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Jack Graham

Jack Graham writes and podcasts about culture and politics from a Gothic Marxist-Humanist perspective. He co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper. Support Jack on Patreon.


  1. David Brain
    September 16, 2015 @ 5:41 am

    ” (Let’s leave aside the fact that stories about rich people displaying legendary generosity and social conscience, while popular and numerous, are about as firmly based in reality as Tron multiplied by Narnia.)”
    To be fair, Andrew Carnegie (admittedly a century ago) spent most of his money on social causes, and Bill Gates actually appears to be trying to do something “good” with most of his fortune too.
    But alas, they are exceptions that absolutely prove the rule.
    (Fabulous piece. Thank you.)


    • Josh04
      September 16, 2015 @ 1:52 pm

      Can’t speak for Carnegie, but the Gates foundation is well-known for explicitly pushing a political agenda along with it’s funding (e.g. independent schools)


      • John G Wood
        September 16, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

        And even if these Good Capitalists were – if you’ll pardon the expression – “whiter than white”, I still have an objection to any system that relies on the good character of powerful individuals to distribute their largesse in a fair, just and socially useful manner. Why not distribute it a bit more fairly in the first place, and cut out the middle man?


        • David Brain
          September 16, 2015 @ 2:47 pm

          Hey, I entirely agree with you – it’s one of the myriad wilfully obscured flaws of what we like to pretend to call capitalism. I was merely noting that it has actually happened once or twice in “real life”, not that it was a good thing! And certainly not that any system should rely on it happening.


        • Dirk Manley
          May 1, 2016 @ 11:26 pm

          Yeah, let’s instead rely on a system based on the idea of totally corrupt, thieving politicians to do the public good.

          Only a true idiot believes that thieving politicians will voluntarily do good for the general public, when they can (and in fact, do) use the resources they have (money obtained via taxes) to fuck up the public, and then use the subsequent crisis as an excuse to INCREASE the raping of the middle class and working poor.


  2. Matt M
    September 16, 2015 @ 6:18 am

    Okay wow, that was great. Best thing I’ve read in a long time. You’ll be glad to know that in the comics, Iron Man and Mr Fantastic ran their own space Guantanamo Bay for a while. This was during the hilariously misplotted Civil War event, and I’m intrigued to see what the upcoming Captain America: Civil War film will take (if any) from that.


  3. Jane
    September 16, 2015 @ 9:24 am

    This is why I’m proud to share a platform with Jack Graham. Wow, and bravo.

    Also, love the #notallcapitalists hashtag. 🙂


    • Jack Graham
      September 16, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

      The feeling’s mutual Jane. xxx


  4. Mark
    September 16, 2015 @ 9:33 am

    Not a bad article, even though I’m a person who doesn’t weep over the fact that I’m white and living in a capitalist society as I view those things as not inherently evil. America’s war and fear mongering can go fuck itself with a hot knife though. Only really wrong thing I noticed was that you keep referring to the Afghans and the Ten Rings as “Arabs.” Afghanistan is a ethnically diverse country with little ethnic ties to the people of inhabit the Arabian peninsula and the film makes it clear that the Ten Rings is ethnically diverse as well. Remember the scene with Tony and the other prisoner were confused because the leader of the Ten Rings was speaking Hungarian and other languages?


    • Jack Graham
      September 16, 2015 @ 11:04 am

      Thank you, that’s a valid point that I should’ve covered.


  5. THE
    September 16, 2015 @ 11:38 am

    1.) Having sex for sex sake is not sexist, and choosing to only have limited interaction with other individuals does not equal thinking they are disposable.
    Do you demonize women when they ONLY want to have sex with a guy? Do you demonize women when they ONLY want to be friends? Bloody Hypocrite.

    2.) “because of how badly it affects him personally”
    No, not just that, but what his fellow prisoner, Yinsen, endured.. his family & village was massacred by the villains.
    If your gonna demonize a film, pay attention.

    3.) “A rich, privileged, white dude decides that, as a capitalist entrepreneur who had a bad day, he has the right to decide who lives and who dies”
    Yes, because only minorities can kill people and be right and justified in it.

