rethinking the title

In creative process on December 27, 2009 at 20:58

I got myself thinking recently that the title “Iron John” is pretty problematic, or at least it gives the audience a lot of expectations which I have to take into account.


What does an audience imagine a performance would be when it is called Iron John? Interesting question to pause with for a moment. Perhaps you can reflect on it yourself and you can always let me know. That would be so helpful. Here follows my own train of thoughts.

The name John is the most common English name in musical history. There are so many songs dedicated to the John(ny)s in the world. The name is used to give form to a male figure who embodies very strong ‘masculine’ features. Often he is a stereotypical male figure. He is the Man. He doesn’t do the dishes and the cleaning at home. He is the working man, the head of the household, who makes sure that the money keeps rolling in. He is a tough guy. You don’t mess with the John. He will use force if necessary. He likes to banter with his mates. He likes his beer and discussing soccer. Don’t expect personal or emotional conversations with him. He is not a softy. That’s women stuff. He is the Man. In songs the John is often a cowboy. The lonesome Marlboro man, riding his horse through the desert, minding his own business. At the same time Johnny is my own name which comes from the name Johannes which means “a gift from god”.

Iron John sounds like a male figure who is strong as iron or steel. Perhaps he even possesses supernatural powers. Iron John, the superhero! Of course there is the memory of a recent blockbuster called Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. in the main lead. The movie is based on the worldwide known comic books published by Marvel Comics, where Iron Man is indeed a superhero. A genius inventor suffering from a heart injury during a kidnapping and forced to build a destructive weapon. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later decides to use the suit to protect the world as Iron Man.

In fact I borrowed the title from a famous book about male psychology written in the beginning of the 90’s by the American poet Robert Bly. ‘Iron John: a book about men’ caused a real revolution (mostly in the US) among many men in how they percieved their own masculinity. The book speaks of the shame that many men feel about their sexuality and their position in society (post-feminist feelings of guilt towards male supremacy). Robert Bly helps men to grow out of their boyish ways of dealing with their environment. He suggests to find the ‘wild man’ in each of us and learn how to embody the qualities of the ‘warrior’-archetype. The ideas in the book are illustrated and explained with the help of a long forgotten fairytale of the Grimm brothers. The story, because of its theme unique in its kind, tells how the main character makes the transition from boyhood to manhood. In the book his initiation into the realm of men is guided by a figure who is living in the forest, the Wild Man. He is the one who carries the name Iron John, because of his rusty-red hair which is covering his whole body.

My aim for this piece is to find myself a way to embody the figure of the Wild Man. A character which can be cruel, brutal, impulsive, animalistic and in close connection with nature. There is a grandness to the figure but at the same time he is vulnerable and sensitive. If we look at the figure that I want to give shape it seems to stand in contradiction with what the title suggests.  The word ‘iron’ suggests that the main character wairs a protective armor. It suggests the figure is invincible, undestructable. By using this title I seem to set up a contradiction which will confuse the audience. And I don’t dislike that as long as I can use this fact intelligently. Perhaps this piece is not just about the invincible superman with a body of steel, nor a piece about a wild man, but rather about the transformation from one into the other, from invincibility to vunerability. This piece can be about the difficulty to drop that protective armor and mask we carry with us in life and the challenge to show our true self in all its beauty and cruelty.

…. and this reminds me of a book I borrowed some years ago from a lovely friend: The Knight in Rusty Armor by Robert Fisher. A wonderful tale about social masks.


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