Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Monday, June 3, 2013
The culminating twist of “Iron Man 3,” declared Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, “signals both the making of Iron Man 3 and, with any luck, the possible unmaking of the genre.” It was an early review, so Lane had to be coy about spoilers, but a few weeks and a few hundred million box office dollars later, we can just say it:
“This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: It is precisely this endless war — justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism — that is the single greatest cause of that threat.”
Oh, wait, sorry, that’s not “Iron Man 3.” That’s Glenn Greenwald on Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 12-year-old foreign policy franchise formerly known as the War on Terror has another two decades of sequels left in it.
That has nothing to do with “Iron Man 3” ’s corporate supervillain inventing his own Osama bin Laden to drive up demand for his ever-expanding arsenal of military products, locking America and the rest of the planet in a self-perpetuating cycle of unwinnable war. Director Shane Black even goes the extra metafictional mile and includes the CEO’s blue screen movie studio, the same corporate tech keeping Iron Man and his pals alive.
“From here on,” writes Lane, “the dumb-ass grandeur around which superheroic plots revolve can no longer be taken on trust.” Greenwald thinks the same about Obama. The war on terror, like the Hollywood superhero, will never end on its own because so many “factions reap a bonanza of benefits from its continuation.” Black lifts the edge of the curtain, but that glimpse will hardly unmake or even marginally slow the onslaught of forthcoming productions.
The modern superhero movie took flight in 1978 with “Superman: The Movie” (the subtitle says it all), with the total number of productions tipping just over 40 in 2001. How many since 9/11? Fifty. In less than half as many years. So, no, 9/11 is not the box office superhero’s origin story. It’s merely the transformative accident that doubled his powers.
Superheroes were the ready-made absurdity 9/11 was meant for. Diverting the path of an airliner? That’s a job for Superman. Superheroes soared after 9/11 because Hollywood cast America as the planet’s mightiest super being and the rest of the world population as Lilluputians willfully misunderstanding him. Weren’t they listening when Bush Sr. explained the New World Order? After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. was the lone superpower, to be loved and respected by a planet of grateful mortals. When some of those ingrates go and topple the Fortress of Solitude, what choice does America have but to declare a War on Lilluputianism?
But then in his own plot twist, President Obama, days after his assistant defense secretary argued for an unlimited renewal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, declared: “This war, like all wars, must end.” The Associated Press boiled the president’s 7,000-word speech down to a single sentence: “Barack Obama has all but declared an end to the global war on terror.”
Congress is balking, of course. And so is our democracy’s fourth branch of government, Hollywood. While Obama declares war on perpetual war, Marvel has two superhero movies in post-production, three filming for 2014 release dates, and another four announced for 2015. Throw in an “Avengers” TV spin-off show premiering next fall, and the superhero war isn’t dialing back — it’s surging.
But all those capes and tights flying across our screens have been an inverse shadow of real troops on the ground. So what happens when we finally leave Afghanistan? What happens if the drone war on al-Qaida really does die down?
The pop culture tea leaves are saying 2015 will be the last big year for dumb-ass superhero grandeur. Though I wouldn’t underestimate Hollywood’s shapeshifting powers either. Both “Iron Man 3” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” were already in theaters, blowing up their representations of the U.S. drone armada, when Obama dropped his own policy bomb.
Box office superheroes will endure. Just scaled back to their pre-9/11 levels, where they belong.
Weather Journal7 wintry scenarios for Sunday