    4.) I am pretty sure any one of any race, of any social standing, with anything resembling a moral conscious would agree people who do this… (just this past January)
    Need to be stopped or killed.
    So no you do not get to say that there are not Easterners that kill and hurt each other unrelated to rich peoples imperialism.


    • Jack Graham
      September 16, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

      No point responding to this. What’s wrong with each objection you raise is so obvious that anyone can see it for themselves… and anyone who can’t is not going to be swayed by me explaining it. Thanks for reading though.


      • THE
        September 17, 2015 @ 8:42 am

        No, there is NOTHING obviously wrong about the fact that human beings enjoy and want sex for sex sake, and seeking it and only it out, DOES NOT MAKE YOU prejudice against those you are seeking it from.
        When men claim the same things against promiscuous women, its called slut shaming, once again… Hypocrite.

        #2 was factually shown on film to have effected Stark emotionally, so no there is nothing wrong with it much less obviously, if you can’t even accept what actually transpired on screen, you don’t need to write 40 paragraph articles about the film.

        #4 Factually provides proof of that you claimed was unrealistic and not true in the film does in fact take place in real life, and of course your cowardly ignoring it.

        So not only are you a man hating, racist against white people, terrorist & mass murder supporting sadist piece of human trash, you don’t even have the honor to discuss things when facing facts against you.


        • John G Wood
          September 17, 2015 @ 10:29 am

          Jack isn’t racist against white people, because it is actually impossible to be racist against white people in the world as it exists now. If you can take this one point on board, you might then see at least some of why Jack considers your arguments obviously flawed; if you read up on it and reject the statement anyway (or indeed reject it out of hand), you might at least understand why he thinks answering is a pointless exercise.

          This reply may, too, have been a pointless exercise; it almost certainly comes across as me being smug and arrogantly confident of my own rightness. Hey ho, what can you do?


          • THE
            September 17, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

            If he hates or demonizes white people which he does then he factually is racist towards them.

            noun: racism

            the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
                prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.

        • William McCormick
          September 17, 2015 @ 11:07 am

          I feel it’s important to point out Jack doesn’t hate men, he hates capitalists. And not even then. He hates their capitalism. Poor Show sir.


          • THE
            September 17, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

            No, my saying he hates men had nothing to do with his issues with capitalism, it was him implying that men being promiscuous and limiting their interaction with most women to sex, is inherently sexist or wrong on any level.
            No its not, its just limited interest. Men do not owe women a relationship or a meaningful emotional connection any more then women owe men sex.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            September 17, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

            THE –

            You’re currently enjoying a charming grace period whereby the ability to ban commenters has not been implemented on the site yet.

            I strongly recommend changing your posting style before Anna gets this coded.

          • Jack Graham
            September 17, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

            Seriously dude, that’s what you take away from the essay? That’s the thing you’re outraged about? I’m being mean to men and white people? Fuck off.

        • Gavin Burrows
          September 17, 2015 @ 1:07 pm

          “So not only are you a man hating, racist against white people, terrorist & mass murder supporting sadist piece of human trash, you don’t even have the honor to discuss things when facing facts against you.”

          But Jack, surely you’ll reconsider now you can see how reasonable this guy is being.


          • Jack Graham
            September 17, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

            I think I feel the scales falling from my eyes even now. I wonder if Vox Day will be my friend instead of Phil.

  6. William McCormick
    September 16, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

    Ok, attempt 3 at this comment.

    This essay is excellent. It’s an example of why people should be supporting the Eruditorum press Patreon.

    I don’t agree with your assessment of Tony Stark as a character, but you’ve explicitly excluded the Comics (and future films) from your essay and so it seems pointlessly pedantic to bring it in.


  7. Anton B
    September 16, 2015 @ 1:38 pm

    Wow! Impressive.


  8. SeeingI
    September 16, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

    I went to see “Dark Water / Death in Heaven” last night at the 3D showings, with your podcast takedown of this film in my brain. And what do you know, it almost looks as if Moffat is making a half-hearted critique of neoliberal adventurism, with his Iron Man style Cybermen becoming tools of the World President, ready and willing to do perform humanitarian interventions all across the galaxy. I say half-hearted because the whole situation is resolved just by the Doctor saying “nope, I give up” and handing Danny the self-destruct button.


