In Defense of the Mutant Oppression Metaphor (Part 2)

A Little Mutant Girl from Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross The following is the second in a series examining the validity of the X-Men’s mutant oppression metaphor. You should read Part 1 before proceeding.

Last post, I highlighted the difference in the public treatment of mutant and “human” superhero teams in order to establish the absurdity of fearing mutants over “normal” superpowered people. I also discussed how this fear is wielded by the majority in an effort to justify the hate and oppression of the mutant people.

But really, this argument needs to be taken a step further as most of the X-Men don’t represent the average mutant’s abilities, opportunities, or life experiences.

A Minority’s Heroes

At their core, superhero comics are power fantasies. They’re about the little guys — the scrawny immigrant from the Lower East Side, the homeless newsboy, and the bullied school nerd — gaining extraordinary powers and the ability to transcend their circumstances and become noble public protectors.

Just like the above examples, the X-Men comics also tend to focus on the “best” examples of humanity (er, mutantdom) — or at least those with badass powers and the ability to protect their people.

Magneto swears revenge on the Purifiers for the lynching of two young mutants

Magneto swears revenge for the lynching of two young mutants.

In order to understand the validity of the mutant oppression metaphor, we have to acknowledge that this simply isn’t the reality for most mutants. The X-Men (and their various mutant allies and villains) only represent a small percent of the mutant population.

Trevor Hawkins a.k.a. Eye Boy from Wolverine and the X-Men

Poor Eye Boy.

Not all mutants have powers that lend themselves to combat situations. The  X-Men might be able to hold their own in a fight, but what about the scared teen that just discovered he’s grown eyes across his entire body (Eye Boy)? What is the kid with six extra feet of saggy skin (Skin) going to do once he’s targeted by a hate-group? What about the guy who can understand any language (Cypher)? Will any of these help when a Sentinel shows up at the door?

Really, we don’t even need to bring giant killbots into this. What chance do they stand against one overzealous asshole with a gun, badge, and misconception about a group of people?

Hijack shot by police in Uncanny X-Men #8

The X-Men's Choir who has multiple mouths

Choir also has the astonishing power of “multi-ventriloquism.”

The above aren’t even the most unfortunate mutations. Here’s a small sampling of some even less advantageous “powers:”

  • a flesh beak and too few feathers to fly (Beak)
  • two sentient external stomachs (Maggot)
  • transparent skin (Wraith)
  • a few extra mouths (Choir)
  • a nine-foot long neck (Longneck)
  • the resemblance of a large crayfish (Mudbug)
  • a very large, extremely runny nose (Snot)
  • an obese and rubbery body (Bertram)

Most mutants simply don’t have powers that lend themselves to combat. Even those “lucky” few born with badass powers have to train extensively in order to use them effectively.

The X-Men have spent their entire adult lives learning to defend themselves and fight back against oppression. Sure, Jean Grey can read minds, but the first time she used her power she ended up comatose. Like most mutations, her abilities were more of a liability than an asset before she dedicated her life to mastering them.

Storm fighting a Sentinel in X-Men #98 by Chris Claremont and Dave CockrumWe also need to acknowledge that the X-Men had to give up any semblance of a normal life in order to gain the military training needed to protect themselves from giant, government sanctioned, mutant-killing robots. The “privilege” of a normal life, one free from training drills and the ridiculously high body count of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, is only reserved for “normal” humans (i.e. the majority in power).

The X-Men are just the mostly normal-looking, sexy mutants with badass powers and the training to defend themselves.

Saying that mutants make a poor oppression metaphor because Cyclops can shoot lasers out of his eyes is like saying racism is over because we have a Black president. They’re both the extraordinary exception rather than the rule.

We can’t conflate the opportunities and experiences of a minority’s heroes with that of the remainder of the group. A few inspiring outliers (with incredible luck and extensive training) doesn’t invalidate the oppression felt by the rest of the group nor do they invalidate the mutant oppression metaphor.

Check out part 3 of the discussion where I examine the relativity of power and how it applies to the mutant oppression metaphor!

3 Responses to “In Defense of the Mutant Oppression Metaphor (Part 2)”

  1. 1 xmenxpert September 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Yeah. Some mutants can defend themselves. A lot can’t. A lot have powers that either suck or are of limited utility. Some have awesome powers that simply can’t be used for combat; there was an issue of the original New Mutants series that dealt with a mutant who could create holographic art. An amazing power, but not something he could’ve used to protect himself if anyone came after him. (He killed himself because he felt different, isolated and alone.)

    • 2 Daniel Amrhein September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Yes! I love New Mutants #45. It’s a great story and Kitty’s speech directly compares the mistreatment of mutants with oppression based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. That speech is one of the reasons I love Kitty so much.

  1. 1 Who Do the X-Men Represent? | Politics and Physics Trackback on October 6, 2013 at 12:12 am

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