I would be lying if I said I knew much of anything about the recession other than, well, that there was one. But it had to do with stresses over money and livelihood and a concern about a return to normalcy, right? With the Great Depression, things were obviously a bit more dramatic. As I understand it, what Shirley Temple did was help to assert that hope and love weren’t lost, and by asserting those qualities emphasized capitalist notions of charity and initiative. I think the recession wasn’t quite as hopeless, and I don’t think people were starving and bedraggled in the way we think of the Depression, but I think that a figure representing the existence of second chances was nonetheless one people appreciated. Who better, then, than Robert Downey Jr.?
Robert Downey Jr., as most people know, had a drug problem for a long time. For those in my generation, Downey Jr. wasn’t a well known actor until Iron Man, at which point suddenly everyone knew that he had had a drug problem, and that he was now sober and reestablishing himself as a successful star. It was timely then, that Iron Man and with it RDJ’s new image came out during the recession. Whether you knew about his work and drug problem previously or not, he was representative of second chances. Things might not be going so well now, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is shining off of Tony Stark’s snark and super cool suit.
I don’t think RDJ’s influence was of the scope that Shirley Temple’s was, but I think that there’s a reason discourse about him started back up at this time. Most of that is Iron Man, which wouldn’t be the same without him in it. His star image, for me at least, revolves around his picture personality, which is Tony Stark. Sherlock Holmes, the next year, cemented his return to fame and reinforced his devil may care image. His attitude of nonchalance, of not taking things seriously, appeals to those who have all too real worries in their lives. Add on to that the sense of empowerment that comes from Iron Man’s super powers, and the money that Tony Stark revels in, and you have a recipe for a wildly enjoyable character who is perfect for a serious society looking to escape. Add to that the fact that the actor, RDJ, came back from notoriety and drugs to become this character, and it becomes clear why he might have been so popular (again?) seemingly overnight.
RDJ’s age also helped with this. I’m not saying he’s old, but if he were a 25 year old who got out of rehab, then it would be a different story. Because he has a sense of maturity, and the four years of sobriety behind him, he seems finalized, like no more problems of much magnitude will come his way. His star image and picture personality align perfectly as if to exemplify to those going through financial hardship that there’s always a second chance.