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“Iron Man” and the Cultural Contradiction of Liberalism

Posted on May 29 2010 2:42 pm
Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine.
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My former colleague Elizabeth Ames has a sharp and provocative piece up at FoxNews on the Left’s contradictory view of capitalism. She cites the example of the recent “Iron Man” movie sequel, whose hero, Tony Stark, is the kind of high-living capitalist that the big-government Left typically reviles. As Elizabeth puts it, “Tony Stark exemplifies a central contradiction of liberalism: Mavericks like him are heroes to Big Government liberals – but only on the screen.” In the real world, meanwhile, the Left prefers candidates that champion government power rather than anti-establishment underdogs like Sarah Palin and the Tea Parties.

It’s a compelling point, though I might suggest that Elizabeth is being a little charitable in her reading of “Iron Man.” Tony Stark may be the “good capitalist,” but much of the revenge-story backdrop for the film centers on the role of his father, inferably the capitalist greedhead that the Left loves to hate, in wronging the physicist father of Stark’s nemesis Ivan Vanko. Although the plot is a bit opaque, we are given to understand that Vanko’s father was the victim, unjustly denied his legacy by an American profiteer.

But even if Iron Man is not a perfect paean to capitalism, it’s hard to deny Elizabeth’s broader point: the Left is often more sympathetic to capitalism, entrepreneurship and rugged individualism on screen than in real life. Just think of films like 2008’s “Bottleshock,” the considerably romanticized tale of a California winery in the 1970s. Exactly why that is I’m not sure, but it’s fair to say that it would be a good thing on the whole, especially in this time of massive government expansion, if life were to imitate art just a bit more.

Incidentally, if you are looking for a robust and richly documented defense of capitalism against its many discontents, you could do no better than to pick up a copy of Elizabeth’s book, co-authored with Steve Forbes, How Capitalism Will Save Us: Why Free People and Free Markets Are The Best Answer In Today’s Economy. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I played a bit part in researching the book.)

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