In recent years, America has adopted a national rhetoric of containment, creating a close resemblance to its culture during the Cold War. Since the 9/11 Attacks, terrorism has become the new communism, taking on the role of an evil, unpredictable force that threatens peace in America.
One instance of this Cold War ideology in today’s popular culture is the 2008 movie Iron Man. For those who haven’t seen it, Iron Man follows the American technological mastermind Tony Stark as he develops a robotic super suit. While the entire film is rife with examples of the Cold War mindset, I will focus this post on a single scene in which Stark demonstrates his Jericho Missile to the United States Army.
The scene begins with Stark’s pre-demonstration speech, in which he states that the missile will make its user both feared and respected. He claims that the best weapon is “the weapon you only have to fire once,” because “that’s how dad did it” and “that’s how America does it.”
In these opening lines, Stark establishes a militaristic “us versus them” mindset. He appeals to the Army officers by stating that the missile will allow America to visibly demonstrate its superiority to its enemies, keeping them in constant distress. Furthermore, he connects the missile to American tradition, speaking of it as an embodiment of American values.
Before firing the missile, Stark remarks that “the bad guys won’t even want to come out of their caves.” In other words, this military technology very literally keeps the faceless enemies contained within their hiding spaces. Stark keeps the identity of the enemies limited to the simple term “bad guys,” which enforces the idea that they are inherently evil – similar to the black-and-white view of communism during the Cold War.
Next, the camera cuts to the demonstration of the missile, showing a fully automated, camouflaged weapon system. Not only is the weapon hi-tech, but it also lies hidden within the terrain, reflecting the popularity of covert and unconventional warfare. As the missile approaches its target, it scatters into many smaller missiles, demonstrating that it is far from regular military technology. Again, this highlights America’s resolve to build stronger, more complex weaponry to assert its superiority over the threatening enemy.
After the missile strikes its target, Stark raises his arms at his sides, making the position of a cross. In this symbolic pose, Stark elicits an image of divinity related to his technological superweapon – not at all dissimilar to the divinity associated with the atomic bomb during the early Cold War.
From start to finish, the scene consists entirely of uniformed military men, aside from Tony Stark in his sharp, black suit. Thus, the men serve as a symbol of American might and protection. This all-male scene highlights a different aspect of American Cold War culture: the glorification of strong uniformed men. While feminism has made significant strides in the 21st century, Iron Man demonstrates the concurrent reinforcement of traditional gender roles in much of popular media.
In both words and pictures, this scene showcases the movie’s saturation with Cold War values. Through glorification of futuristic military technology and traditional gender roles, Iron Man serves as one among many examples of the reemergence of containment culture today.