Iron Man: Weapons of Mass Protection

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.

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7 thoughts on “Iron Man: Weapons of Mass Protection”

  1. How interesting! I had already noticed recurring Cold War themes in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe storylines (and had decided even before reading your post to write on those), but I had not noticed the scene-by-scene use of Cold War rhetoric. I find your post did a great job explaining how you came to the conclusion you did, and it made me question how much of the rhetoric we accept on a day to day basis without thinking about it,

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  2. The amount of symbolic references to the Cold War in the scene you described is pretty remarkable. It made me begin to think about American superheroes and comic book characters in general. Comic book superheroes started to become mainstream in America around the time of World War 2 because they were able to demonstrate American power and superiority through a very palatable, exciting medium. Interestingly, it seems as though in the past few years producers have begin to revive many of the classic comic book characters and stories into films. I feel as though these superheroes are very powerful figures in our popular cultures because, as you described in the scene above, they can elicit a sense of national pride, without even making direct references to the real word. When the rhetoric of “us vs. them” creeps its way back into the American mindset it can be comforting to turn to stories of superhuman strength and power to feel secure.

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  3. I agree with all the points you make about the binary logic and the permanent militarism rooted in the historical in Tony Stark’s speech. I would add that he gives his demonstration of the Jericho Missile an entertainment value (“for your consideration”) coupled with a consumerist tone (“we throw one of these in with every purchase of 500 million or more”). This exemplifies the ideological battle emphasizing consumer freedom and the ‘American way of life’ after September 11th 2001. I think this is a great example of containment rhetoric in popular culture!

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  4. Awesome job of making a vast array of connections from Iron Man to containment culture. I was particularly intrigued by the sense of “divinity” parallel between Tony Stark’s reactions and America’s use of the atomic bomb. Also interesting is the fact that Stark (if I recall correctly) is an extremely wealthy individual. Perhaps this explains the relative lack of protest towards his use of dangerous weapons and force (much like the granting of AUMF to Geroge W. Bush) and could serve as yet another connection, given American’s reliance and unity around those in power in threatening times.

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  5. Your analysis was very interesting and insightful! I was also amazed by all your symbolic references as adow2020 mentioned. Another thing to potentially think about with regards to this piece of media is that in addition to reflecting the resurgence of containment culture, it seems like it satirically addresses consumerism, binary thought, and other containment principles. In the broader scope of the movie, this scene represents the old, selfish version of Tony Stark. By the end, the idealized hero being portrayed as Iron Man rejects his older self. In some sense this movie could be considered a criticism of containment culture, with a main character who is initially close-minded, and selfish, in compliance with containment thought. And after going out and actually seeing and experiencing reality, which binary thinking disregards or twists, the main character is enlightened.

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