Sunday, October 5, 2008

Iron Man, the Film for Ecofeminists?

For those of you who read Fettchen, I apologize for being MIA these past few weeks. Life has been nutty, you know, with class (Neue-Sachlichkeit-Marlowe-Queer-Theory-What?), work (Forty-Student-Leaders-What?), stomach flu (suck!), Rock Band for my Wii (mwahhahhahhaha!), and design/writing articles for my college's newspaper (read my latest article here).

After the torrent that was the month of September, I took this evening to catch up with a friend of mine and have a night of hanging out and movie watching. The movie of choice? Iron Man.

I enjoyed the film a lot, and since I didn't see the movie when it came out, there's no sense in writing a review or giving you a full blown rundown of the film (you can get that, if you want it, here). What I would like to offer is a slightly different angle that some of my counterparts in the blogosphere may not have taken.

Iron Man fits into the vogue of superhero-moviedom with all of its variegated clich├ęs. Take one part debonair + two parts asshole + 3 fl. oz of dramatic-life-changing-moment + financial capital + weird-primogeniture-motif and you've got 2.35 hours of action packed, testosterone injected, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-ary. In a word: Trite.

Not so with Iron Man. I'm excited that, despite preconceived notions, we're starting to see films coming out of the superhero genre with more substance than before. Iron Man offers a lot of truly critical moments that give to more sophisticated moviegoers that spark of higher-thinking we need to keep watching.

The character of Tony Stark fits the mold of comics superhero to the T, with splashes of womanizer and alcoholic. After the character undergoes his crisis and begins to craft his hero identity, we see an interesting frame of thinking envisaged by the filmmaker. In a world where the power of patriarchy and he who carries a big stick is king, Iron Man posits that its the sleeker, more compact, more energy efficient superhero that saves the day.

Ecofeminism asserts that the patriarchal oppression of woman intersects and is analogous to the oppression of the earth through conquest and imperialism. Ecofeminists consider the domination of nature by a system that values male-land ownership to be at the root of the exploitation of lands, the tragedy of the commons, and the subjugation of the third world and persons of color.

While an ecofeminist critique is far from the center of Iron Man's purpose as a film, I find that, at times, the film makes an ecofeminist critique.

In the film, the main character is initially culpable with the patriarchal system of war that rapes and pillages the people of Afghanistan. Tony Stark creates weaponry that is, without his knowledge, sold to the people he thought he was rightfully fighting. After being captured and forced into labor (you know, building a bomb), Stark realizes who the real enemy is: the system that engenders the people that have held him captive with their warmongering and manaical hatred of others. Through this transformation, Stark leaves his powerful weapons that hurt the earth in order to build a single weapon to save it: his suit.

The exoskeleton, unlike the weapons he's crafted previously, are small and compact. Their purpose is to efficiently get in an out of situations in order to help people, not hurt them. Now, I'm not so into my own argument not to admit that his way of helping people is by breaking those who hurt them in half (or throwing them through brick walls, or shooting them in the head, or handing them over to vigilante justice . . . where was I?), but keep up with me. In essence, Stark shifts from thinking about weapons as a way to subjugated and force surrender toward the idea that technology can be used to aid those who are being subjugated and forced to surrender.

In the last epic fight of the film, Stark is pit up against another version of his suit, one that is clunkier, slower, and seemingly more powerful because of its might and brawn. Stark is able to defeat this suit because of the increased effectiveness and efficiency of his smaller suit. In a show down of arms, its the Prius of the two, the suit with better mileage if you will, that saves the day.

At the end of the day, the film isn't about an ecofeminist critique. Though elements of a critique float around the edges of the movie, the film finishes with all the glory of the commonplace wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am-ary, as always. What remains, however, is that these critiques, these thoughts, are perimating the genre-driven, money-grubbing sphere of that his Hollywood. Its only a matter of time before this sleekified, possibly-maybe ecofeminist superhero takes a not so nuanced step out of the fading limelight of patriarchy and into the, forgive the flourish, basking radiance that is deeply thought provoking, yet entertaining, film media.


Matt Click said...

What an awesome way to look at the film. I'm going to watch it soon on teh BluRay.

Jake K.M. Paikai said...

I tend to always gravitate toward the queer and feminine. It's always fun to see the ways one can apply these theories to fun shit.

Incidentally, there was also some weird homoerotic vibes through the movie. Woohoo!

And I watched it on teh_blurays, on my housemates ultra-big flatscreen.

Jealous you are.

A. Lucchesi said...

Hi darling. I like what you did with your critique, though I'm not sure I get it. I see plenty of eco, but not really any feminism in your argument. Where's the link between subjugated nature and subjugated women/species/races? What I'm hearing more of is "look, if men are responsible in what they build, they can protect people instead of destroy them." Can you explain it a little more?

Also, why aren't you subscribed to my blog? Reciprocity, my friend. Read it! Leave comments. Please?

Jake K.M. Paikai said...

You're right in that my argument leaves out prenty of feminism, but in truth, the movie at best has an ecological critique and not a feminist one.

