This article was featured in our print issue, which was published on Nov. 10, 2012.)
Who is Tony Stark?
For those Americans living a the politically active and aware life, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is a very well-known philosophy, and one that many people, including Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, admire. Both liberals and conservatives often read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and generally have a positive regard for the ideas presented therein, yet ultimately the compassionate welfare advocates and the virtuous Christians have no choice but to reject Ayn Rand’s ideas on principle. The drastically different moral values Rand presents, which most Americans view as immoral, force people to distance themselves from her ideas in order to remain true to their own values, as determined by society.
However, contrary to this obvious reality, I believe that Americans actually love and agree with Ayn Rand’s ideas, but subconsciously. In other words, people believe in Objectivism, but can’t recognize it at face value. What is my basis for this?
Now that you’re completely lost, allow me to explain. According to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers are all within the top 35 highest grossing films in US history, with The Avengers as the third highest. Furthermore, Iron Man is consistently ranked as one of the most popular comic book characters ever created. With Iron Man 3 entering theaters soon (but not soon enough!), I think it’s safe to say that this country, or at least the younger generations, love Iron Man.
But how does this relate to Ayn Rand? Quite simply, Tony Stark is an Objectivist, though he was not at first. Prior to his detainment and the conception of Iron Man, Stark was reckless, unproductive, and lived a sensual life inside of a bottle. While he could have been considered selfish, Stark was most definitely not virtuous in Objectivist terms.
So instead let’s focus on his life after his Iron Man revelation. To quote Captain America in The Avengers, “The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play.” Point proven. This characterization is the essence of Objectivism; Tony Stark acts for himself alone. But he’s sacrificing when he risks his life for others, right? No, actually. Iron Man is always used for defending himself, taking Stark Industries weapons from terrorists (to defend the honor of his company), showing off at the Stark Industries expo, and defending his tower, city, honor, and friends. That is not sacrifice, but rather acting upon his greatest values.
Furthermore, Stark runs a cutting-edge company with his seemingly limitless intelligence and drive to demonstrate superiority. From the Jericho to the arc reactor to his “moment built to the sky”, Stark Tower, Stark puts his knowledge to use to invent and build, and he is motivated to do so by his own desire and love of creation.
In Atlas Shrugged, the infringement of government on property rights is a central theme, and this is not lost in Iron Man. When the second installment, Stark finds himself up against government officials, vying for rights over his creation. This scene closely
resembles that of Hank Rearden defending his rights to Rearden Metal in a government court. Both men brought the observers to their side and successfully maneuvered against the political machine. This one of many instances in which Stark proudly embraces his achievements and fearlessly rejects modesty for egoism. Again, this has Ayn Rand written all over it.
All in all, Tony Stark embodies a love of life, a “selfish” pursuit of happiness, creation, and individualism, and people love him for it. Maybe with a bit of persuasion, awareness of this subconscious Objectivism could lead to a philosophical ground-swell, or else a similar rejection of Iron Man as a cold, emotionless egoist.
If Ayn Rand were here today, perhaps she would wouldn’t begin Atlas Shrugged with “Who is John Galt?” but rather “Who is Tony Stark?”