Superpowered Security: The cruel optimism of national security in Marvel's 'Iron Man' films
Although the post-9/11 US national security environment has resulted in the erosion of civil liberties at home, and immense loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq, national security remains a uniquely powerful political discourse. This thesis proposes that national security discourse is inextricably entangled with core American values and aspirations, and can therefore be understood as an object of 'cruel optimism' (Berlant, 2011): an affective attachment, no matter how counter-productive and...[Show more]
|dc.description.abstract||Although the post-9/11 US national security environment has resulted in the erosion of civil liberties at home, and immense loss of life in Afghanistan and Iraq, national security remains a uniquely powerful political discourse. This thesis proposes that national security discourse is inextricably entangled with core American values and aspirations, and can therefore be understood as an object of 'cruel optimism' (Berlant, 2011): an affective attachment, no matter how counter-productive and even damaging it may prove to be, that cannot be abandoned because it underpins a fantasy that sustains the nation. Using Marvel's immensely popular superhero Iron Man as a case study, including comic books (1963-2006) and films (2008-2015), the thesis brings cultural theory into conversation with critical security studies to examine the affective dynamics that make national security such a binding political concept in the United States public sphere. I argue that the Iron Man mythos responds to fantasies and anxieties arising from the practice of what I call 'superpowered security': the US discourse emerging in the wake of World War II in which both national and global security is predicated on the maintenance and legitimation of the US' superpower status. The Iron Man suit is a complex prosthetic device that transforms Tony Stark into a cyborg, functioning simultaneously as life support, defensive armour and offensive weapon; it can be read, I argue, as a manifestation of a national security apparatus that enhances the nation's ability to cope with crisis, but fundamentally alters society in ways that undermine the well-being of the people it protects. The thesis first examines Iron Man's history of engagement with national security discourse in comic books, moving from Iron Man's origins during the Vietnam War, through the Cold War, to post-9/11 storylines. It then conducts a major analysis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's presentation and development of the character in Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). These narratives typically vindicate aspirational fantasies of American exceptionalism - freedom, prosperity, and innovation - that promise to redeem the United States' legacy and create a better future. Throughout its history, however, the Iron Man suit has always been a problematic object. Not only is it detrimental to Stark's wellbeing - frequently poisoning or imprisoning him - but the logic of exception and emergency that justifies its existence drives Stark to pre-empt threats that do not yet exist, with catastrophic results. Yet the suit is indispensable in the superhero genre's environment of permanent emergency, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which continually stages existential crises that threaten to repeat the trauma of 9/11. This is an impasse that wears Iron Man down throughout the franchise. Although his use of the suit ultimately compromises everything he is driven to protect, it is impossible for him to let it go. Viewing the Iron Man suit (and the logic of exception and emergency that it represents) as an object of a cruelly optimistic attachment not only explains why the Iron Man films can simultaneously be read as a critique and a defence of post-9/11 national security practices, but highlights an inherent tension in the way that national security is constructed in the public sphere. Through this analysis, the thesis offers a new way of thinking about national security in the public sphere, by tracing the affective tensions that emerge from narratives of superpowered security.|
|dc.title||Superpowered Security: The cruel optimism of national security in Marvel's 'Iron Man' films|
|local.contributor.affiliation||College of Arts & Social Sciences, The Australian National University|
|Collections||Open Access Theses|
|Superpowered Security - Revisions Final 22.07.20.pdf||Thesis Material||1.76 MB||Adobe PDF|
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