A Fan Theory of the MCU
This post is part of a new series called Fan Theory Fridays, in which we share and explore a new fan theory about a film, television series, book, or other fictional narrative. For more on what a fan theory is—and what it isn’t—please read D. F. Lovett’s previous explorations of the subject.
One of my favorite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is 2017’s Spiderman: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man). While I haven’t yet seen the new Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse animated film, its release did inspire me to re-watch Spider-Man: Homecoming… which, in turn, inspired a new, minor fan theory.
A Radically Condensed Summary of Spider-Man: Homecoming
Part of the film’s appeal is its relatively simple narrative. Unlike most Marvel films, it contains only two superheroes and a straightforward coming-of-age plot. There’s no convoluted storyline, no over-elaborate villain backstory, no shoehorning-in of extraneous characters. It doesn’t even bog itself down with an origin story or a montage dedicated to learning superpowers.
The plot is, more or less, this: Peter Parker tries to a) be his friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and stop a bad guy from doing some bad things b) impress a girl at school and c) impress Tony Stark enough to join the Avengers.
He succeeds in all three, to varying extents, enough so that the film ends with Tony Stark inviting Parker to the Avengers headquarters in upstate New York and giving him a “welcome to the team” speech. Said speech ends with one of the better lines Stark has had:
There’s about fifty reporters behind that door. Real ones, not bloggers. When you’re ready, why don’t you try that on [gesturing to a new Spider-Man suit] and I’ll introduce the world to the newest official member of the Avengers. Spider-Man.
It’s a great line, both because it’s very fitting for Tony Stark and because of, well, the degree of truth to it.
The controversy you missed because only bloggers care
Since I first heard this line, I assumed one thing: “that probably hurt some feelings.”
What I didn’t know until this week was that an entire blogging and hashtagging movement sprung up in response to Stark’s joke, in which the phrases #WhatTheFeige (targeted at producer Kevin Feige) and #BehindThisDoor were used to complain about this terrible injustice bloggers had suffered due to the snark of Stark. (For more on this, read this blog post by a well-adjusted blogger, which sums it up with a good perspective.)
Of course, bloggers getting offended at a blogging joke is both thin-skinned and narrow-minded. Being offended by a Tony Stark quip is also a complete misunderstanding of Stark’s character, as if the sad bloggers had wandered in at the end of the film with no idea who Tony Stark is and decided it was time to get a feeling hurt.
Consider, for example, a few of the other things and people mocked by Tony Stark:
- His employee Happy Hogan
- His fellow Avengers, Captain America and Thor and the Hulk
- His girlfriend (and previous administrate assistant) Pepper Potts
- Basically everyone else he ever comes into contact with, especially authority figures
Yet we expect him to say nice things about bloggers? The line in question comes immediately after a tortured joke about getting a dog pregnant and giving birth due to Parker having “screwed the pooch.”
Did bloggers, in their indignation, suddenly forget who Tony Stark is and what a blog is?
There is one other thing. And this is where the fan theory comes in.
Stark’s quip might not have just been an off-hand comment. “Real ones, not bloggers” may have been Stark’s way of giving Peter Parker yet another round of life advice.
Peter Parker’s Video Diary
At this point, let’s return to the very beginning of the film Spider-Man: Homecoming and remind ourselves what Peter is doing in his first scene. That’s right, he’s using his iPhone to record his adventures.
The video diary, or video log—or vlog, if you will—is something both Happy Hogan and Stark are aware of. It’s not a running theme throughout the entire film but, until the third act, their shared moments in Parker’s video diary is one of the few in-person interactions between Stark and Parker.
We do know one other thing: Stark first learned about Spider-Man not through Parker’s videos but through various YouTube clips (in the events leading up to Spider-Man’s first MCU appearance, Captain America: Civil War.)
“That’s uh, that’s all on YouTube though, right? I mean that’s where you found it. ‘Cause you know that’s all fake. It’s all done on a computer.” – Peter Parker, when Tony Stark recruits him in Captain America: Civil War
This does raise another question: what, exactly, is the state of journalism and blogging in the world of Iron Man and Spider-Man?
Journalism and Blogging in the MCU
We see very few journalists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although there are a handful, some of whom do cover superheroes. Without ever having seen a blogger in the films—aside from Parker’s vlogging—it’s still easy to assume that bloggers in the MCU are much like many bloggers in our world: eager, self-motivated, relatively unprofessional and self-editing.
The key difference is that the bloggers in the MCU have real superheroes to write about. They aren’t writing about Iron Man the movie, but Iron Man the man of iron.
One additional assumption I’m making: bloggers in Tony Stark’s universe could be a real problem for Stark and his allies.
With costumed men punching one another while wizards fall through portals and aliens appear in the sky, suddenly any aspiring writer can call him- or herself a journalist and start chasing superheroes.
How often has Tony Stark been bombarded at a charity event or press conference by someone with question credentials? How often has his bartender tried to get a scoop for a new Medium post? How often does Stark get attacked with scathing tweets from angry onlookers?
So Stark is trying to protect Parker from the evils of blogging?
It’s possible, even likely, that Tony Stark is intentionally trying to prevent Peter Parker from becoming a vlogger or blogger. He has noticed Peter creating a video diary and, in his role as Peter’s mentor, has determined that it’s his responsibility to prevent this from going too far.
It’s not like it was necessarily an off-the-cuff remark. After all, Stark would have had hours, even days, to plan how he was going to welcome Spider-Man onto the Avengers.
This isn’t even to say that Stark has a high opinion of journalists. He probably treats them with the same level of disdain as most people he encounters. But it’s not as if Spider-Man is at risk of becoming a journalist if he joins the Avengers. Joining the team—as Stark assumes he will—will require Parker to drop out of school and becoming a full-time superhero. Journalism would no longer be an option for a dedicated crime fighter… but vlogging could easily remain in the picture.
And no, this isn’t real journalism. It’s just a blog post.
Enjoy this? Check out the follow-up to this post: How Far From Home Reaffirms a Minor Spider-Man Fan Theory.