Published in August 2008

AV Superheroes
By Tony Warner, CTS-D
Thank You, Iron Man!

When students in the AV Café recall their childhood aspirations, the usual laundry list comes up: firefighter, nurse, truck driver, animal doctor and, of course, football, baseball, basketball and hockey player. There are a few who would have been rock stars, many more dancers and there is the occasional soldier or police officer.

We all start out the same and, somehow, some of us become audiovisual professionals. We base our aspirations on what we see as children, and who became our heroes. Before we realize that they are fictional, however, we idolize superheroes: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and, now, Iron Man.

If you have not seen the film Iron Man and you are an audiovisual professional, you owe it to yourself to check it out and bask in the unique world that Iron Man has created for himself. It is truly a world of audiovisual splendor. If you did not have a hero before, now you will. If you have a desire to see what a completely connected audio and visually enabled lifestyle can be (if you have lots of spare cash), you can immerse yourself in his world and vicariously live his lifestyle for two hours. Iron Man has all that is AV, and it is all around him.

In his private life, Iron Man is billionaire Tony Stark, who has inherited the family’s high-tech weaponry manufacturing business and expanded it into a global supply chain of easy-to-use appliances of death. Unfortunately, he becomes disconnected from the reality of how his customers and those who would obtain his weapons are using them. He has a near-death experience with a group of terrorists and uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications. The experience completely changes his worldview and he becomes a different person.

Along the way, we see Iron Man as a prodigy and genius who effortlessly applies physics, chemistry, mechanics, computer science and audiovisual technology in a seamless manner. We come to appreciate his thought process and creativity, and ability to use whatever materials are at his disposal to put together advanced systems.

We see that he has a passion for high-performance cars, and his experience with speed and gadgetry enables him to push every envelope that he encounters. He is a scientist and engineer, but a tinkerer and mechanic at heart. Everything he does utilizes advanced human interfaces that include audio and video components for instantaneous communications with his equipment. Every device is monitored, giving him instant access to the status of all of his systems. He is an AV man’s AV man.

But we like Iron Man for more reasons than that he is a very cool, rich dude, with some awesome cars. We see that he thinks in terms of manufacturability with every new design. We see that precision is never compromised, even when he is working under duress in a cave in Afghanistan. We see his attention to detail, whether planning a design, a mission or a date.

We see his immersion in the mathematics behind every engineering decision, followed by trial and error with his product. We see him gaining firsthand personal experience with these products, even before anyone knows about them, so he can ensure that the first impressions of others will be positive and have impact. Along the way, we see a playful, experimental attitude and almost a human relationship with his machines. To say that he is really “into it” is a gross understatement.

Iron Man goes even further than this. He gains a deep social conscience and immediately realizes that he has a responsibility for the application of his technology. When he gains this conscience, his best products come when he has renewed his personal passion for the applications. He sets out to right his past wrongs while discovering that everything he has done has had an impact on the world.

Iron Man is still human throughout his transformation process. He has a downfall, the classic tragic flaw. He neglects the understanding of his business while he is focusing on the applications and technology; avoiding clients while he pursues what he believes his clients should have.

This nearly destroys his business, which would have removed his ability to cause the cultural changes of which he dreams. His success has brought people into his world who seek his downfall in order to steal away his wealth and power, and he is blind to this. How often have instructors in InfoComm Academy warned their students to avoid this very trap?

Without spoiling the whole story for you, in the end, Iron Man “gets the girl.” She is the one who appreciates his transformation the most. She is the one who stood beside him when he was so blinded to his own humanity that he careened into technology paths of mass destruction. She was there all along; a balance to his immersion in his toys and projects. Ultimately, it is she who inspires his mission to save the world and become a superhero. Her belief in him validates that he is finally right with himself and the world.

Thank you, Iron Man, for showing the world that it is okay to enjoy soldering, experimenting and building amazing AV systems. Thank you for depicting our own audiovisual industry as the enabling tool set that it is. Thank you for showing us that there are many levels to our decisions and that each of these can be perilous or lucrative, destructive or compassionate. Mostly, thank you for ridding the world of those nasty terrorists, a metaphor for the demons that spring up when we overlook our responsibilities to society while seeking personal gain.

Tony Warner, CTS-D, is director of the Audio-Visual Design group for RTKL, a 60-year-old worldwide planning, architecture, design and creative services organization. He has worked on projects for such clients as the US State Department, the US House of Representatives, the National Institutes of Health and the US Naval Academy. Send comments to him at

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