No more false faces… You said you wanted the Mandarin? You’re looking right at him! It was always me, Tony, right from the start! I AM THE MANDARIN!
–Aldrich Killian, “Iron Man 3”
Welcome to the penultimate post of The Year Of The Mask.
I thought there was no better way to round out this series than the movie that, in my opinion, “ties it all together”—the zeitgeist, at any rate—Iron Man 3. Though I have been largely focusing on the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, it is Iron Man 3, released in May 2013, that represents the true nexus-point between Geek Culture, the conspiracy fringe, and world politics.
For it wasn’t that long after this movie that select “geeks,” agonizing over various perceived slights to their ideological integrity, would insist on being taken seriously as a political force. Sensing a potentially powerful group of young minds in need of sculpting, some on the far-Right fringe (and heck, we’ll just throw “foreign powers” in there too for shits and giggles) swooped in and brought these militant Sheldon Coopers into the Fold.
But Sheldon just wasn’t going to cut it as an icon. While Warner Bros. was readying the (re)debut of their Übermensch, what Marvel Studios needed was an Überbro.
And it worked like a charm, at least in terms of the box office. Iron Man 3 had pulled in the second-highest opening weekend in the history of cinema up to that time.
It also boldly incorporated popular conspiracy narratives that the mainstream media normally ridiculed/condemned. And that’s where things get interesting.
I. THE FAKE BIN LADEN THEORY
The “twist” of the entire movie is that The Mandarin, a villain that looks like a cross between Fu Manchu and Osama Bin Laden, is a complete fake. He is an actor, hired by A.I.M., an Illuminati-type terrorist organization created by scientists and working with traitors within the government. A.I.M. purposely manipulates the public by having this actor and his pseudo Al-Qaeda type group take responsibility for terrorist attacks.
In case it needs to be made any clearer, at one point in the movie it is stated that Mandarin is a fake “just like Bin Laden and Gaddafi.”
The idea that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda are “fakes” created by the C.I.A. (CIA/AIM), “the Illuminati,” or another such organization, has been made by many high-profile people within the conspiracy theory community, most notably Alex Jones. From Jones’s Infowars website:
The real Osama bin Laden is a Western-trained CIA asset with the declassified code-name “Tim Osman.” He was chosen to lead the Mujahideen / Taliban in Afghanistan, in part, because his wealthy family has been a long-term business partner to key families in the West, including the Bush family (Carlyle Group).
Further, Jones/Infowars alleges that many of the Bin Laden videos we have seen are fakes, complete with multiple actors playing the terrorist leader:
Admittedly fake videos with bad look-alikes and audio recordings supposedly sent by bin Laden surfaced routinely just before elections (Tom Ridge later admitted that terror threats were elevated to help Bush’s re-election bid) or when the American people needed a reminder of the threat of terror.
Again: this is the crux of the entire Iron Man 3 movie, its big surprise: basically, that an allegorical Bin Laden is a fake and a smoke-screen. This was the main point of one of the biggest-budgeted mass-market films of the year—something from a “conspiracy” website.
The question must be asked: if conspiracy theorists are supposedly hated so much, their ideas so crazy—why did the American public so readily accept it by going in droves to watch this movie?
II. BOSTON BOMBING PARALLELS
There were also creepy parallels between the terrorist bombings in Iron Man 3 and the Boston Marathon Bombings only a month previous. In the movie, bombs seemingly go off in several high-traffic civilian areas. When Tony Stark’s assistant Happy is caught in one of them, the tableau is extremely similar to that of the aftermath of the bombings.
The focus on people missing limbs—including one haunting image of a little girl—also subliminally bring up memories of the Boston Bombings.
There is no way this plot line could have been created specifically for the movie based on the Boston event…there was just not enough time. So again, we have another eerie ouroboros of fantasy and reality moment.
Now, for the “conspiracy” part: everybody in the film thinks that the Mandarin (a metaphor for Bin Laden/Al-Qaeda) is related to one of the bombings. Further, another bombing is blamed on a “domestic terrorist”—a returning army veteran.
Fringe sites like Infowars have mentioned many times on their site that they believed returning vets were being “profiled” by the U.S. government as potential terrorists…and they’ve also questioned the official Boston Bombing story, some claiming it was really a “false flag.”
So again: we have this major movie from Marvel Studios, featuring one of the most popular film superheroes, cribbing theories from the conspiracy crowd.
III. TONY STARK, “DOMESTIC TERRORIST”
One of the most eyebrow-raising sequences of the whole movie is when Tony Stark, on the run from A.I.M. and the “human bombs,” has to essentially turn to an “Anarchist’s Cookbook” of home-grown weaponry to defend himself. This includes a lingering camera shot of a big bag of fertilizer he buys at a Home Depot-type store. I am surprised he did not buy a pressure-cooker as well.
Further: when Stark uses his “low tech” weapons to infiltrate A.I.M., he wears a hoodie and sunglasses…making him look like the Unabomber!
Why was Stark being show embracing the “tools” of “domestic terrorists” in order to save the day?
They say that every blockbuster movie sort of encapsulates the zeitgeist of the people who watch it; these films are inevitably a reflection of our very world. What did this all say about Iron Man 3?
IV. THE EVIL ELITIST
Yeah, I spoiled Iron Man 3 right in the opening quote; I’m an asshole. But let’s move past all that, shall we?
The “twist” of Iron Man 3 is that the successful businessman/tech entrepreneur Aldrich Killian is the real Mandarin, the real terrorist. The fake Mandarin was just something to distract the masses; giving them a xenophobic stereotype to freak out over.
The idea that a cabal of rich corporate types are the true villains on the world stage, using various “puppets” to start wars and keep the People occupied—this is item #1 of much of fringe news/history theory. This is the overarching conspiracy theory under which most other conspiracy theories are folded into.
And it’s a theory that is still very alive and well today.
Iron Man 3, #1 movie of 2013.
V. WHO IS THE REAL VILLAIN, ANYWAY?
Who is the “real” villain? Is it the Aldrich Killians of the world…the transhumanist “New World Order” architects, the media moguls and tech billionaires and so on?
Is it religious fundamentalism, whether in the Christian, Jewish, or Muslim flavors of your choosing?
Is it the fringe-fanatics, the Gamergaters, the Reddit shit-posters, the basement-warriors, the Flat-Earthers?
Is it the Feminists, the Communists, the Socialists, the Anarchists…the Black Lives Matter people, the BernieBros, the Hillarybots, the Trump-lovers, the SJWs, the neckbeards, the atheists, the Scientologists, the Jesus-freaks, the Bronies…
WHO IS IT???!!!! Who’s responsible for all this?????