Iron Man and other conservative wetdreams

May 12, 2010

If it’s true that art imitates life, then the artistic framing of life’s sordid little misdemeanours has the power to romanticise all that is bad and wrong in this world. Iron Man 2 may not be a nominee for MOMA anytime soon but its unmistakeable ode to the wisdom of corporatism and the demonising of nosey grubby governments is especially jarring in light of the trail of destruction left behind by Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Goldman Sachs and the rest of the other Wall Street league of superheroes.

In a particularly repulsive scene, Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, is subpoenaed before a Senate Committee, headed by a lazy caricature of a dim-witted senator, a barely disguised nod to the Committee hearings that Wall Street bankers faced a few months ago. This time the Committee demands from Stark his iron-man suit in the interest of the American people, no less. With convenient celluloid timing and insouciant charm, Stark fobs off the senator with some throw-away line about the sanctity of private property and perils of prostitution- the latter a clichéd wink at the failings of modern day American politicians. And of course, Stark goes on to stick his oversized boot in the bad guys’ ass – of Russian origin this time round – saves the day, the world, Stark Industries and the grubby little senator has to kiss his ass (pin a medal on him – no, seriously) just before ACDC kicks off the credits roll.

The message is clear, even through the film’s orgy of colours, explosions and white teeth – corporations should be beyond the reach of greedy governments, politicians are sleazy and over-tanned, the government cannot be trusted to act in the people’s interest (but good corporations can), and if you let companies fight it out ala Stark Industries and Hammer Enterprise, good old market competition will prevail and present you with a shiny worthy winner. Everyone’s happy, kar ching! Capitalism rules!

And this corporate conservative wet dream permeates all the cool superheroes. Bruce Wayne is head of Wayne Enterprise which is a supplier of arms and technology to governments and, like Stark, Wayne is the celebration of individual genius. Wayne, as is Stark, the epitome of human prowess, a bona fide master of the universe who, through futuristic technology and sheer intellect overcomes evil where it may lurk. This heady recipe of technology, the glorification of man’s genius (white male, of course), financial wealth and corporate know-how is the grand narrative of capitalism and modernity. And it’s no surprise that working class heroes – Superman and Spiderman – are as bland as they are wimpy. Clark Kent and Peter Parker, bumbling misfits in the world of $5000 tuxedos and cocktail parties (the real centre of power), are as sexual and attractive as lice are to dogs.

It is no coincidence that the popularity of these superhero cum corporate masters of the universe has risen in tandem with the entrenchment of late capitalism and the industrial-military complex. After all, pop culture has always taken its cues from economy and politics. But while the best pop culture injects itself with parody and satire, it is hard to see Iron Man 2 as anything but a corporate mission statement mimicking pop culture. And it does it so well too. Nevertheless, it opens up the ideological portal to the potential triumph of fascism. And this is where it is most dangerous – a conservative corporatist call in the voice of pop culture celebrating freedom from democratically elected governments.

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3 Responses to “Iron Man and other conservative wetdreams”

  1. sushi bar Says:

    精辟

  2. Oren Says:

    On Iron Man, I disagree. Though it demonizes certain aspects of government, it also shows the dangers of the power being in Stark’s hands (nearly killing people while drunk at his birthday party). Further, as much as it glorifies Stark and his company, it demonizes Hammer Industries. Also, look into where the character ends up going: Secretary of Defense, head of intelligence (well, SHIELD in the story), and unwittingly paving the way for an actual fascist dictatorship:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_War_(comics)

    As far as Batman, I completely agree. It presents government, at least the government of Gotham, as entirely corrupt, and Bruce Wayne as simply a savior; in fact, the story parallels his story to that of his parents, who are glorified as philanthropists, going back to the earliest American depictions of the super-wealthy being generous and, if I’m not mistaken, their generosity and being key to our general prosperity.

    But, on Iron Man, I think its a lot bigger than what you’re seeing. In the Marvel stories overall, a lot of characters hate Iron Man for the precise reasons you espouse: he pushes war for profit, he won’t let the goverment have his technology or try to use it for non-military use, and just because he’s rich. Though it presents government as corrupt overall at times, it does not do it through a glorification of corporations at all.

  3. Oren Says:

    Oh, and contrast Batman’s glorification of his parents as philanthropists with Tony Stark’s guilt over his family making weapons, and his subsequent commitment to non-military technology.


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