I am Iron Man!

Have you ever dreamed of being a superhero? Most of us have, I would suppose. Imagine how cool it would be to have superpowers. Who wouldn't want the ability to see through walls, bend steel, possess super strength, or best of all, have the capacity to fly?

There are plenty of superheroes to emulate. Spiderman has the ability to shoot out webs that allows him to swing from building to building and he has super strength-proportionate to a spider! Batman is clever, has a fast car, and as the Joker (played by Jack Nicholson) states, he has lots of "great toys" (in his utility belt). The Incredible Hulk is so powerful he can crush tanks with his bare hands. But, Superman would have to be the coolest of all. He can fly, leap tall buildings, repel bullets and he is so fast, that he once spun the earth against its natural rotation causing time to go backwards. Yes, Superman can do it all. So, why do we need another superhero? And one named "Iron Man?"

Those of us from a certain generation, or fans of a certain genre of music, may think of "Iron Man" in terms of the old Black Sabbath (featuring Ozzy Osbourne) song with the eerie opening lyric, "I am Iron Man..." I have to admit, when I first heard the promotion for Iron Man the movie, I would sing those Black Sabbath lyrics to myself. (Imagine how happy I was during the start of the closing credits!) But of course, Iron Man means something else to others. For some people, he was already a Marvel favorite. And now, for many others, Iron Man represents a movie blockbuster earning $200 million worldwide in opening weekend revenue.

So, who is this Iron Man and why does this movie hold such an appeal to folks? Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr.-who does a wonderful job acting, as usual-is the alter ego of Anthony "Tony" Stark, son of industrialist Howard Stark. Stark Industries produces weapons of destruction, and unbeknownst to Tony, many of these weapons are being sold to enemies of the U.S. Similar to other superheroes, Stark decides to rid the world of evil-doers. The special effects alone guaranteed that this film would be a blockbuster. Creating a lovable superhero, however is the real reason this film will continue to earn hundreds of millions of dollars. For you see, most of us love the idea of being a superhero that is powerful enough to fight for "justice."

Heroes have existed in society since ancient times. The study of heroes in any given culture is very revealing, as the people proclaimed as heroes gain such a status because they reflect cultural ideals and values. Heroes, then, reflect the character traits most desired by members of a society. In this regard, heroes help to reaffirm and maintain the social structure of a society by perpetuating cultural values and norms.

The ancient Greeks, who coined the word, had a precise meaning and limits for "hero." A hero was a person who was descended from a god or goddess on one side of the family, either by father or mother, and a mortal on the other side. This definition is flawed, of course, as Greek gods do not exist. However, heroes do exist in contemporary society. Today, a hero may be viewed as a person of distinguished courage or ability who is admired for brave deeds, noble qualities, achievement, dedication, integrity, and/or skill. Firefighters, police officers, athletes, and teachers, often serve as heroes. Each of these people, however, have their own limitations. Maybe this helps to explain why we, as with the ancient Greeks, turn to mythical creatures for shining examples of heroes. Characters such as Iron Man are, indeed, superheroes. They support cultural idealism of proper behavior (e.g., fighting evil). And, they do it in an entertaining manner. No wonder movies like Iron Man do so well at the box office.

Oh, and by the way, as the usher at the movie theatre said to me, "Be sure to stay until after the credits run...the movie continues-in superhero tradition!

About the Author

Tim Delaney

Tim Delaney teaches sociology at SUNY Oswego. Author of such books as Simpsonology: There's A Little Bit of Springfield in all of Us! and Seinology: The Sociology of Seinfeld.

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