tuskegee syphilis study

The Concept and Representation of Villainy in Iron Man

I’ve been thinking about Marvel Cinematic Universe a lot lately (‘No!’, I hear you cry, 'We never would have guessed!’) and because my BA in English will otherwise just gather dust, I’ve decided to do a series of essays on the films. Because goodness knows I don’t write enough as it is.

The first film I will look at is Iron Man, and the representation of villainy as portrayed in the film.

Iron Man was released in 2008, by which point the USA had already been involved for several years in the second Gulf War in as many decades. Words like terrorist, weapons of mass destruction, and insurgent are now part of the American vocabulary in a way they weren’t before 2001. The Middle East has been front and centre of news reports on and off since then.

In the opening scenes of Iron Man, we are dropped into a scenario which we are expected to recognise and understand: an unnamed middle eastern country (you can tell because of the desert landscape and the random peasant with a goat by the roadside) with US military operations ongoing and armoured vehicles. And we do. This is the place where the terrorists come from, according to all the news reports, and this is where the war on terror is being fought.

So far, so clean-cut.

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Tuskegee syphilis experiment

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, also known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study or Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service studying the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama.

White scientists under the veil of prophylaxis and treatment ingected black people with syphilis and watched (writing down in their notebooks) them lingering. That is definetily not the scientific practice I like.

Doctor injects test subject with placebo as part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, c. 1972.

“The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama in which 399 poor–and mostly illiterate–African American sharecroppers were denied treatment for syphilis. The individuals who enrolled in the study did not give informed consent and were not informed of their diagnosis; instead they were told they had “bad blood” and could receive free medical treatment in return for participating. For many participants, treatment was intentionally denied.

Photo credit: National Archives and Records Administration