Even in the throes of the economic crisis, my generation hasn’t really had a Great Depression either — though we did come this
close. And even after 9/11 my generation hasn’t had a Great War. The world is now far too mind-numbingly complicated and complex to even have a clear concept of a single, monolithic Evil
to fight. The “heroes” of my generation, the ideals that kids look up to and wish to be like, haven’t been men of steel battling evil for a long time, they are now, like Durden says, millionaires and rock stars
. And that is precisely what 21st Century Tony Stark is. After he comes out of the closet (or, more accurately, the basement science lab) as Iron Man, he becomes a worldwide celebrity, a household name. Even the migrant worker he stops to buy strawberries from on the Pacific Coast Highway asks, “Are you Iron Man?” like he’s recognized a movie star.
And unlike Superman or SpiderMan or Batman or any other major superhero before him whose truth the world was not yet ready to handle, Tony Stark answers casually, “Sometimes.”
Perhaps that’s the other side of what allows a 21st century superhero to be transparent. The modern world can accept him as such. Gen Y is a lot more tolerant
of lifestyle differences than prior generations, after all. The X-Men didn’t hide that they were different, either, but then again, they COULDN’T hide it — looking like Beast or Nightcrawler, or having Rogue or Cycolps’ particular mutations, you couldn’t just “pass” in normal society — and the humans the X-Men fought to protect could never accept them for being what they are. Not so in the world of Tony Stark. He’s no mutant. No outcast. He’s the most popular kid in school. The late DJ AM even spins at his birthday bash
. The 21st century Tony Stark reveals to the world he is Iron Man, and the 21st century world says…. Awesome!
In the past, being a tech entrepreneur-slash-engineer, as Tony Stark is, would have made him a nerd, or otherwise Bruce Wayne, still stuck in the previous millennium, putting on a show of irresponsible playboy-ness to deflect attention from both his morbidly serious crime-fighting alter ego and his humorless tech geek underbelly. Like, remember when no one would have wanted to sit at the lunch table with kids who talked about stuff like “augmented reality”?
Yeah, not so much, anymore. In the 21st century, being a tech geek no longer detracts from the image of a bad-ass or a dilettante. James Bond and Q have combined into one seamless character. It’s 2010, and geeks are cool! Hell, we’ve even got one as President
While both Wayne and Stark are surrounded by high tech everything, for the 20th century hero all the gadgetry is just a means to an end. Even the Batmobile is ultimately just a flashy tool. Same could technically be said about the iPhone, but who would? In the post-iPod era
we have a very different relationship with our technology. Our favorite tech objects aren’t just for utilitarian application, they’re obsessed over, fetishized, loved. It’s why Gizmodo would pay $10,000
for an exclusive scoop on an in-production, “lost” 4g iPhone
, and why an enormous global audience would give a crap. When Stark says in the movie that the Iron Man suit is a part of him, that he and it are one, we all intimately understand exactly what he means even if the rest of us don’t actually literally plug our gadgets into our chest cavities.
After a raucous birthday party in which we see Stark, in full Iron Man gear, getting shitfaced and acting the fool, (he’s dying at the time, and feeling a bit of the nothing-really-matters mortality blues — being dissolute and apathetic, itself, unusually postmodern behavior for a superhero), S.H.I.E.L.D.
agency director Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) “grounds” the hungover superhero by sequestering him in his house with all access to communication with the outside world cut off until he solves a theoretical physics problem. This superhero’s punishment is having his phone and internet privileges revoked and being sent up to his room to finish his math homework. There isn’t a single one of the 60 million American Millennials
that doesn’t relate to this.
When Favreau was looking for a 21st century industrialist corporate executive to use as a model for his and Robert Downey Jr’s interpretation of Tony Stark
, he sought out Elon Musk
, co-founder of paypal. Musk even has a cameo in the movie, chatting Tony up about an electric rocket, a concept referencing Musk’s current endeavors, Tesla Motors
, which produces fully electric sports cars that rival Porsche in performance, and SpaceX
, a private aerospace company working to invent the first reusable rockets, which would dramatically reduce costs and eventually lead to affordable space-travel. This dude is the inspiration for the 21st century version of Stark.
So what’s Tony Stak’s inspiration? Why does he do what he does? There was no childhood trauma that drove him to caped crusading. He wasn’t raised by adoptive Earth parents who imbued him with a strong moral compass during his formative years on a farm in the American Heartland. Sure, ok, he underwent a certain crisis of conscience in his 40s after escaping from a terrorist hostage situation in Afghanistan, shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries and all, but still, why does he take it so much further, going so far as to “privatize world peace.” …. For the thrill of it! As he himself says, he keeps up the good fight at his own pleasure, adding, “and I like to pleasure myself often.” Unlike the prior century’s superhero, this new version saves the world not out of any overwhelming sense of obligation or indentured servitude to duty, but because he can do what he wants, when he wants, because he wants to, and most importantly, he GETS what he wants. Sure he has to work for it, but unlike with, say, Peter Parker and Mary Jane or Clark Kent and Lois Lane or even Buffy and Angel, what he wants isn’t perpetually out of his grasp just because he is who he is. Being Iron Man isn’t a burden, it’s an epic thrill-ride.
The first 21st century superhero is a hedonistic, narcissistic, even nihilistic, adrenaline junkie, billionaire entrepreneur do-gooder. If Peter Parker’s life lesson is that “with great power comes great responsibility,” Tony Stark’s is that with great power comes a shit-ton of fun.
You can’t get any more Gen Y than that.
Welcome, 21st Century superhero, my generation has been waiting for you.