    • Sean Dillon
      September 16, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

      I honestly saw the ending of that episode as more the Doctor immediately recognizing the terrible implications of that sort of story and promptly rejecting it in favor of one where, just this once, everybody dies.


  9. John G Wood
    September 16, 2015 @ 3:04 pm

    First off, great essay – some of that I’d thought about, most I hadn’t, so thanks. I don’t really have anything to add from a political point of view (heh, not that I’d expect to, given the author); but I wanted to say something about my experience of reading superhero comics and watching superhero movies.

    I like superhero tales. I am, in fact, quite happy to see the white hats and black hats facing off and beating seven bells out of each other for no morally sound reason, so long as it’s done in an entertaining manner. In real life I don’t go “yay for the vigilantes and our noble spy organisations keeping the world for decent folks!” – but that’s pretty much what I do when it comes to the comics, if that’s the kind of world the comic is set in (and it usually is).

    The thing is, there is no real contradiction there. In my preferred vision of the real world, someone like Tony Stark would be facing multiple murder charges; in the comics he’s just a dick, and all the more interesting because he’s a dick. I draw a line in my head, somewhere, and I just assumed other people did too…

    …until I saw that bit about reviewers describing the film as anti-war and pro-pacifism. What the flip? Now I’m worried.

    Oops, got to dash!


  10. Daniel Harper
    September 16, 2015 @ 4:15 pm

    First of all, an excellent piece considering the politics of a film I haven’t seen in its entirety since its initial release. A few thoughts:

    1) Obadiah Stane’s subplot always felt tacked-on and unnecessary to me, largely because it shifts focus from the “hero’s journey” story of Tony Stark’s “becoming” Iron Man (although I agree in your reading they are of course one and the same). I suspect the subplot was added in the first place because of the need for a compelling villain for the last-act battle sequence essential to the structure of the modern action film. Impersonal, systemic forces are fundamental to an understanding of the moral universe we live in, but on screen the audience is at least perceived as needing a single “villain” who can be defeated at the end. Also, of course, a singular “hero” who can do the defeating.

    (Idea: a Robocop remake in which the title character realizes that he or she is a propaganda piece used in support of the nameless wealthy in oppressing the people of the large metropolis in which he of she lives, and eventually turns against the police force itself, allying with the innocent populations terrorized by systemic brutality by the boys in blue.)

    2) It’s oft remarked that modern four-quadrant blockbusters, to the degree that they have any explicit political focus at all, tend to hedge their bets so as to offend as few people as possible. That’s how you get hundreds of millions of dollars with which the make/market a big-budget film, after all. The additional financial pressure given in a film like “Iron Man” by the American military (in the form of use of military hardware) means that any anti-military messages get filed down even further, giving even with the best of intentions a pro-war spin to the finished product. And, of course, the desire to be as “apolitical” as possible only serves to make the current status quo the only acceptable political message. Bleh.

    (Related: currently streaming on Netflix is a film called “Down Three Dark Roads,” which looked at first glance to be an early 50s noir but ended up being a love letter to Hoover’s FBI, largely because Hoover himself had to okay the script.)

    Interestingly, most of the rest of the MCU films avoid the worst of this by setting their action scenes with knobby-headed aliens or other pseudo-supernatural beings rather than basing themselves in a real-world conflict. One of the great powers of SF in general is its ability to examine social issues by distancing through metaphor, but this often means that it is then impossible to set such stories back in the real world. Jake Sully can fight against capitalist encroach and take the side of blue catpeople precisely becuase they are blue catpeople and not real-world oppressed peoples. (Omitting for the moment the massive White Savior issues with that film, of course.)

    3) Finally, one of the places where the MCU films (and the Iron Man trilogy in particular) fail utterly is in their idea of worldbuilding. Tony’s arc reactor (assembled from a box of junk in a cave!) has the ability to utterly change not just the technology sector of the Western world but the whole of world geopolitics. What does the Israel/Palestine conflict look like when the oil industry is reduced to chemical feedstock rather than the primary energy source for humanity? For that matter, if the stakes are raised in warfare by the addition of cheap Iron Man suit technology to militant groups of whatever ideological stripe, what does American foreign policy then look like? Such considerations may give us not just a more interesting political situation to consider, but would undoubtedly be more interesting stories in general.

