Comics

Nice Job Kid: Fathers and Sons, Technology and Tomorrow in 'Iron Man 2'

Nice Job, Kid: In "Iron Man 2" Tony Stark wrestles with the ghost of his father's hope for future prosperity.

Threatened to be consumed by a world not ready for technological evolution, Tony Stark wrestles with the ghost of his father, and escapes self-destructive narcissism.

It really is just a flicker. A blip on the radar, a throwaway moment. It happens for a second, and then it ends. Almost literally, blink, and in that instant you will miss it. It is the closing stages of Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2. One of the evocatively named "Hammeroids" has locked target on a nine-year-old kid. Our view, as the audience in the darkened theater, is the view through the heads-up display of the military drone, replete with its ceaseless digital analysis of the world the drone is immersed in. The kid in the mask stands still, subjected to the machine's HUD. It takes us less than a second, but then it hits. This machine will decimate the kid. In just one second, the kid will be blasted. We've all seen what these Hammeroids do. We've been watching them obliterate the crowd gathered at the Stark Expo for the last 12 minutes.

And yet, this kid stands still. Dressed in children's play clothes, he wears an Iron Man mask, and has a wrist-mounted mock-repulsor, pointed more involuntarily than defiantly at the machine whose eyes we see through. This is going to be a meaningless death, a tragedy. Director Jon Favreau's genius in this moment is the equal of Frederico Fellini's, or Akira Kurosawa's. In a single shot, he captures not the heroism of the child, but leads viewers on a trajectory that allows them to weep for what might have been.

It is not the heroism of the child, but the flowering of a human mind. What might that kid have been, because of those toys?

For Favreau, the secret drama of Iron Man 2 is the articulation of a better tomorrow as the result of an immersion in cutting-edge technology. The secret story of Iron Man, and Favreau's vision must be credited as one of the truly great characterizations (along with Michelinie and Layton's, Fraction's and Lee's), is one of toymaking. It is a drama of how the almost ridiculously simple tools we use to evolve ourselves are really all we are for advancing cultural and social complexity. It is a liberating story, the story of an indomitable human ascendancy. And it is the darkest kind of horror story. In just one second, that kid with his toy repulsor is going to get snuffed out by a very real, science-fictional technology.

In his 2002 book Our Posthuman Future, readers are treated to a rarely-seen passionate side of neo-con thinker, Francis Fukuyama. More than a decade prior, in 1989, Fukuyama had set the cultural agenda for historical studies with his book The End of History. It was this book that posited a teleological orientation to history, culminating in liberal democracy and the nation-state. A heady time, Fukyama would singularize himself as the chief cultural chronicler of the fall of Communism. But early in the new millennium, Fukuyama would set the terms of the cultural debate again, this time, turning his eye to the emerging field of biotechnology. His single volume Our Posthuman Future, would begin with a horror story very similar to the one constructed by Favreau in the closing moments of Iron Man 2.

For Fukuyama's generation, the great cultural debate would be defined by two horror stories; George Orwell's 1984, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. While human society was just on the cusp of experiencing the potential horrors biotechnology as described by Huxley, Orwell's vision of the future was very different in that it had already been dealt with. In the authoritarian, fascist future predicted by Orwell, the predominant technology, the telescreen, had become a tool for oppression. Fukuyama correctly identified the telescreen (a machine that could transmit and receive data) as the internet itself.

It is Fukuyama's thesis that the generation that first experienced the horror of Orwell's 1984, was so frightened by that image that they invented the internet to escape it. And with the internet came the freedom of the flow of information. The internet and free-flow of information seem to meld together so naturally that today, just more than a decade later, economic models based on charging for content remain inconceivable. In response to and imagined threat, a generation responded with a kind of defiance. The internet would never be a tool for oppression.

Nice Job, Kid

This is the vision of toymaking as discussed by Seth Lloyd in his Programming the Universe. That toys are made to allow us to understand from first principles the simple evolution of the rules that govern our world. Toymaking is itself a kind of liberation. The prescience of cultural complexity that allows for 'thought-experiments' well in advance of potential disaster or prosperity. For Lloyd and Fukuyama both, we advance ourselves through play, the simple mechanisms that allow the evolution of complexity. These mechanisms we find strewn across our childhood. We are the products of the choices we make as a result of the environments we are immersed in as young and inquiring minds.

But even without Lloyd, even without Fukuyama, the world of evolving complexity can be grasped at with a single image from Favreau's Iron Man 2. A single kid points his toy repulsor at a science-fictional device meant to kill him. The act is one of surprise rather than defiance. But the defiance can be found at a completely other level. The defiance is that of gaining a secure purchase in a future that can continue to provide for human fortitude. What might have become of this kid in the toy Iron Man get-up? What might a generation of minds raised on Iron Tech look like? What would be the end result of a world where children are immersed in non-fatal repulsor technology rather than firearms and endless ammunition? In the remaining fractions of the second, we as the audience begin to mourn this unnamed child.

Viewers confront the silent heroism of a fallen son. The end of promise weighs heavily. Iron Man 2 has been building to this single moment for its entire two-hour-plus run thus far. All this time, audiences have been entreated to the stumble and the invariable fall of Tony Stark. It is an essay in a very necessary self-destruction. Perhaps the kabbalistic doctrine of Gevurah provides for the most apposite rendering of Favreau's characterization of Tony Stark. How does one share an evolution with a world not yet ready for it? Rather than a triumph, Tony's life has been haunted by his failure to deliver the vision established by his long-dead father. Rather than stare down the prospect of being consumed by the world, Tony prepares to entertain it. A Steve Jobs by way of Muhammad Ali. Technological evolution by way of consummate showmanship.

Tony Stark appears near-anonymously in the center background, about to be consumed by the world

Favreau's genius lies in his capacity to shift the narrative dynamic from self-destructive narcissism to a higher order effectiveness. Tony's story is not so much his own, not really a story measured by his own success or failure. It is the story of a nine year-old kid randomly thrust into a lie-or-death scenario. It is the story of the kind of world that might yet come from such childhoods as that. Tony's story is the story of the enduringly indomitable. Tony's story is less Howard Hughes than it is George Washington.

With less than one second to go, the Drone's HUD shifts. Something indiscernible has caught the attention of its sensors, just outside of frame. Fully suited up in his armor, Tony Stark has rocketed in. Standing beside the kid, Tony levels his very real, very powerful repulsor against the Drone. Without thinking any further, he fires, forcing the Drone back into a Stark Expo out-building. The Drone has been disabled, permanently. Tony looks down at the nine year-old. 'Nice job, kid', he pronounces.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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