Thursday, May 16, 2013

Iron Man 3: Polarized Portrayals of Women, Escaping Fear and Abandoning Digital Distractors

Kas and I went and saw Iron Man 3 a few days after it came out and we had a great time. It was a fun movie and an exhilarating experience -- all that an action-packed Hollywood comic book hero film should be. Interesting themes and ideas both implicit and explicit grabbed my attention. For example, the oddly similar comparison between the zombie-like henchmen and the objectified ping pong playing women. Or what about when the President of the United States is hanging in the unmistakably same pose as Jesus on the cross? Also, the fascinating paradox of Tony Stark's morality (Refusing to partner up with "bad guys"and killing enemies means you're a hero and an American idol; living unchaste and sleeping around has zero consequence and harms nobody).

Though similar themes are explored in my post about the newest installment of the James Bond series, I feel that discussing the portrayal of women, escapism, and digital distractors in Iron Man 3 can yield some good insights within my own head, and with students of these United States.

Polarized Portrayals of Women

Pepper Potts is the secretary turned official partner (not in the sidekick sort of way) of Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. In the previous film, Iron Man 2, Pepper takes the helm of Stark Industries which gives here apparent power and notoriety. However, in this film all such power and strength disappears. Pepper assumes two extreme roles that most supporting women characters play in Hollywood these days: the damsel in distress (Think M.J. from Spiderman), or the unhinged sexual feline (Think Black Widow from Avengers).

This is an issue way more complex and deeply rooted in a variety of other issues, but I wanted to bring it up. Why is it that Pepper is either clinging to Tony's chest or rampaging in uncontrolled bloodlust? Neither of these portrayals come close to portraying the caring, thoughtful, nourishing, strong, courageous, and humble ideals I have come to appreciate in the women in my life. Obviously this is Hollywood, but we should care because all media teaches and all media has a message. Lets at least think about it. If your students are watching this film, do they pick up on any of these themes? Maybe you might ask them something like: How is power distributed between genders in super hero movies like Iron Man 3? Is that accurate to your real world experience? Why or why doesn't that matter?

Escaping Fear

or ?

This article makes some excellent points about the change of American cinema (and especially of super hero movies) post 9/11. In this review, Mr. Dargis of the NY Times has some strong words for the filmmakers of Iron Man 3 when it comes to escapism and our current society's interest and willingness to face our fears.
“Iron Man 3” is conspicuously meant to be escapist entertainment (a pathetic conceit, given what it says movie people think about real life — or rather the real lives of their customers). But Mr. Black and his colleagues, like other filmmakers who use the iconography of Sept. 11 and its aftershocks, want to have it both ways. They want to tap into the powerful reactions those events induced, while dodging the complex issues and especially the political arguments that might turn off ticket buyers. The result is that in some movies Sept. 11 — along with Afghanistan, Iraq, terrorism, the war on terror and torture — registers as just a device, at once inherently political and empty, in a filmmaker’s tool kit.
To be honest, when I was watching the film and Ben Kingsley's character was revealed (SPOILER!) to be just a pawn actor with no bad intention, it was a large and happy surprise. I felt it was a clever way to play with my expectations of the narrative structure of the film and I also appreciated the lighter tone it brought to the seemingly dark movie. So, is my happiness with the surprise all because I was going to escape, and not to engage? I don't know, maybe. Either way, Dargis' thoughts have caused me to reflect quite a bit. Large budget hero films seem to be getting darker as time goes on (e.g. The Dark Knight, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and the upcoming Thor: The Dark World) and perhaps that has to do with our society's unhappy flirtation with the reality of our complex global community which isn't all happy.

Abandoning Digital Distractions 

Something I love about this film is it makes for a great analogy of recognizing the imperfections and distractions of digital/non-human technologies (obviously, this has been on my mind recently)

Tony Stark sits in contemplation next
to his technologyenhanced self. 

In an early scene in the film, Pepper comes home and is met by what appears to be Tony in his Iron suit. However it is just a robot and Tony is down in his man-cave working on things, leaving the technology to handle his relationship with Pepper. This small storyline (or maybe it is big?) is concluded when he destroys all of his suits and ultimately gives up being Iron Man. This was the strongest theme of the film for me: spend real time with real people and in doing so you will find your true identity.

It isn't just students who struggle to put away their phone or focus on their work for long periods of time without Facebook, this is something we all face. Iron Man blew up his distractions - how do you deal with yours?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what great insightful thinking and interesting topics/questions to discuss.