor. The more Spider-Man wins, the more he openly mocks his villains. Parker is enjoying playing with his villains. He is laughing. He is happy. The more he crime fights equals his greater happiness. Spider-Man pursues these villain’s at the peril of those around him and literally seems to get off on the idea. Randian objectivism states that man’s greatest and only goal is his own happiness. Helping people, and the natural high received from helping, is how Parker achieves happiness. This is the same guy who used the Spider-Man persona and abilities to end up married to a super-model / actress. Parker also dated the hot daughter of a police captain, a hot cat burglar, and a hot secretary. Lets be frank. Peter has a pretty strict ‘no fat chicks’ policy. Peter Parker may have started out the geeky teenager, but Parker had no intention of staying that way. Parker also presumably had no intention of staying around his real friends in high school. Later on in life, one of Parker’s best friends is the jerk bully from high school Flash Thompson. Parker desperately wanted to be one of the cool kids and used every fiber of his enhanced being to become one.
OK, you may argue, after fifty years of history anything can be twisted into anything that you want to twist it into. This can be very true. I often say that if you want some thing to agree all you need is a source. If you want to disagree with something, then you need a context. Fine. If you want a context, lets take a hard look at Steve Ditko. Steve Ditko is about the closest thing that the comics world will ever come to an urban legend. Ditko is the co-creator of Spider-Man. Ditko does not give interviews or take pictures. Ditko is actually the J. D. Salinger of the comics world. Ditko also created and wrote a character called Mr. A (who was basically an insane version of The Watchmen’s Rorshach) . The one fact that is known about Steve Ditko is that Ditko is a strict follower of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy. The basic tenets of Parker was created with a well established Randian hero archetype in mind. That means that the blueprint of Peter Parker and Spider-Man was firmly established with Ayn Rand in mind. The popular story is that Ditko left Spider-Man over an argument over the identity of Green Goblin. Whether it was the ultimate reason or not, there was a disagreement over the Goblin’s identity. Eventually, the Goblin was made out to be millionaire industrialist Norman Osborn. This is accepted fact now. Ditko actually believed that the Green Goblin should actually be just an every day guy off the street. Ditko raised the possibility of the Goblin actually being an insane homeless person. The exceptional individualist fighting against the hobgoblin of the masses? That would actually be the definition of a Randian novel conflict.
Welcome to a world in which your childhood hero and the novelist you ‘hate’ and fashionably bash come to be one and same. Consider your brain now thoroughly massaged.