In Defense of the Mutant Oppression Metaphor (Part 1)

Triage arrested in

Triage arrested for using his abilities to heal an injured friend.

On two previous posts about the “M-word” and the mutant oppression metaphor, a couple commenters voiced concerns about the feasibility of using superpowered mutants as an effective metaphor for oppressed groups.

Readers have brought up some valid points, including the possibility that unlike real world oppressed groups, mutants really are dangerous, as well as the idea that their superpowers invalidate the comparison to real subjugated people. I think both points are interesting and deserve a larger exploration.

Do I still think that a group with super powers can serve as an effective oppression metaphor?

Absolutely. It’s certainly not a perfect metaphor– few are– but in this case the comics have done a pretty good job of addressing both of these concerns.

On Fear and Oppression

Iron Man and Cyclops talk fear and racial oppresionWe have to look at mutants within the context of the fictional world in which they reside. In the Marvel Universe, plenty of “normal” humans have powers too and (with the possible exception of Spider-Man and the Hulk) these individuals are largely accepted, often even celebrated by society. The X-Men, on the other hand, are treated much differently.

Sure, occasionally Marvel’s non-mutant heroes have to pacify public apprehension, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Civil War‘s Superhuman Registration Act (which has been quickly forgotten) is little more than a blip in Avengers’ history, whereas mutants have been fighting the Mutant Registration Act for decades. (For more oppressive anti-mutant legislation see Prop X which sought to rob mutants of their reproductive rights.)

Mutant Oppression ad from 1987

Marvel’s faux ad for The Mutant Registration Act that ran 25 years ago

The general public has no reason to fear mutants any more than they have to fear aliens, Atlanteans, or any of the plethora of super powered individuals on Earth. However, society doesn’t pursue these groups with the same vitriol as mutants. Hell, people have more reason to fear the Skrulls, who did more damage in Secret Invasion than mutants ever did, but you still don’t see three-story-tall killer robots prowling the streets hunting them down.

But that persecution isn’t the only way that mutants are treated radically different than other superpowered individuals and groups. For the most part, people don’t mind having the Baxter Building or Avengers Tower in the middle of New York City, despite the fact that both have made the surrounding areas a target for numerous supervillian attacks (the former has even been shot into space a couple of times).

The Thing is called ugly but

However, the X-Men recently had trouble getting the proper permits to open a school an hour north in a significantly less populated area (Wolverine and the X-Men #1). Likewise, despite there being plenty of dangerous non-mutant superpowered individuals, anti-mutant protests are common, while general anti-superhuman protests are practically nonexistent.

These examples prove that non-mutant superpowered individuals simply don’t face the same persecution as mutants. The fear of mutants in particular, in a world full of superpowered people, creates a parallel between their stories and real world oppressed groups whose mistreatment is also often “justified” through fear.

anti-Muslim and anti-mutant protesters from X-Factor 217

A mutant is no more inherently dangerous than any other superpowered character, just as a Black boy in a hoodie is no more inherently dangerous than a white boy in a hoodie.

Check out part 2 of the series where I examine the difference between a minority’s heroes and the rest of their group.

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