Thursday, July 14, 2011

X-Men as a Metaphor

I was recently reading MGK (who is awesome) and he wrote a piece on the X-Men and why they aren’t so great. I’m with him 50/50 on that, but what was noticeable about the comments (aside from being comments on the internet and making me sad inside) is that someone mentioned that the X-Men don’t work as a metaphor for oppressed minorities because oppressed minorities can’t shoot lasers out of their eyes.

Considerations for trolling aside, it’s worth a few words about why the X-Men are potentially representatives for minorities that are discriminated against and why they haven’t really done that so well thus far.

The concept that mutants shouldn’t be trusted because they are ‘persons of mass destruction’ is a fallacious one. It assumes that mutants are dangerous and non-mutants are not. Most people are dangerous; any one of us could, at any moment, probably take one of the unsuspecting drones around us down. I guess the concern of scale could be brought up; if Colossus went on a rampage through a shopping mall, you’d need a tank to stop him. Naturally, you’d want to follow him with a tank at all times. That would probably prevent him from going on any rampages at all. If he wants to go somewhere that you can’t bring the tank, he just shouldn’t be allowed to go there.

That’s obviously all wrong. In The United States, citizens are allowed to own firearms. We are allowed to buy all manner of things that we could turn into destructive, damaging weapons (chemicals, trucks, trebuchets). We have a pact with each other that we just aren’t going to hurt each other. The goal of a successful society isn’t to keep people from having the ability to harm one another, but to have people who wouldn’t want to do so.

Don't know if I have to remind you of this, but the word most commonly associated with this guy is "boring."

That’s even ignoring the larger issue; the false equivalency between mutants and—for the sake of clarity, let’s pick one minority—homosexuals (random!). That it is dangerous to live next door to the X-Men (even issues with the periodic destruction of the mansion aside), just due to accidental power use and the like, is a given. That there are some real people who would treat homosexuality as if it were as dangerous and potentially harmful to them as a guy who can blast a hole in a wall by looking at it is so ridiculous I sometimes forget whether Fred Phelps or William Striker is the #&$*ing cartoon character.

You can say that these guys see homosexuals are socially injurious, that while it may not pose a personal, physical threat that they are part of something that poses a more distant and indefinable threat to our social fabric. I’d say to you, if you were to bring up this reasonable point, that I’ll take my phantom menaces in the form of global warming, which promises to destroy human civilization as we know it instead of the looming threat of homosexuality that will simply contravene a vague an arbitrary set of moral values that most of the world seems to get along fine without.

That any real-world group could be as reviled as mutants, without posing the sort of immediate, intrinsic, and large-scale physical threat that they do, is the point of the X-Men/minority similarity. When someone stabs a homosexual in Rio, you can ask if he was about to siphon a dude’s life force with a kiss. When a black man gets dragged to death behind a truck, you can ask if he was about to pop claws and go on a regeneration-fueled killing spree. When a political dissident gets beaten in prison, you can ask if they were about to use their mind control powers to make the guards kill one another. The answer is always no.

As for the comic book itself—the execution of this fine idea from The House of Ideas—you can look at the central conflict of Dragon Age 2 for a non-contrast. Magic-users are rounded up and discriminated against because they could use destructive, evil blood-magic. Every time the institutional discrimination denies them their basic human dignity and happiness, and pushes them too far, they turn to the powerful, morality-destroying embrace of blood magic. Yeah, you can blame the system—and you should—but it’s harder to blame them entirely since every single mage turns to blood magic in the end (except Anders, the exception that unambiguously makes my point).

"As the size of an explosion increases, the number of social situations it is incapable of solving approaches zero." -Vaarsuvius, Order of the Stick

Similarly, if Xavier really was the MLK of mutants, then his guys wouldn’t spend quite so much time fighting. As it is, they’re hated and feared because they might become violent and they react by being violent. They can’t help it though; they’re comic book characters and if the respect and esteem Daredevil garners is any indication, only Daredevil fans want to read a comic about characters who get treated like crap without punching/lasing someone in the face. Comics readers want their characters to hurt people and break things with their amazing powers, and the justifications only need to go so far as the mind’s of the most common type of reader, who in all likelihood isn’t too interested in the ideological struggles of the day anyway.

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