Comments on

Scrap Iron

Original entry posted: Mon Nov 17 20:35:02 2008

Matt @ Tue Nov 18 10:44:43 2008 EST

I think Stark has "retired" the armor several times in the comics. But since Marvel loves its franchises and the money resulting from those titles, he usually returns to battle some villain (or even at one point his successor, War Machine, who couldn't handle the Iron Man suit).

I'm a little disappointed that Favreau has said he won't focus too much on Stark's alcoholism in the sequel.

Thomas @ Tue Nov 18 11:21:27 2008 EST

It is too bad. Alcoholism's a good metaphor for his (and by extension, many superheros') addiction to ego, in my opinion.

Likewise, it will be interesting to see how they handle the War Machine arc, if at all, in the next movie, given a framing based on white privilege.

pseudonymous @ Tue Nov 18 13:44:50 2008 EST

I don't think Stark is an egotist. Egotists care. Stark doesn't. His self-destructive alcoholism is better read as a metaphor for his purposelessness. If you don't care if or how you (or others) live or die, then it makes perfect sense to sarcastically raise your glass of scotch "to peace" in the middle of a war zone. The man doesn't give a damn.

But having to strap a magnet to your chest to keep shrapnel from shredding your heart might change your mind (and your heart) about a lot of things. Think of it as a moment of clarity.

While I think it's important to call out Iron Man in the same way we call out Batman and other superheroes/ vigilante-fascists for their sins and shortcomings, I think this reading is unfairly dismissive of Stark's noble if exaggerated attempt to take responsibility for his actions in a world of zero accountability.

Thomas @ Tue Nov 18 14:02:24 2008 EST

Duly noted.

It should be said, I did like the movie. I don't view an interpretation via privilege as a negative criticism of the character so much as an interesting perspective through which to examine its events, and a jumping-off place for future installments.

Thomas @ Tue Nov 18 14:32:07 2008 EST

Actually, my first response was a bit glib, since we'd already discussed this in person. But I've been thinking about the points you raised.

I suspect, frankly, that the distinction between privilege (my perspective) and agency/responsibility (yours) are merely flipsides of the same coin. As you yourself point out, agency is a luxury of privilege--or perhaps the other way. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, they're clearly linked.

(I do, actually, disagree with what I believe you said about agency being a dramatic necessity based in privilege: plenty of great books can and have been written about laborers and farmers, including many where their lack of agency is a crucial part of the story. See: various muckrakers, for starters.)

But to the contrary, the ability to ignore one's responsibilities is something afforded by privilege. Stark can only afford to pretend that his hands are clean because, like many in the overdeveloped world, his privilege (as a white American descended from upper-class, landed interests) insulates him from the consequences.

Now is his embrace of the power he wields a method of recognizing and taking responsibility for his privilege. Perhaps--I think that's a very, very good point. Likewise, I think your point about his work ethic is a good one--compared to the elite of mutants and accidental superhero "royalty," Stark is indeed a much better role model.

Where am I going with this again? (Don't stop now! It's bat country!) Oh, right:

So I suspect that my last paragraph, being a rhetorical flourish, has led you to think that I'm a lot more negative on Iron Man as a character than I actually am. Obviously as a vigilante superhero, he's a fascist--but setting that aside, I quite like the character.

What I hoped to do while talking to myself here was think about why I still felt ambivalent about Stark's narrative arc (as well as some of the "others" used to further his growth). Far from necessarily being flaws in the story itself, I think they're interesting shadings that lend it depth--and, going forward to the eventual sequel, could continue to do so.

pseudonymous @ Thu Nov 20 18:49:31 2008 EST

So I'm writing up something, and maybe I'll post it somewhere, but for some reason this has me going.

Quick question: I get that you like Iron Man. I understand that you're saying that Tony Stark is privileged because you think pointing it out raises some interesting and/or difficult questions.

But just so I know where you're coming from, is his being privileged - in and of itself - a bad thing?

If not, is it how he uses his privilege that matters?

If so, is that because it makes him bad (privilege corrupts)? or because it reflects badly on society (Tony Stark can't help he's privileged, it's not his fault, but privilege is still bad because society shouldn't have privileged classes)?

As an experiment, take away his privilege and shift the direction of his class.

Antonio Stanca is a member of an oppressed class. He's a Sudanese refugee illegally living in Italy. He finds a job working for the Beretta family (smithing shit that kills people since 1526). He's made a gunsmith, and he's really good at it. Wrong place, wrong time, he's kidnapped. He manages to escape, killing his captors by turning himself somehow into a gun. I'm imagining a veritable cannon in the dude's chest. Irresponsible his entire life, Stanca is suddenly fed up. (Incidentally, that's what Stanca means.) With this awesome cannon for a heart, Stark takes up arms against crime.

While still a vigilante-fascist like stark white Stark, would you say that Stanca's a better guy than Stark - all other things besides privilege being roughly equal?

Thomas @ Thu Nov 20 19:37:44 2008 EST

I wouldn't say Stanca's a better guy. I'd say he's a very different person, and would have a different emotional arc. You've eliminated a critique from privilege in his example, but that only means I would need to find other tools to examine this artifact.

Privilege is bad. Tony Stark is, from a non-genre ethical point of view, also bad. But possessing privilege is not (by my argument here) what makes him bad. His actions do that. Privilege is a way of explaining, questioning, and framing those actions.

Likewise, I'm a white, upper-middle class male. I've got privilege in spades. That doesn't make me a bad person. But it is a bad thing, and it arguably behooves me to work to fight that privilege, or at least to recognize it and at least keep from exacerbating it.

You ask if privilege is a problem because it is corrupting, or because it reflects badly on society. The latter is, no doubt, true--privilege should be minimized, I would think. But really neither of these is why I would describe privilege as damaging. It's more accurate to say that its real danger is exactly what led Stark into trouble: privilege allows him to be ignorant of the perspectives of others, and dismiss their concerns about his actions.

I'll give the man credit for halting large scale production of weapons by his company. But then he goes and builds another superweapon that only he--as a rich, white guy who apparently thinks he knows best--gets to use.

Back to your example, Stanca does the same thing. But he doesn't do it because he's privileged. Why does he? Who knows? It's still a bad thing, but we'd use a different frame to understand why.

I think of it like affirmative action. Rich white people oppose it, in many cases, because they think it's "unfair"--their privilege blinds them to the many advantages they possess as white people. Does that mean that it's okay if Clarence Thomas, as a person who does not possess white privilege, also opposes affirmative action?

No, clearly not. But we have to look for other reasons as to why he's embraced the position of his white counterparts.

pseudonymous @ Thu Nov 20 20:23:54 2008 EST

After some offline conversation...

Hmmm... back to the drawing board. There's a democratic case, I think, to be made for Iron Man, but it'll take some doing. (The whole Stanca tack is a dead end, but that would be a fun story to write.)

I didn't think I'd end up as an internet denizen debating superhero valor into the night.

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