The one point that Sam and I saw as being feminist had to do with the fight between Iron Monger and Iron Man. In this scene we see a clunky, overly huge, humvey of a supervillain fight the sleek, body conscious, and I dare say feminized superhero. It kind of connects with the idea of the feminized knight in Sir Gawain: where Gawain's comparative femininity to the Green Knight actually helps him to "save the day."

In this last fight, Iron Man provokes Iron Monger in to following him up into the stratosphere. Iron Monger, because of his size, expels tons of carbon dioxide and harmful gases, in order to keep up with Iron Man. The man inside the Iron Monger suit begins the movie as a father figure for Iron Man, and as the film progresses, so does the line of his character, from venerated father figure to unnecessary, clunky, evil-evil father figure. Iron Man's cleverness to elude the patriarchal figure, his efficiency in thwarting such an overbearing master is not directly feminine in critique, but serves my argument well.

I see in comic book movies specifically the ability to adapt and fit a higher, theoretical, more artistic mode of thought and appeal to those who have such thoughts. Shit like _Daredevil_ and _Spiderman_ are out the door. It's time for a smarter, more sophisticated hero.

And reciprocity my foot. You're on my vienna. I haven't read your PR thingy yet because I haven't caught up yet. Capstone/German is eating my soul.

How goes Angelond?

Anonymous said...

I actually read an article before both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk came out and it discussed the likelihood of each doing well and concluded that The Incredible Hulk just couldn't be made pertinent to us now the way Iron Man could. The writer focused on the issue of terrorism specifically and how Iron Man takes an anti-war stance, which is the most superficial reading imaginable above "It was good. I liked it."

Still, this is one of the reasons why I can't actually name The Dark Knight as my favorite superhero movie of the summer, because while The Dark Knight is slick and has immaculate acting and is serious, it really doesn't say anything that wasn't already said in Batman Begins with the addition of an Agent of Chaos, which isn't as deep and meaningful as it looks when Heath Ledger is selling it to you wholesale. Iron Man manages to sneak in a lot of interesting little criticisms and moments where it skirts the edges of the genre.

It also supports something I've been saying for a long time, mostly in response to all those film snobs who think Hollywood is where good films go to lose their ability to say something (or whatever it is those indie-watching elitists like to think to justify the generalization that Hollywood necessarily equals bad): responsibly done Hollywood films that can criticize something while entertaining the audience will always beat the subversive indie film that wallows in its own criticisms. For one thing, no one wants to be preached to. And for another, no one is going to see that subversive indie film. From my experience subversive indie films are usually watched by subversive indie kids who are probably already conscientious of whatever problem is being criticized. Iron Man, on the other hand, attracted a whole lot of people. I'm sure that some of them were, for example, pro-war. And some of that number of people probably came out of Iron Man thinking about what being pro-war actually means. Which, you know, is a win.

I could go on and on about this and Iron Man in particular, but I'm going to stop now before I lose the thread of this comment... not that I may not have done so already.

Jake K.M. Paikai said...

I think you're picking up what I'm laying down, and vice versa. Iron Man is indicative of a change in Hollywood that I find refreshing and necessary. Hopefully these slighted and responsible social critiques will continue to come out of Marvel. They've excited this feminist enough to keep watching.

A. Lucchesi said...

Hmmm. Still not sure it gets me to feminism. By that logic, Rocky 4 is feminist because the smaller, trimmer, and more sensitive man beats the huge and over-masculinized, evil Russian. I think it's just a winning formula for an action movie. Brains over brawn, beauty over ugliness, good over evil. The interesting added twist is in the eco front, to me. I think we're going to have to wait a LONG time to see anything really feminist in super hero movies.

Anyway, England is lovely, aside from the weather of late. I've been having a grand old time, and meeting some really cool people in my program. Over all, the reading is long, and not really my style yet--lots of Marxism, lots of Victorians. Yuk. Still, pretty good seminars and some very cool lectures coming up starting next week, with a lecture on Transgender in the Middle Ages. Very excited.

Anonymous said...

Shit like _Daredevil_ and _Spiderman_ are out the door. It's time for a smarter, more sophisticated hero.

Never been a real big fan of the "underwear pervert" comics.

But that's precisely why I like witty little comics that blur the line between that which is "comic" and that which is "novel." the things that are somewhat more subtle, or stories that are more plausible; comics about regular people. And there's a movie being made from one of my favourite comics, too — Scott Pilgrim.

I find your whole critique very interesting. I hadn't seen the film until last night, either. (The craziest thing is that it feels like it was just May, too. And then there are days that go by really slowly, like today. Or am I just faster?) At the very least, it's an eco-friendly without being overly patronising or preachy (a la Captain Planet — which indoctrinated me in the ways of eco-friendliness at an early age). Regardless of anything else, this trend is a good one for the mainstream. It's enough to keep me watching.

It's really cool to see the film through your eyes. We all interpret the things we see through the filters of the cultures we belong to. (I would like to understand what the "homoerotic vibes" were that you got from the film, though. Maybe I was just afraid of looking for such things watching the film with my father last night).

I should probably also add that I've switched over to one NetNewsWire. It seems a little faster than vienna. Mostly, though, I like it because it syncs feeds between my desktop and my laptop.