What if peace was profitable?: A review of Iron Man


The film starts with Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) in full-on cool mode, swilling whiskey on the rocks and quipping “no gang signs” when a soldier holds up a peace sign. A bit later, this womanizing head of a mega-weapons corporation notes that there is no profit in peace – that it would, in effect, put him (and many others) out of work. Yet, Stark has a change of heart (quite literally) after being almost fatally wounded in a secret snuff attack by his partner and nemeses, Obidiah (played with tycoon nastiness by Jeff Bridges). With the help of Yinsen, another captor, Stark is saved and has a new heart in place – literally, a technological heart that keeps him alive, but also, more significantly, a heartfelt awakening to the realities of war and weaponry.

However, as Sarah Seltzer at RH reality check writes, “the movie seems to imply that his moral doubts kick into gear mostly because the dark-skinned baddies got their hands on his stockpile.” Or, in other words, Stark isn’t too concerned about militarization and arms dealing until the arms are in the hands of the ‘evil terrorists.’ Unfortunately, the film does nothing to trouble the ‘you’re either with us or your against us’ dichotomy. According the logic of the film, the Afghan baddies are ‘against us’ (except for Yinsen, the doctor who saves Stark and is, of course, conveniently nixed before the film is in full throttle). Moreover, as the side character from SHIELD (the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division) plays a considerable role in saving Pepper Potts and Iron Man while also making the annihilation of Obidiah possible, the film suggest that the real enemies are ‘over there’ and what we really need are bigger ‘shields’ to protect us – a message with which the current administration would certainly approve. And, even though the baddie is a corporate white guy, he is not framed as bad because he makes weapons or loves wealth and power, but because he trades with the wrong people (the Middle Easterners that the film stereotypically casts as terrorist cave dwellers). This representation of ‘baddies’ using U.S. weapons for evil purposes is furthered when Khan finds the remnants of the first Iron Man suit in the desert in order to retool them for his own use. Here, good U.S. weapons (the Iron Man suit) are stolen by bad terrorists (Khan). Thus, the message is not so much anti-weapon as anti-weapons for (middle-eastern) Others.

Once back in the good ole U.S.of A. (yet another dichotomy the film fails to unpack: US good, Middle East bad) Stark, the head of a corporation at the heart of the military industrial complex, announces at a press conference that his company will no longer make weapons. Heads start spinning and stocks start dropping – just as they would in the real world if Lockheed Martin or General Electric decided to disavow making weapons. Weapons are big business – one of the biggest – and, as the film in its techno-glam super-hero style vaguely reveals, this business requires perpetual war (as well as selling weapons to as many buyers as possible- whether ‘friend’ or ‘foe’).

While its nice to think some of the pro-peace, anti-military industrial subtext will travel home with theatre goers, when I asked one of the boys that joined my kids and I at the movies what he thought the movie was trying to say about war, his enthusiastic reply was “Weapons Rule!” Unfortunately, I think this is the message that many will ultimately take away from the film – that technology rules and what we really need is “better weapons” which could rule the world in an ultra-cool way – via Iron Men! Seems like this type of weapon would in fact be Bush’s wet dream – wasn’t that the sort of look he was aiming for when he donned the flack suit and announced “Mission Accomplished”? Can’t you just see Bush all rigged up in that neato red and gold Iron Man suit, quipping “I ain’t only gonna smoke you outta your caves, I’m gonna fire blast you out!” Of course, Stark plays a much different Iron Man than Bush would – he has a heart and a brain, and really does seem to have turned against the idea that weapons are the answer – only problem is, the audience may not be able to make that turn with him when the movie makes it look so damn much like “Weapons Rule!”

*As an aside, is there any reason Pepper Potts has to wear heels so high she can barely walk? And, why the hell didn’t she ever get to gear up in a Iron Woman suit? I suggest purple and silver, with no heels.

**For great analysis of this film, see WOC PhD and Feminist Underground.

What if heroes had gray hair? A review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

F COUNT: one baby f

I must admit, I am a sucker for action films. The first Indy came out when I was 10 and spoke to my already obsessive fear of snakes as well as my love of adrenaline. I must also admit that I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Indy 4 so I could take my kids, 9 and 11, to see it with me and finally experience Indy on the big screen (they have been prepped with the first three installments – and lest you critical media watchers are concerned – yes, they have been subjected to feminist analysis of the film that considers some of the more worrying sexist, racist, and xenophobic Indy elements!)

The night before Indy 4, we watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade at home, a movie filmed nearly 20 years ago with a still brown-haired Indy. Perhaps this is why the next day at the theatre, not too far into the film, my daughter asked “Why is Indy’s hair that color?” Not one for any sort of talking in films, I gave the let’s talk about it after signal and returned to my immersion in the wonderfully villainous antics Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), the ever luminous feminist (s)hero Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), and the heroic academic (yeah!) Henry Jones Jr. (Harrison Ford).

On the ride home, after declaring her love for the killer ant scenes, my daughter again asked about the hair. This got me thinking – perhaps her focus on the hair was not due to Indy looking different in the film she had watched the night before (an actor’s nightmare – aging 20 years in one night!),but due to the fact that gray is a pretty much non-existent hair color in film and television – unless, that is, you are watching a hair dye commercial (or bio-pharm hawking one of its latest medicinal wares that will “make you feel young again” with the minor side effects of chronic constipation, projectile vomiting, and mild heart attack).

Where is the gray these days? The Golden Girls are long gone and the only wonderfully gray woman I can think of at the moment is the fab therapist on HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me who’s hair, true to media form, is really more white than gray (but she does have hot sex with her gray haired lover in numerous episodes – a groundbreaking representation in itself as most media leads us to believe people don’t even live long enough to go gray, let alone still be doing the nasty once they do!) In terms of my kids’ viewing, I can’t think of a show that features gray, let alone gray-as-cool-action-hero hip. In fact, the youth rocks message is so pervasive that most kids seem to think 40 is pretty ancient, let alone Harrison’s 65.

