Thursday, July 12, 2012



“Now, I am rather an authority on gods, so I identified the machine—it seems to me to be an Old Testament god with a lot of rules and no mercy.”

                                              - Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, p. 24.)

Tony Stark (Iron Man) is a playboy inventor at his dad’s company who’s trying to raise an ancient city for the Chinese government. However, he is kidnapped and forced to build a weapon for terrorists. A Buddha monk in the terrorist’s makeshift hospital tells him that if he raises the city, it will awaken an ancient warlord The Mandarin, and he will be forced by a prophecy to fight him. I said this post would be about Iron Man using his suit to overcome obstacles. It’s actually more about how our machines will not save us, and the greatest power is one’s own humanity.

One thing characteristic of Tony is how much of an egotist he is. He has little regard for ethics and there are several women he makes out with all while his buddies are raising the city before they are attacked. But, after he’s kidnapped, he’s told that a mechanical heart (Designed by the monk.) is keeping him alive. Then, he realizes how precious life is, and so he escapes the prison-hospital by fooling the terrorist into thinking the Iron Man (his secret weapon.) suit is for them.

This is not yet the red and gold suit we recognize him in, but a grey, clunky 1st edition. I think anyone with an assistive device recognizes the value of upgrades. Meanwhile, Howard Stark’s company blames the whole terrorist debacle on Tony, in an effort to save face. Disgraced by his dad’s company, he seeks the counsel of one of the former terrorists, a girl named Li Mei. In short, she tells him to face The Mandarin, as she was destined to do, before she was disowned by her disabled father.

The lesson here seems to be that those with disabilities are unfairly blamed, but we are in control of our destiny. Tony updates his armor, adding more military capabilities, aquatic functions, and style. In spite of his weak heart, Tony faces the Mandarin’s minions, but is told that one more remains. That is Li Mei. Like many of us in the disability community to whom every kind act means normalcy, Tony was fooled by her love into her agenda. She wasn’t meant to destroy the Mandarin, but to reincarnate him (this being the Buddhist belief.), and used Tony to help her do it.

I feel that as a person with a physical disability, sometimes we are quick to second-guess our intuition because I feel that my independence is dependent on the machine, when it is in fact, not entirely true. Even without my wheelchair, I have my body and mind. Though I don’t have a mechanical heart, I definitely felt Tony’s moment of betrayal at the hands of someone who helped him make his first suit, and loved him. 

Iron Man starts to fight the reincarnated Mandarin, but his suit is not enough and gets torn to shreds.
However, following his own intuition, Iron Man tells Li Mei that it’s just a prophecy, to remember who she is, and to stop reincarnating the Mandarin. She takes off her magic ring, and with that destroys the ancient warlord. Tony realizes his fate is his own, and exposes the truth about his company. This is a very important lesson straight out of Joseph Campbell‘s Heroes‘ Journey. The machine has the means to provide us with what we want, but eventually it starts to dictate our wants and create evil. So, we have to remember who we are, and our inner human desires, instead of a those of a company, a mechanical suit.

I must admit, there are several times in which I, as a wheelchair user, identified with Tony Stark. He tries to help, but he feels like a burden, so he writes himself off as a clown. Then, he designs the armor, and he’s ready to rejoin life. He’s weak without it. But, even that fails him. Similarly, I must remember that my greatest power is sometimes my greatest weakness. In Iron Man, this is symbolized by his weak heart (compassion), and knowing who he is, that saves him. Similarly, my disability allows me to be who I am, and to remind myself of my own human condition.

So, I’m sorry to say that initially, I got the message wrong, but remembered an equally important one. To remember everything that makes me who I am, not just the wheelchair. We all must do the same. We owe the world not just our disabilities and abilities, but our human experiences as well. That is what makes us heroes.

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