The question “Are mutants dangerous?” is asked in one of the opening scenes of the X-Men movie and indeed that is one of the questions that drives the ongoing conflict between mutants and humans throughout the X-Men franchise. The fear motivating this question is leading Congress to consider a mutant registration act.
This fear of “others” who are different from ourselves is an essentially human trait, but the measure of our humanity and civilization is how we respond to this trait. Over and over again throughout human history we have seen oppression and genocide occur simply because we felt threatened by those of another race, ethnicity, religion, or ability. Everyone likes to talk about the Nazi’s but we have plenty of examples right here in the United States (Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans).
The history of racism and prejudice undergirds so many of the conflicts and injustices in America today that we need to know more and understand better, but so often attempts to talk about these issues are so fraught they are doomed to fail. That is not an excuse to stop trying, but rather a warning to tread carefully.
I invite you to watch X-Men or read the X-Men comics with fresh eyes and use it to jumpstart an important conversation with your family, friends, or students. I fear that we are facing a dangerous time in American history. This is not new or unprecedented – not only the horrific tragedies listed above but also during the McCarthy era and other times both before and after McCarthy — this seems to be a lesson we do not learn. Immigrants have always been viewed with suspicion throughout U.S. history from the Italians to the Irish and it has always been worse for immigrants who are different in some way whether ethnicity or religion or culture – and further exacerbated by events happening elsewhere in the world.
That is why it is so important to remember our history and our place within it as well as closely examine our motivation. It is always easy to blame our problems, both personal and societal, on a particular group of swamp dwellers or bad hombres, but a lot more challenging to examine how much we are to blame for this mess. That is why I love having these challenging conversations in the context of an imaginary world and I believe that the world of the X-Men is an important place to consider just now.
Mutants are symbolic of much more than the mysterious “other” that always frightens us. They represent oppression in all its many forms from our expectation that everyone conform – both externally and internally. The conflicts between mutants and humans in the X-Men universe can serve as a stand-in for discussions about gender politics, sexuality, race, religion, and much more. The X-Men stories are stories of bigotry and prejudice. It is more comfortable to have conversations about this prejudice when we are talking about handsome Hugh Jackman, the amazing Jean Gray, tragic Rogue, and the good James McAvoy or Patrick Stewart (both delicious in their own right). The X-Men draw our attention to the problems inherent to prejudice and help us make connections between these characters and their lives and the challenges that “others” face in our world. Through the X-Men stories we see the world through the eyes of these “others” as they experience bigotry and hatred and hopefully these experiences shake our complacency about our world and our views of those different from ourselves – and best of all to help us understand how much we are alike even though we come from a different background or look superficially different.
Tags: #Heroes, #Stories, #Storytelling