But, what if gray characters were sprinkled in film and television with as much frequency as surgically sculpted faces? What if Superman got older-looking (instead of younger looking as in Superman Returns?) What if they finally made a Wonder Woman blockbuster with Linda Carter as the now graying (or gray) most awesome Amazon of all time?

Well, if the reactions–both pre and post–to Indy 4 were any indication, it would take some major paradigm change to embrace the gray. Ford naysayers abound, claiming things like “the years have dried him out,” as film critic David Edelstein does. As Edelstein’s review in NY Mag further complains, age just should not be something viewers have to deal with:

“The computer-generated imagery removes the intangible elements of gravity and depth of field we see in that early warehouse sequence, and the state-of-the-art effects have a way of making the ages of the actors more, not less apparent. As this elderly crew (only LaBeouf is under 56) rushes down a stone staircase to escape a CGI rock slide, you can almost hear their joints creaking.”

Even Ford concedes that “No one wants to see a hero have to pick up his cane to hit someone.” Well–why not?– I ask. What if we regularly saw gray haired (s)heroes fighting baddies with their canes, using their wisdom to trip up evil masterminds, or simply revealing that not all world saviors come in latex suits with six-packs and wrinkle free botoxed visages?

As an interviewer at Gawker said, “American culture is generally paranoid about aging” to which Harrison replied, “Well, I am here to help. What would you like me to do?” Well, Harrison, keep fighting the good anti-ageist fight and keep up your gray hair activism (Harrison claims “I resisted some early efforts, for instance, to think about coloring my hair. I said, Uh, no.” Heck, Harrison, you might even check out the GoingGrayBlog and give some cred to the joyful embrace of grayness.

I sure do wish the super-gray Indy and the fabulously plastic surgery-free Marion could throw the baddy on You Tube called “tekno dwarf” to the killer ants (as well as all the other gray naysers and ageist aficionados). Tekno dwarf posted a film review of what he calls “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Wheelchair” abounding not only with ageism, but sexism too. Lamenting that upon seeing Indy on screen “I thought he was going to keel over,” he further rants that the Irina Spalko character is “nod to the feminist movement” that is “bullshit.” “I was hoping for that Russian bitch to die,” he spews. Then, in fine misogynistic fashion, he ends his review with “Fuck you women. Go suck a dick and die.” Wow, and some people wonder if sexism still exists?!? It ain’t only on the campaign trail, people.

Of course, sexism and ageism (S&A) go hand in hand – in fact all the ugly isms hold hands in one big intertwined knot (otherwise know as the multiplicity of oppressions or intersectionality). Older women are subject to the friendship between S&A with particular vengeance – women are supposed to be young hot objects with empty minds and open legs dammit – not full fledged adults with brains, life experiences, and (the horror) bodies that age. Jessica Valenti’s new book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, chronicles this ageist double standard with her entry #15: “He’s Distinguished, She’s Driving Miss Daisy.” Perhaps this is why all those “distinguished” (ugh) men like Sean Connery and Michael Douglas are cast with women far younger – wouldn’t want put them with a Driving Miss Daisy! Thankfully the past few years have eroded this men ripen and mature, women rot attitude with the likes of Helen Mirren, Doris Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jane Fonda (by the way, thank you Jane for saying “cunt” on national television earlier this year– you rock!)

As for the film itself, each of the female leads is far younger than Harrison and neither, of course, has gray hair. The film is hardly feminist with a capital f, but it may deserve a baby f. Marion is back, and she ain’t no damsel in distress (even though Mutt claims she needs to be saved, she saves the rest of the crew multiple times with her mad jeep driving skills and waterfall navigation management, for example). Plus, casting a gray haired action hero of 65, female leads of 56 and 39, and a plethora of supporting characters over 55 speaks to feminism’s fight against all the ugly ism’s, including ageism.

Now, if only I could find more seasoned screen mentors for my daughter to view so that gray becomes just another hair color, rather than a sign of being “passed it.”

What if “woman” was not used as a synonym for “white woman”?

Certain words, most words, in fact, carry along all sorts of baggage with them. Words are like overstuffed suitcases. When we bandy about the hefty word ‘woman,’ most people see a Costco-variety suitcase, a ubiquitous ‘everywoman’ that, like the dark green Costco luggage at airport baggage claim, is indistinguishable from all other women. Yet, this pervasive use of ‘woman’ to represent a very particular type of woman – a white, heterosexual, middle class, manicured, polished, feminine women – is harmful to ALL women.

When a media mouthpiece says “woman” they usually mean ‘white middle class hetero woman.’ When they mean a female who is not part of this limiting normalization, they add adjectives and stir – such as Chicana, Black, Queer, Homeless, etc.

So, what should the word ‘woman’ mean? Well, channeling Freud, it seems the word should mean what the individual woman wants it to mean. It could mean “I have a vagina,” it could mean “I identify as female,” heck, it could mean “I don’t identify in any gender category but need to use the damn bathroom.” But, from a societal level, it is imperative that we who have our social justice awareness caps on use this term woman more carefully. As a case in point, why is Obama referred to as a black man while Hillary is most often referred to merely as a woman?

“Woman” should not be used to make whiteness or other categories of social privilege invisible. It should not be used as a synonym for white woman, for a heterosexual female, or for any other supposedly (ugh) ‘normal’ category. Rather, the word must carry all the heavy connotations stuffed into the very large, overstuffed suitcase of all those social positions, identities, and intersectionalities that are socially constructed as well as embodied by those who identify or are identified as women.