    Again, excellent piece and I’m very happy this resource now exists.


    • Josh04
      September 16, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

      Stane fills in as the culmination of a sins of the father/corruption within plot, because as much as the film advocates for Stark’s ability to fly into the middle east and fix everything it shys away, as you note, from expressing this pretty radical idea.

      So instead, Stane is the one who massacres the Afghan leadership with advanced technology – giving Stark an excuse why not to do it other than ‘it’s inherently evil’.

      Of course, by the time we get to Age of Ultron Stark has stopped letting the fact that supervillains are also advocating for his plans stop him, but that’s more to do with him spending that whole film halfway through a signposted heel turn than it is an appreciable ideological shift.


    • Matt M
      September 17, 2015 @ 6:36 am

      (Idea: a Robocop remake in which the title character realizes that he or she is a propaganda piece used in support of the nameless wealthy in oppressing the people of the large metropolis in which he of she lives, and eventually turns against the police force itself, allying with the innocent populations terrorized by systemic brutality by the boys in blue.)

      So uh, Robocop 3 then? 🙁


      • Sorcha
        September 19, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

        That sounds not unlike the premise of Chappie…


  11. ScarvesandCelery
    September 17, 2015 @ 4:50 am

    I have nothing useful to add – this is a brilliant, searing, on point critique. However, I did want to say that I loved the title. It made me laugh out loud.


  12. Shannon
    September 17, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

    Excellent breakdown of a movie I really enjoyed when it came out but has some really awful messages. I am curious about your analysis of Iron Man 2, especially the fact the villain at first appears to be like the ones in the first movie but turns out to be something entirely different.

    As for the “rich white guy saves the day,” I think that’s a problem with a lot of superheroes. Batman is the most well-known, but I think in the comics, Reed Richards is actually the straight-up most destructive and evil while still being portrayed as a hero: http://new.websnark.com/post/93357159033/reed-richards-sociopath


    • Shannon
      September 17, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

      One thing that Jack touched on, but didn’t really get into was the exact problem with the message around clean energy. Setting up the arc reactor as something someone could literally make in a cave in Afghanistan with spare parts reinforces a technocratic viewpoint as a solution to climate change. It basically says, “If we hang around long enough, a Steve Jobs of clean energy will come along and invent something that will just solve all of our problems.” While R&D is necessary and we’ve made a lot of technological advances, there are no arc reactors on the horizon. To an extent, they put this off in the movie a little bit by saying that Tony needed some very rare metal to make it, but the archetype of the uber-inventor that waves a magic science wand and solves everything is highly problematic, especially in the context of climate change.


      • Lambda
        September 18, 2015 @ 5:42 am

        The biggest problem faced by anyone trying to come to any sort of rational decision about climate change is surely that the extent to which technology can help is so mind-bogglingly uncertain. I wouldn’t be surprised on one hand, if we made strong AI within 25 years, the AI singularity happened and we very quickly had solutions to everything. And I wouldn’t be surprised on the other hand if strong AI turned out to be totally impossible, or if all it could tell us was that the physical limitations are insurmountable and we’re doomed.

        (Doesn’t help that predicting what positive or negative feedback mechanisms might get triggered, and whether there are any tipping points to be worried about is so difficult too.)

        I guess you can complain about anything which makes the problem seem less serious though, on the basis that it might make people more likely to burn carbon frivolously. Even if we don’t know whether that will make any difference, it’s clear which end it pushes the probabilities towards.


  13. Matthew Parsons
    September 17, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

    Well, this makes me REALLY excited about this whole Eruditorum Press thing.


  14. Osvaldo Oyola
    September 20, 2015 @ 3:51 pm

    I just discovered this post and site through it being shared by Noah Bertlasky of the Hooded Utilitarian, and I wanted to thank you for clearly expressing what has been a jumble of thoughts about the film I’ve had since I was convinced to go see it by a friend.

