Wreck It Ralph Guest Post by Anonymous Houyhnhnm

Allow me to introduce my first guest commentator here at John C Wright’s Journal, whose article first appeared on the Cryptocatholic Website. Out of respect for the cryptic anonymity of that site, I will not give his name, but merely refer to him as a fellow Houyhnhnm. Here are his thoughts concerning Disney’s latest triumph, WRECK-IT RALPH.

Wreck-It Ralph Overcomes Being Born That Way

I just got back from seeing Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph”. It was excellent; not just fun but moving and meaningful. I think that Disney buying Pixar and putting John Lasseter in charge of all animation may have been the best thing to happen to it in a long time; it has brought increased levels of heart and sincerity to Disney’s animated films, and none more so thus far than “Wreck-It Ralph”.

I’m sure that I’ll have more, and more specific, thoughts on “Wreck-It Ralph” as I continue to mull it over, and after re-watching it on DVD a few times, but even at this early stage I have a (spoiler-free!) observation that I would like to raise:

In addition to the film’s positive themes of self-sacrifice, forgiveness, warning against envy, and making the best of your lot in life, one of the best, and more subversive, messages of the film is that just because you were “born that way” does not mean that you have to embrace your innate nature, that instead you do have agency and the ability to master yourself.

Ralph is the “bad guy” of the game “Fix-It Felix Jr.” He smashes the building, Felix fixes it, Ralph gets thrown off of the building into the mud, and Felix gets a medal and pie. While Felix gets to live in the high-rise apartment with the other game characters, Ralph sleeps in a dump alone. Ralph watches the other game characters having fun together and feels lonely and envious. As he tells his Bad Guy Anonymous support group, he wishes that he could stop being a “bad guy”. They react in horror to this thought and explain to him that a “bad guy” is what he is, that he cannot change that, but that it does not make him a bad person.

The first two parts of this is repeated several times through the film; the last third is what Ralph will finally take to heart in the end. Ralph is told that he is a “bad guy”, that he has no choice but to be a “bad guy” because that is the way he is coded. In short, that he is and will always be a “bad guy” because he was born that way.

It is currently in vogue in our culture, as epitomized in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, to assert that we are each born a certain way and that we cannot change ourselves, but rather must embrace that innate nature in order to be fabulous and happy. While I am all for the message that we should love ourselves and embrace diversity, I think that it is very dangerous and damaging to preclude the possibility that we might try to improve ourselves or use our reason to master our baser instincts in order to turn away from disordered behaviors. After all, taken to its extremes, isn’t a narcissist “born that way”? Isn’t a psychopath “born that way”? If we exalt the way we were born, why should any of us strive for self-improvement?

Ralph was “born that way”, in that he was coded to be the villain. Ralph wishes to change himself and his lot and, ultimately, does so. Ralph comes to realize that he has a responsibility to his game, that he has a job to do, and that he can find joy in doing that job, but that his job (the role he was “born” to fill) does not define him, that who he is exists separately. He does not need to be a bad person in life; he can choose to control himself, to reign in his baser instincts, in order to be the better person he longs to be.

That we are all capable of mastering our base instincts should not be a subversive message, but in our current culture the idea that we have agency and can choose whether to embrace, or shun, our innate inclinations is radical. “Wreck-It Ralph” is wonderful, among other reasons, because it shows us that we can find joy and fulfillment through continuing to work within our lot in life while choosing to be the person we want to be in spite of the hand we were dealt.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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7 Responses to Wreck It Ralph Guest Post by Anonymous Houyhnhnm

  1. Christopher says:

    Interesting, I’ll keep a look out for Wreck-It Ralph when it releases in the UK.

    God Bless.

  2. Foxfier says:

    That’s something like three big recomendations; I’ll have to see about this for the girls.

  3. Father says:

    If you like my attempt at pop hermeneutics/eisegesis on Wreck-It Ralph, I recommend these other entries:

    “30 Days of Night” and the Hopelessness of a Life Devoid of God

    Starbuck’s Glorified Body

    Bella Swan vs. Katniss Everdeen: agency, strength, and what we value in female protagonists

    and one of the posts that I started cryptocatholic in order to write:
    Philip Pullman Fails at Being Wicked

    • Mary says:

      On Katniss — inability to successfully resist does not indicate a lack of agency.

