Before I ever saw Iron Man in a comic book, I knew him from the old '60s cartoon series*. And while these adventures may have been crudely animated, they happened to feature one of the best cartoon theme songs EVER:
Tony Stark makes you feelAs Stan Lee might have described it: a scintillatingly succinct summation of ol' Shellhead's status quo, set to a swingin' soundtrack.
he's a cool exec with a heart of steel.
As Iron Man, all jets ablaze,
he fights and smites with repulsor rays!
Amazing armor! Iron Man!
A blaze of power! Iron Man!
(Yeah, they talked funny back then.)
I finally saw Iron Man 2 the other day. Loved it. In fact, I thought it was a solid improvement over the first one. The first movie, weighed down with Iron Man's origin, is little more than set-up, just so Tony Stark can deliver the blacksabbathian "I am Iron Man" pay-off.
But the second movie took a tougher tack, and focused on a deeper question of identity: Who is Tony Stark? We got glimpses into Stark's life -- his childhood, his business acumen (or lack thereof), his isolation and, as a salient plot point, his legacy.
On the drive home, in spite of bullets and missiles and energy beams still flashing through my head, I started thinking about the many blog entries and news stories and "expert" analyses I've read over the past couple of months about Steve Jobs and his legacy. He may not be living a hedonistic billionaire lifestyle -- or saving the world from inside a high-tech suit of armor -- but the parallels between Steve Jobs and Tony Stark seem to be growing ever more apparent.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Yin and yang. Apples and... peas. In the world of personal computing, it always boiled down to the competition between these two ubergeeks to influence the market. And while Gates, with his poor fashion sense, bad haircuts and dysfunctional sense of humor may have propelled Microsoft into being the operating system of record just about everywhere, Steve Jobs casually shrugged all that off. He looked ahead, figured out what the masses really wanted, and then had his minions invent it. The Macintosh. The iPod. The iPhone. The iPad.
Microsoft's attempts to duplicate Apple's successes came off as stilted and unpopular as Justin Hammer's would-be armored suits. Remember the first Zune, which came in a lovely shade of...brown? Or Microsoft's retail stores, which looked a lot like Apple's, only more...beige? Style FAIL.
Jobs' vision for Apple, and for its consumers, is slick, fast and shiny. Our personal digital gadgets are the armor we all get to wear. That Jobs continues to "get" this is what makes him the guy everyone wants to party with. Steve Ballmer, the human sweatbox? Not so much.
Heart of Steel
But in spite of doing for the digital lifestyle what Willy Wonka did for chocolates, Steve Jobs has developed a reputation that's far from sweet. Once seldom seen or heard outside of product debuts, Jobs has been doing some pretty public fighting and smiting:
His recent jihad against Adobe's Flash has ranged from a reasoned explanation on Apple's website to sniping at Adobe (and Google) in front of his employees.
Jobs' public image of Buddhist calm took another shot during the leaked iPhone 4 debacle. When Gizmodo editor Jason Chen refused to return the errant phone, despite a personal request from Jobs to do so, Apple put pressure on local police to investigate the lost phone as a potential theft. Within hours, police had entered Chen's house and seized all of his computer hardware. Janet Reno would be proud.
The weirdness reached its zenith last week when Jobs let himself get caught up in an e-mail debate with Gawker writer Ryan Tate, who (fueled by liquid courage) decided to push Jobs' buttons about the iPad. The debate went into the wee hours, making me wonder: is it because Jobs is so dedicated to Apple that he'd rather stay up 'til 2 a.m. trying to defend his decisions to some hack, or is because he's so insecure?
A Blaze of Power
Tony Stark came back from life-threatening injuries, building himself a mechanical suit that not only kept him alive, but actually made him more powerful than ever -- practically a heart of steel.
Steve Jobs may not have any artificial parts, but having dealt with pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant in the past five years, he's certainly looked his own mortality in the eye a time or two. And maybe that's changed him to the point where he's willing to fight a little harder, or at least a little more publically, to protect that nebulous "legacy."
To the media (and to those outside the "reality distortion field" rumored to affect Apple users) it's a chink in the armor. It's the the cool visionary being rattled and rude. And that's a perceived weakness they're only too happy to exploit.
But the truth is, a lot of the time, Jobs is right. I'm not saying this as an Apple apologist, it's just common sense. Flash IS a dysfunctional product. Google DID enter the phone biz. Corporate property when recovered by one party and sold to another DOES constitute theft. Brown IS a sucky color for computers.
Iron Man 2 showed the audience just how big a jerk Tony Stark could be. Steve Jobs may be coming across as a jerk these days, too. It's a matter of perception. But come the Worldwide Developers Conference in a couple of weeks... and the next "one more thing," people won't be seeing the eccentric billionaire; they'll be looking at the Iron Man.
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.26.10 @ 8:49a
"Fights and smites with repulsor rays" may in fact be the coolest line in a cartoon theme song ever.
Nicely done! I see the resemblance now.
5.26.10 @ 10:31a
Coolest? Maybe. I prefer "We're Animaniacs! We have pay-or-play contracts. We're zany to the max. There's baloney in our slacks!"
Oh, and it's all about the rumored HP WebOS tablet. Or I think it will be.
5.27.10 @ 9:39a
All jets ablaze: Apple's market capitalization is now greater than that of Microsoft.
"Wall Street believes in Apple because Apple continues to put out new products that capture the imaginations of the press and tech pundits," said [Matt] Rosoff.
10.5.11 @ 9:52p
Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. Your innovations will continue to fuel our imaginations for years to come, and your dedication to improving how we interact with our computers will, I hope, be adopted by those you have inspired, so that a whole new generation will "think different."