    If there is anything I take issue with is the claim re: the power of texts to influence people. It probably goes without saying to someone sharp enough to have written this that it is not that simple or straightforward. I think texts like these have a lot more influence in terms of how they reflect and confirm pre-existing attitudes and prejudices, and in some cases their hopes, usually through re-framing the very political dynamics represented in ways that reinforce individualist ideology (at least in the U.S.). Maybe I am just splitting hairs w/ this critique since you even mention that you need to come back to the topic in the future.

    I wonder if the recent doubt cast on the Stark character in the films is meant to suggest his possible villainous character (leading up to his role in Civil War), or (the more likely) if his POV is meant to simply be another acceptable and morally justified choice?

    Anyway (at the risk of being spammy), if you (or your readers) are interested in reading a take on a different Marvel film that sets up a foundation of its cinematic universe) check out my post “Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Liberal Fantasy – A Review” over on The Middle Spaces


  15. Mohammed Smith
    September 23, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

    There are so many problems with this, I don’t even know where to begin.

    Let’s start with the one that bothered me the most: the writer’s constant references to “Arabs” despite the fact that there isn’t a single Arab character in the movie. Contrary to the article’s claims, the terrorists of the Ten Rings are neither Arabs nor Muslims. It’s also extremely unlikely that any of the Afghan villagers are Arabs. If the author of this article actually knew anything about Afghanistan, he’d know that France has a larger Arab population, in both size and percentage! (Arabs comprise roughly 9% of France’s population and less than 4% of Afghanistan’s population.) The terrorists and villagers in Iron Man were mostly portrayed by Pakistani and Indian actors, lived in a region predominantly inhabited by Pashtun and Urdu tribes, and spoke the Urdu language on screen (which shows that the filmmakers know more about Afghanistan than the writer of this article does). It can be safely assumed that they’re not meant to be Arabs!

    I’m part Arabic myself, and the fact that the author seems to lump all of the ethnic groups in the Greater Middle East and the Indian Sub-Continent as “Arabs” makes it very difficult for me to take his views on international politics seriously. That’s something I’d expect from an uneducated and mildly racist hick, not a supposedly progressive intellectual.

    The movie also makes it clear that the terrorists are not Islamic fundamentalists, since it explicitly states that the Ten Rings is a secular organization. The terrorist leader, Raza, is shown as a non-ideological warlord motivated solely by the acquisition of power and territory. (The religion of the Afghan villagers is never specified, and it can probably be assumed that they’re Muslim, since Afghanistan’s population is almost entirely Muslim, but I don’t see how that matters.) This one mistake causes a lot of the author’s other arguments to break down, most notably his complaint about how they can’t be both religious fanatics and self-interested cynics; they’re not both, they’re solely the latter.

    Regarding the author’s suggestion that the audience should sympathize with the Ten Rings for defending their homeland from American imperialism, there are two huge problems with that argument. First, the Ten Rings are not a local resistance group, they’re a multinational terrorist organization that’s taking advantage of an existing conflict to pursue their goals of conflict. They’re explicitly shown kidnapping, enslaving, and slaughtering local Afghans! In that light, it makes perfect sense that Yinsen would side with anyone, even a hated American imperialist, over the people who kidnapped him and are holding his family hostage.

    Second, it’s based around the rather simplistic assumption (one which I’ve seen fairly often among the more extreme critics of American foreign policy, on both the far left and the far right) that since the invading Americans are the “bad guys”, anyone who opposes them must be the “good guys”. This ignores the fact that many of America’s enemies are responsible for countless human rights abuses in their own right. If the author had a better grasp of history and politics, he could’ve pointed out how the evils of Al-Qaeda and ISIS actually highlight the flaws in American foreign policy, since both groups exist as a result of American intervention in the developing world. (In fact, Iron Man 3 makes that exact point, exposing the Ten Rings as a literal creation of the American military-industrial complex designed to foster a perpetual demand for war.)

    As for the author’s claim that the movie is undemocratic because it portrays one man as having the solution to all of the world’s problems, that could be applied to any superhero movie. It’s an inherent problem with the superhero genre, especially in large scale stories where the superhero is focused on more than just stopping local crime. But while I see how it’s mildly problematic for Iron Man to go off on his own and take drastic actions without any oversight or accountability, I don’t see how it’s any more problematic than when Captain America or Thor or Batman or Superman or John McClane do the same thing. I completely disagree with the author’s idea that it symbolically represents how whites/males/rich people/Americans have all the answers to the world’s problems and should be allowed to do whatever they want; that’s drawing an association that isn’t there.