      The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
      Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
      Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
      I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
      That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
      The things that men count for happiness, seeking
      The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
      With equal face those that bring ignominy,
      The applause of all or the love of none.
      All men are ready to invest their money
      But most expect dividends.
      I say to you: Make perfect your will.
      I say: take no thought of the harvest,
      But only of proper sowing.

  4. vali says:

    I’ll have to watch this movie. After a lifetime of fighting my own destructive nature, I have a great deal of sympathy for those trying to change your own.

    The post seems to be obliquely refeering to the concept of changing your sexuality. Whenever people bring up this topic around me, or say that sexuality is hardwired, I want to ask them “If you’d been born a pedophile, would you willing castrate yourself? If they had technology that could tell a child’s sexuality at birth, would you support the total castration of all infants with this affliction?” I’d be curious to see what sort of responses people have to this question.

    • Foxfier says:

      Your hypothetical assumes that castration keeps people from being pedophiles.

      It also assumes that tests can reliably know who will “be” a pedophile. (Seeing as the only thing that makes a pedophile is kiddi-diddling, that’s rather silly; they can’t even reliably detect as big a genetic trait as Down’s Syndrome. False readings in both directions.)

      Frankly, your question has a base assumption that sexuality is set and unchangeable, and that it exists independent of action.

      There’s a reason that people who are attracted to the same sex but do not consummate the impulse object to being called homosexual, rather than SSA.

      Recognize this game. Set up a a hypothetical with a bunch of bad assumptions, demand an answer in the context of the hypothetical, and then start yelling because the bad assumptions make for bad results.
      “If you were a pedophile, would you diddle little girls or little boys?” ===> “So and so wants to diddle little boys!”
      Or, if you refuse to play, accusations that you have a closed mind and/or inclinations to do both.

    • You should ask them an even more difficult question, since pedophilia will not long remain a taboo now that homosexuality is normalized.

      You should ask them, “suppose you were born a Son of Adam, and therefore bent by Original Sin to the inclination to think and do all fashion of evils and enormities, or by omission to allow and encourage evils to befall others.

      “Suppose, in other words, you were something worse than a mere pedophile, you were a depraved member of a radically depraved race, of which no member, no, not one, was free of depravity.

      “What would you be willing to do? To castrate yourself for the Kingdom of God? To cut off one hand or strike out your eye, if it offend you, on the grounds that it is better to go maimed or blind into paradise than to pass whole into hell? To take up your cross, and embrace martyrdom? To forswear your depravity? And what if even this were not enough, and you found that by no effort of your own could you save yourself?”

      You understand that I regard “he was just born that way” as the least convincing argument of all time, right next to “Negroes steal” and “Jews cheat.” It is bigotry disguised as compassion.

      I speak from experience. I have had allegedly compassionate men urging me to commit the evils to which I was born and to which I am prone, thinking they were doing me a favor, and when I opined a different opinion, that maybe compassionate men should not be urging and apologizing for grave moral evils and uncouth sexual perversions, these compassionate men savaged me with the screaming fanaticism of Spanish Inquisitors or Protestant Witchhunters. And they were straights, most of them.

      So if I do the evil to which I am born, then I am merely “born that way” and everything is cool and my vices must be tolerated; but if I speak up, and say that men should be better than they were born because we are born to yearn for the better and to achieve better, my lack of conformity to PC groupthink is a thoughtcrime an a vice, but not a vice where I was “born that way” and so it cannot be tolerated, no, not even given the respect of a fair hearing. So if I was born with a streak of sexual deviance, that is not only forgivable, forgiveness, nay, celebration of my evil is demanded; but if I was born with a streak of honesty or a stubborn streak of nonconformity, that calls for insults, threats, and crushing my career. You see how it works, this convenient compassion toward those who were “born that way”?

      The sad fact is that there sins that are both darker and deeper, not to mention more widespread, than any fashionable sexual perversions. All sin is self destructive, and all men have a self destructive nature to fight, but for each the battle is different.

      Because we are “born that way”, we all are bent toward self destruction, bent toward sin, and called toward holiness; and we cannot escape the responsibility of being human, neither with the cheesy “born that way” excuse nor any other.

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