Iron Men and Paper Dolls

Iron Man & Iron Man 2

Gloria in Excelsior!

Let me be clear about something.  I like the Iron Man movies.  I'm willing to accept their pro-business, military industrial complex attitudes as flaws of the character.  Not every "good guy" has to have the same motives, and Tony Stark's selfish goodness is frankly less disconcerting than Bruce Wayne's selfish goodness.  With The Avengers, we're allowed to see the conflicting motives between Iron Man and Captain America in their appropriate context.  Cap pursues good for goodness' sake.  Tony chooses good when it makes him look good.  That's the character; a lovable bastard, a reckless cad, a cuddly prick.  I'm okay with this.

Pay no attention to the following speech.  It's totally about me.
Iron Man the character is what Iron Man the movie is, and the movie is what movies have become.  Money and polish wins, defining "good" by its own values..  Robert Downey Jr. sells it with his winking performance, and I confess, I'm a fan of the Downey Brand Ham in a Can.  Downey is Stark, but Stark is Downey too, grinning their ways through detention.

I tell you this so you will understand that I'm not just a big Mr. Complainy-Pants because I don't like the movies and I'm looking for reasons why you shouldn't like them either.  I like them, but there are still things that I don't like about them, and there comes a time when "it's just a popcorn movie" stops working as an excuse.  Tony Stark's attitudes are one thing.  The films' attitudes are another thing.

I've been marathoning my way through Mad Men lately.  There is a very clear case of the characters' attitudes being separated from those of the narrative itself.  Don Draper is a flawed protagonist of the reckless cad variety, but at no point does the narrative suggest to us that his attitudes are correct, or Betty's, or Roger Sterling's or anyone's.  They are presented in a context that shows us the way things were, and we balk at Don's disregard for women, at Betty's casual child abuse, at Roger's bitter excuses for bigotry.

Iron Man, obviously, doesn't operate on a level of that kind of emotional depth, so things are what they are, particular once they leave the circle of Tony's self.  Tony is the only real character.  Everyone else is stage dressing.  They are physical realities.  Only Tony has an inside.

So with Iron Man 3 coming, there is one character/expression that I could really do without.  It was Mad Men that really got me thinking about the outdated sexual attitudes in the first two movies; attitudes that would have been perfectly acceptable in the early 60s, but which are appalling in the context of the 50 years between then and now.

This attitude is clearly demonstrated in the characters of journalist Christine Everhart and perpetual "girl Friday" Pepper Potts -- specifically in the dynamic between them.  Well, of COURSE it's limited to those two characters, as they are virtually the only women present in the first film (another is Marine, mistaken for male, thus proving her non-frivolous stature as something other than sex object).

Everhart is the abrasive, ambitious reporter who makes a token effort at questioning Stark, but quickly succumbs to his tactless sexual advances to get the "inside scoop."  You know, because she's not really as good as a hard-hitting male reporter.  So in the space of a scene she's been sexed and discarded by Stark for Pepper to "throw out the trash."

This is where the ad writers in Mad Men would be delighted.  "Fast" girl is "trash."  Wholesome, patient girl is entitled to denigrate her.  Her long-suffering entitles her to the "prize" of blameless (but wealthy, don't forget wealthy!) cad Tony.

Just in case you missed it, they bring Everhart back in Iron Man 2.  This time she is diminished by her failure to be worthy of Stark, an unquestioned subject of ridicule.  She's stuck with the awkward and unappealing Justin Hammer, who fancies himself a worthy rival of Stark.  But Hammer is too forthcoming, too needy of attention (hers in particular) and she is cloaked in shame.

Pepper, meanwhile, through virtue of her subservience to Tony and coy pouting has been rewarded with "girlfriend" status, and graduates from executive assistant to CEO of Stark Enterprises -- in 1960s analog, she got the ring.

Everhart's aggression makes her "trash" destined to disappointment.  Potts' passivity wins the man sweepstakes.  Ann Romney would be so proud.

As the old Shaw line goes, "We've established what you are, madam.  We are now merely haggling over price."

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