    I don’t think the movie is particularly supportive of the U.S. military either. It doesn’t condemn the military in any way, but that’s not the same as supporting it. However, it’s important to remember that Tony does stop creating weapons for them, and he sticks with that decision even after Stane is exposed and he no longer has to worry about his inventions falling into the wrong hands. That shows that, regardless of the initial reasons for his change of heart, he does come to believe that there’s something innately amoral about supporting any form of militarism. (The sequels make this more explicit: Iron Man 2, for all its flaws, shows that Tony deeply distrusts the American military-industrial complex, while Iron Man 3 goes even further by portraying the military-industrial complex itself as the source of America’s threats.) It’s also important to remember that his original goal as Iron Man is not to police the world as a one-man army, but simply to atone for his past sins by stopping the specific terrorists who are using Stark Industries weapons.

    Finally, the author’s sudden rant about the oil industry and climate change is extremely bizarre and out of place. I’m not a climate change denier by any means, but his apocalyptic prediction of humanity’s impending extinction is absurd, it’s alarmist technologically-regressive fear-mongering at its worst. No credible scientist would agree with those claims. It’s also completely irrelevant to the topic at hand, since the movie never mentions environmental issues or the oil industry’s role in the Iraq War or anything even tangentially related to any of that. And while I fully agree that going to war to steal a nation’s resources is completely immoral, I don’t see how going to war for oil is any worse than going to war for iron or gold or rubber or diamonds or water. It’s not like Saddam Hussein’s regime was just sitting on top of all that oil doing nothing with it; they were extracting and selling it too, so the fact that it changed hands doesn’t really affect global carbon emissions.


    • Jack Graham
      September 24, 2015 @ 4:55 am

      Thank you very much for this comment. You have identified mistakes in my article which I should have caught and fixed before publication. Some of them were problems with lack of clarity, others were outright factual howlers. I don’t excuse it, but it was a product of rush, and leaving first-draft placeholders in when they should’ve been altered after research. They’re still unforced errors and I apologise for them. I’ve amended the article accordingly. I’ll do better in future. Needless to say, all errors are entirely my responsibility. 🙂


      • Elizabeth Sandifer
        September 24, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

        I just want to echo Jack’s thanks for the comment, and add that it’s a genuine honor both to have a site that receives such intelligent and on-target critique and to work with people like Jack who, when confronted with it, own up to their mistakes and fix them.


  16. Richard Johnson
    September 29, 2015 @ 6:28 pm

    Some interesting comments from ‘The Mandarin’ on the Iron Man forum I frequent. Posting them here because his views match my own and he expressed them better than I could. (Quotes from the article are his. Text in brackets is mine, added for context.)

    “It’s very hard for me to see, for instance, what’s so evil about kidnapping Western capitalist arms dealers and forcing them to make weapons for you, so that you can fight people who invaded your country and killed your people with weapons that the Western capitalist arms dealers made in the first place!”

    The Ten Rings were not Afghanis. They were a multi-ethnic group of imperialists from all over the world doing mercenary work in the short term to fund their long-term goal. [Iron Man 3 revealed their goal was to keep the War on Terror going so the Mandarin’s PMC could sell soldiers and weapons to both sides, as part of the Mandarin’s plan to take over the US.] They were Spectre and Cobra and such. They were also an easter-egg about The Mandarin himself, who [in the comics] initially did mercenary work for the Chinese as part of his long-term goal to destroy the Chinese and almost everyone else by causing World War III.

    A lot of the other things [the author of this article] said collapses because of that one thing.

    “Not only is he not depicted as causing any of society’s ills, either individually or as part of the system atop of which he sits, but he is actually the solution to all the ills of society. Just him. One (iron) man.”

