Saw Iron Man 2 this weekend with Eve, who wrote a mildly spoilery review of it here. I didn’t see the first one, which perhaps is why I felt so emotionally uninvested in it, but I am amused to note that it did raise some of the property-rights issues I’ve been blogging about intermittently here. In the film, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit is so powerful that entire countries fear him; in his words, he’s “privatized world peace.” The U.S. government thinks he should share the technology, seeing as such things are supposed to be the government’s business. But Stark demurs that it’s his suit.
This issue has been raised more than once in superhero movies; in The Dark Knight, we had Morgan Freeman declaring, “This is too much power for one person!” But it’s a measure of the attitudinal difference between the two films that that line comes late in the movie, leaving audiences to debate it over drinks afterward, while Iron Man 2 raises it early and then drowns it out with crashing metal. The only reviewer I’ve noticed make a point of it was — natch — at Reason, but he likewise brought it up only to blow it off.
Of course, the situation in the movie isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so maybe it doesn’t matter. But it did kind of remind me of the House of Saud, only in reverse. While Ibn Saud was a desert warlord who almost accidentally found himself a corporate titan, Tony is a corporate titan who almost accidentally finds himself a warlord. And, as with Sauds, the line between the two of them starts to look awfully arbitrary. Politics is, after all, ultimately about power, and so anyone with enough power becomes a de facto political figure, whether he admits it or not. Moreover, even a strict belief in the right of self-determination doesn’t necessarily mean you get to solely determine what your role in society is. I would think that society has some say over that.
Also, Tony’s lopsided amount of power isn’t quite so implausible from the point of view of a smaller country. In fact, his relationship to the U.S. in the movie is not entirely unlike Allen Stanford’s relationship with Antigua, back before he was arrested. There are companies out there whose revenue is greater than the GDP of some nations; what can national sovereignty mean in such a world?