salinea: Emma Frost, sitting comfortably (chill)
[personal profile] salinea
So an Anon dropped this in my Ask Box:


I love the Mutants as a metaphor for minorities.

It is however problematic in various ways.

But I do love it, and as a member of a couple of minorities myself, it does allow me to project into X-Men characters and themes in ways that I don’t often do. In fact, my interest in X-Men because of the mutants as minority metaphor is one of the main reason I even got into superhero comics in the first place. So it is a big draw.

But it definitely has weaknesses. One of the main one you often see mentioned is the fact that real minorities do not have any funky powers; and that the level of powers that mutants demonstrate does justify some amount of paranoia from the public. It’s not a rebuttal I find completely convincing myself; because as my friend shadowpsykie would say; part of oppression against minorities in the real world takes the form of associating all sorts of othering, exotic, nefarious powers. Which can take the blatant forms of “those people have the evil eye!” to the way the narrative of the Gay people’s ability to “seduce” people into homosexuality is almost seen as a superpower. So you could see it as lampashading that aspect of oppression.

Of course you could also say that it is lampshading in order to validate it, not rebut it, which is itself problematic. And also that it makes light of real oppression, because as every superhero fantasy; it is also a empowerment fantasy; and in real life, being an oppressed minority does not give you fancy, empowering powers; and it makes light of their plight. Also it can be seen as yet another way that majority culture likes to frame their empowerement fantasies as being also about being the underdogs while still dissing on minorities, very much part of the same sort of hipster appropriation culture (but racism is bad! it says so in the stories starring whitestraightmen that they love!)

The first issue (empowerment fantasy =/= oppression) is both a real problem; and, actually, I think also one of the perk? Because there is so much in culture that will tell you to hate yourself and to think discouraged and less of yourself when you’re part of a minority; that having it framed as an empowerment fantasy, even if it’s problematic, is also genuinely seductive, and perhaps not entirely bad? I think it’s one of the great thing that the X-Men movies have consistently emphasized, too; the sense of pride and of right to own this pride.

The second issue (appropriation of minorities narratives in way that is still to the advantage to majority people) is a very real problem with that sort of story; but I think more of a matter of execution. And on that front X-Men as a franchise has been more or less good or bad depending on the eras and continuities. Like, they’re not as bad as Harry Potter, IMHO; because they are a franchise that has a real history of being progressive about showcasing characters of colours, LGBT characters and also female characters; and not just white straigth male characters who are granted a status of minority because they’re mutants. However, that history is not always followed through in present; which sometimes results in very faily narrative. Like XMFC is pretty awful in its treatment of CoCs; and I don’t remember the first trilogy being a lot better either (Storm was a main character at least, but both in the writing and the interpretation, she was hardly allowed to be as awesome as she should be). I think X-Men, even more than other comics franchise, should be called out when they fail to showcase their characters who aren’t white and straight.

Usually what disturbs me is more the extent to which they fail the metaphor. Like the whole metaplot from House of M to AvX feels very weird to me. Having an “extinction” event that isn’t about being dying but about losing their power magically; and driving the idea that all the bigots come out of the woodwork to try to persecute them when they are only about 200 of them felt very unconvincing to me, just weird, and potentially offensive. And then the repowering didn’t affect the great majority of depowered mutants, either; but just gave powers to new people?! The ethical ramifications of that is sort of a clusterfuck that really muddles in problematic way the minority metaphor IMHO.

Taking it too far… for me it’s less the taking it too far in itself than the fact they, because it’s a mainstream comics about superheroes, they can’t really follow through to how far they take it. Morisson has Genosha destroyed at the beginning of his run; 12 millions people slaughtered by genocidal machines launched by a parasitical psychic entity; and then he had one issue - ONE ISSUE - dealing with the aftermath. It just feels wrong to me to invoque the idea of genocide on that scale in such an off handed way. If we were to take it seriously, Genosha’s genocide should cast such a large shadow on the Marvel Universe. Then again, perhaps I’m not being cynical enough; and perhaps the world would indeed take the genocide of millions of members of a minority leaving somewhere of the coast of Africa in exactly that sort of nonchalant manner :/

So basically, I do love the mutants as minority metaphor, and I think there’s a lot in it that makes the appeal of the franchise, and not just for white people. But it has to be treated with the depth, nuances and the respect that it deserves; not at the cost of underplaying the actual minority characters; and there should be a great care taken with the metaphor mixing so that it doesn’t become offensive.

Date: 23 October 2012 07:14 am (UTC)
solesakuma: (Default)
From: [personal profile] solesakuma
perhaps the world would indeed take the genocide of millions of members of a minority leaving somewhere of the coast of Africa in exactly that sort of nonchalant manner :/

... yeah. The world would indeed do that. I don't know if in that scale but... yeah. :/

Date: 24 October 2012 05:19 am (UTC)
solesakuma: (Default)
From: [personal profile] solesakuma
... I'm like the most depressing commenter ever, aren't I. IU found the post quite interesting, but since I don't read X-Men, only had... depressing to contribute.

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