    This is something inherent to all heroic stories. The hero is right, the rulers and the mob and everyone else are wrong. Heroes are metaphorically Jesus, even the antiheroes. I consider this trope somewhat problematic, but I’ve seen what happens when you abandon it, and the price is too high for a monthly mass-entertainment. Superheroes especially disintegrate when you abandon this trope.

    The Solid Dick writer tries to make this about some huge evil of American thinking, when it’s really just a trope without which a comicbook star collapses and will lose readers in the long term.

    Having said all this, he does have something of a point about comic Stark, which is why the movies immediately move him two steps away from being an industrialist, by making Obediah Stane and Pepper the businesspeople in Stark’s life, while Stark is mainly an absent-minded-professor.

    He’s initially presented as basically this combo of absent-minded-professor and sheltered-rich-kid. Obediah is leading him astray, feeding him a line that he is purely inventing weapons to help heroes stop villains, and he’s too busy alternating between doing Sheltered-Young-Rich-Fop stuff and Absent-Minded-Professor stuff to realize this.

    Once he has his redemption arc, he kicks Obediah to the curb and becomes much more purely the heroic Absent-Minded-Professor who deeply cares for his friends and his woman. It is Obediah who embodies everything the Solid Dick writer is talking about, and Pepper who embodies a softer variation on it.

    In other words, Obediah is Steve Jobs at his worst [a parasitic predator who profits off the creativity of others], Pepper is Steve Jobs at his best [a pragmatic entrepreneur who comes up with practical uses for creators’ abstract ideas], and Stark isn’t Steve Jobs at all, he’s really more of a Wozniak. Even more than that, he’s the science hero in a million movies and pulps, doing crazy science and acting for small, personal goals like protecting or avenging his loved ones. By the third movie, he’s cloistered in his lab obsessed with protecting the love of his life, and only leaves it to avenge his friend Happy. No grand economic/political schemes on his part, just mad science used for small, personal goals.

    In other words, the movie people were keenly aware that the core comic concept is utter fail, and very wisely created massive retcons to make the movie version work. They made Obediah guilty of his worse sins, and made Stark himself a misled mad scientist who deeply cares about Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey.

    “He doesn’t do this because he suddenly thinks its wrong to make money from peddling technology designed to kill and maim as many human beings as possible. He doesn’t do it because he suddenly cares about the effect of American imperialism upon the people of the Middle East or Central Asia. He doesn’t do this because he suddenly realises that the American military are a bunch of gangsters who destroy lives and nations on behalf of the needs of capital and capitalist governments. He does it because he has decided he knows better how such weapons should be used, and that consequently he should be the guy who gets to decide when and how to use them.”

    I disagree somewhat. He becomes distrustful of the morals of the military itself. You can see this in Iron Man II, and in Avengers. He is flat-out an anti-establishment figure in both.

    He is neither a pro or anti establishment figure in Iron Man III [despite that movie having the most anti establishment message of the trilogy], but only because by this point he’s become utterly the eccentric isolated inventor using mad science for tiny personal goals like protecting the love of his life. His world is too small for politics at this point, and he works better as a character that way.

    I think what the Solid Dick author misses or wildly misinterprets is the core trope of all heroic stories, which is that the hero is right and everyone else, the government, the masses, everyone, is wrong. It’s a somewhat problematic trope because it’s inherently undemocratic. And the wires behind the literary-magic-trick that is this trope show a little when the hero is flawed rather than a straight-up Jesus type. But the trope is still necessary or heroic fiction disintegrates under its own weight.


    • Jack Graham
      September 29, 2015 @ 9:14 pm

      “The Ten Rings were not Afghanis. They were a multi-ethnic group of imperialists from all over the world doing mercenary work in the short term to fund their long-term goal.”

      Yeah, part of the problem with the originally-posted version of this article was that it sounded like I was saying that the Ten Rings were Afghan freedom fighters. It’s quite right that they’re not. I think my point still stands though (certainly now I’ve amended the article), which is that they are all that is depicted by the film in place of Afghan insurgence, thus depicting any resistance to the invasion as illegitimate criminality.

      The other objections don’t seem relevant, to be honest. They’re either about different films, or comics (which I specifically leave out of my analysis), or they’re generalities about heroes and superheroes… generalities which may be true, but which don’t affect the cumulative case I make. I’m not saying that this film does anything especially unusual (in fact I specifically say otherwise), rather that it does it better and bigger and with more directly damaging and retrograde associations.


