Monday, May 19, 2008

Anyone Got A Sandwich?

Mr. Beale and I saw “Iron Man” this weekend. Two thoughts:

1- This is not a kid’s movie! I don’t know what age is considered the appropriate audience for a PG-13 rating these days but surely it’s not the 6 and 7-year-olds that sat in back of us.

2- Are we a demoralized country or what?

"Iron Man" is the story of a rich defense contractor who learns rather late in life that his weapons don’t just kill “bad guys.” Tony Stark certainly isn’t the typical movie hero: for someone so blazingly smart he’s awfully stupid about a lot of things. For instance, he seems completely unaware that his weapons can and do fall into the wrong hands. Dude, pick up a newspaper for once, will you? Even worse, he’s blithely clueless about how a major defense contractor like himself fits into America’s foreign policy puzzle. It’s like he’s never heard of the MIC.

So I had a hard time buying Tony Stark as the hero. Certain elements of the whole arms-race issue struck me as pathetically sad, for instance, the scene where Stark tries out his new Iron Man suit and we see it has a special device that magically distinguishes civilians from bad guys. Give me a break, people. War is never this easy or clean, and the line between good guys and bad guys is a hazy one.

In fact, the movie never does resolve its central question, which is: if building bigger and better weapons isn’t the answer to our problems in the Middle East, what is? There’s an obvious answer to that, of course, but I don’t think a movie in which Tony Stark negotiates a peace deal with our enemies in Afghanistan and elsewhere would sell many tickets.

Which brings me back to my second question: Are we a demoralized bunch or what? If you look at Hollywood as a cultural reflection of what’s happening in America, then it’s obvious this nation is desperate for a hero. Hollywood is happy to supply them for us this summer, in all sorts of shapes and sizes (but, sadly, not genders. Where action heroes are concerned, women still need not apply.)

Iron Man started things off, but we have a new Indiana Jones movie, Will Smith as “Hancock,” Prince Caspian, and The Incredible Hulk all headed to movie screens this summer. That’s not including trusty stalwarts like Batman and James Bond, too. Surely one of these superheroes can save us!

It’s easy to see why we’re desperate for a hero. We’ve been let down in a hundred different ways, big and small: Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, and warrantless wiretapping, not to mention sleazy sex scandals and corporate misdeeds. There’s the real estate meltdown and the mortgage crisis which has tattered our economy. All is not well, and it would be so much easier if someone in a Lycra suit could just swoop down and save us from this mess.

The problem is that this is the same thinking that got us into this mess to begin with. Remember, it was a tough-talkin’, swaggerin’ George W. Bush who promised to save us from the embarrassment of a presidential blow job last time around. He spoke all the right Hollywood lines about wanting Osama dead or alive. Remember “bring them on”? If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past seven years it’s that Hollywood one-liners are no substitute for an effective foreign policy.

I know there are people who just want to “kick butt” and get on with it. They’ve got itchy trigger fingers and want to blow all the bad guys away. These are the same people who thought invading Iraq was a great idea, who bought that bullshit about how we’re “bringing democracy to the Middle East.” They are the same people who keep getting “terrorists” confused with “insurgents,” and who don’t know their Sunni from their Shia.

Well, grow up, people. You know, it’s bad enough that we have Congressmen and Supreme Court Justices acting like Jack Bauer is a real person. Story lines like this only feed that lizard brain element of the American psyche.

Here’s the thing: the world is complicated. Our relationship with other nations is complicated. America isn’t always the good guy, either. Things are not as easy as blowing the bad guys away and all our troubles are gone. This stuff is hard, and there are no simple answers.

We can no longer afford to indulge in this national fantasy life. There are no heroes coming to save us. We have to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work ourselves, people. That means educating ourselves about our world and this country’s place in it. That means taking the appropriate actions, not just in the voting booth but with our wallets too, with the choices we make every day. It’s not going to be easy or comfortable, in fact it may hurt. But there’s no other choice. The man in the Lycra suit isn’t going to save us because he doesn’t exist.

Because, you all know what a hero is, don’t you? It’s just a sandwich. Nothing more.