      • Richard Johnson
        October 5, 2015 @ 8:56 pm

        Since you admit that the film doesn’t do anything unusual, would you say that you find all forms of heroic fiction to be harmful for similar reasons? If you’re going to condemn all stories where the hero is right and everyone else is wrong, that leaves precious little left in the action hero and superhero genres.

        I greatly respect that you were willing to amend the article to correct your mistakes, but I don’t see how some of your points can stand in light of those corrections. The movie doesn’t show any Afghani resistance fighters at all, so I can’t agree that it portrays Afghanis in a negative light. The only Afghanis we see are Dr. Yinsen and the villagers, who are all portrayed positively. The movie only briefly touches on the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the entire plot revolves around the protagonist cutting his ties to the military, so I can’t agree that it’s pro-military and certainly not that it’s pro-war.

        Your interpretation seems to be that the Ten Rings are meant as a stand-in for the Afghani resistance and that Iron Man is meant to be a stand-in for the U.S. government or military, but I strongly doubt that was the message the filmmakers intended or one that most viewers internalized. In my humble opinion, it’s a movie about a fictional superhero fighting a fictional terrorist organization that uses the Afghan Civil War as a backdrop. To the extent that it has a message, it’s an anti-war message, even if it’s not particularly anti-military (the sequels definitely are, but you said you only wanted to discuss the first film, so I won’t get into that).

        The movie could be seen as pro-American since Tony Stark’s primary concern is for the lives of American servicemen. So what? I don’t see anything wrong with that and I don’t think being pro-American and anti-war are mutually exclusive. It’s a perfectly valid moral concern. The American soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq under false pretenses were victims too, deceived and exploited by the same corrupt warmongering politicians who went on to cut veteran’s benefits. From WWI to Vietnam to Iraq, anti-war movements in the U.S. have predominantly been driven by concern for the lives of American servicemen. Those millions of protesters and activists you praised in the article for their unprecedented opposition to an unjust war? A large majority of them, at least here in this country, were motivated by the same sentiments you seem to be condemning Tony Stark for.

        I half-agree with your assessment of Stane as a “bad capitalist” in contrast to Stark’s “good capitalist”. I half-disagree because I don’t see how that’s a bad thing. As a center-left liberal, I think it’s ridiculous to assume that good capitalists don’t exist. I don’t see how a movie that portrays a single good capitalist and a single bad capitalist can be seen as pro-capitalism any more than it can be seen as anti-capitalism. I also half-disagree because I think you got the roles wrong. As ‘The Mandarin’ pointed out, it’s the pragmatic and business-savvy Pepper who’s the “good capitalist”, not Stark. Stark isn’t a capitalist at all, he’s a heroic mad scientist adventurer in the mold of Doc Savage, Benton Quest, Emmett Brown, and Dr. Who. His corporation is a plot device to provide him with the resources he needs to build his inventions and to provide motivations for his allies and enemies. The whole reason the writers chose to have Stark inherit his wealth is because that’s the only way for the character’s absent-minded professor naivete to make sense. If he’d built his own company from scratch that would’ve required making him into a capitalist, which changes the core concept.


  17. Shirin Sarafi
    June 9, 2020 @ 1:05 am

    “the US started sponsoring mujahideen rebels against the modernizing pro-Soviet government in an attempt to lure the USSR into invading”

    Nope. The USSR invaded Afghanistan because the pro-Soviet Afghan president, Nur Muhammad Taraki was overthrown and then assassinated by his (also pro-Soviet) second-in-command, Hafizullah Amin. Brezhnev, Kosygin, and most of the Politburo were against the idea of invasion, but were goaded into it by the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, as well as Andrei Gromyko, Dmitriy Ustinov, and Boris Ponomarev. I suspect it was probably Andropov who was responsible for the conspiracy theories about Amin being an agent of the CIA, but I don’t think there was ever any definitive proof. At any rate, the Mujahideen didn’t become a factor until after the Soviets invaded and the US did not begin Operation Cyclone until after the war began.


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