Sunday, April 15, 2018

X-Men: Oppression and the "M" Word

by Dr. Suzana E. Flores

A young Jewish boy walks in a crowd of prisoners heading towards an Auschwitz death camp. Suddenly, his parents are pulled from him. The boy's mother screams out his name, "Erik!" He yells back, "Mama! No! Mama!" Tears streaming down his face and he stares at the disappearing image of his parents. He will never see them again. Overwhelmed by rage and fear, he stretches his hand towards the iron gates. With a staggering force, his mutation surfaces--manipulating the magnetic fields around him, Erik bends the gates open, until an officer strikes him unconscious.

This mythological origin story belongs to the boy mutant Max Eisenhardt, later also known under the aliases Magnus, Erik Lehnsherr, and then ultimately "Magneto"--nemesis of Professor X, enemy of the X-Men, and leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

                                                  Marvel Comics © 

Magneto's life became a living hell in Germany's 1930s as the Nazis began to institutionalize their xenophobic ideology that blamed the Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I and its economic collapse. Jews were beaten, sterilized, and barred from interacting with German citizens. Then the Nazis escalated their tyrannical practices to include unspeakable acts of torture and murder.

At this point you might be wondering, "What does Nazi ideology and racism have to do with the fictional stories of Marvel Comics the X-Men? Quite a lot actually.

When writers convey any theory or philosophy their work there is typically some level of truth in order for their work to be believable to the reader. Similarly, comic book writers and illustrators channel real-life experiences onto the panels so their readers may be able to relate to the mythology of their crime-fighting characters.

The X-Men tales embody themes of mutants in search of acceptance and equality in a world that hates and fears them. In the Marvel world, humans see mutants as dangerous freaks of nature and so persecute them, try to contain them, or eradicate them. Parallels between these story lines and the real-life confrontations experienced by marginalized groups in America such as African-Americans, Latin Americans, LGBTQ populations, and various religious (or non-religious) denominational groups are evident.

The mass violence in X-Men story lines mirror the abuse and debasement minorities worldwide continue to face on a daily basis. For example, recent laws or policies aimed to suppress marginalized groups include: detaining individuals from Middle Eastern countries at airports, dehumanizing Mexicans who cross the U.S./Mexico border by calling them "rapists, murderers, or aliens," banning transgendered individuals from using bathrooms because of their identity, or the excessive use of force or wrongful arrest by police against African Americans without reason, provocation, or probable cause--a practice so common it is often referred to as "Walking while Black."

Some X-Men story lines even touch on themes of hate groups that harass mutants at every turn such as: Church of Humanity, the Purifiers, and Humanity Now! By comparison to real life hate groups, one will inevitably think of the KKK, other White Supremacy Groups, or the literally hundreds of U.S. based organizations classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.

                                                                       Marvel Comics © 

In reality, bias takes many forms and is found virtually in every country around the world. The United Nations human rights mechanisms have had to repeatedly express condemnations of human rights violations around the globe, with equal rights activists struggling against great odds to make the world a better and safer place for ALL of its inhabitants.

Marvel's mutants are a collective metaphor for the minority "other." The X-Men love America--they'd have to. Every day they face oppression by the government and yet they try to protect the humans; try to work with them in the hopes that one day, they will be accepted as equal members of society. As such, the X-Men story lines mirror current day political and social climates.

                                                                        Marvel Comics ©

Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, most Americans agree the U.S. has not been so polarized since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Just like the X-Men, minorities love America, or at least the idea of America, even when American doesn't love them back. Despite tolerating centuries of hatred, minorities strive to find a place of acceptance and respect in society, even knowing that complete and total equality in America will never be possible for them. And every day, society undermines the struggles of minorities by trying to convince them they have equal opportunities to any Caucasian, heterosexual, male American. When Black people are attacked without provocation, the privileged say, "They must have done SOMETHING to deserve it." When women are groped or raped, too often their clams are ignored or blatantly dismissed, and when refused a job or an opportunity due to their ethnicity, accent, or appearance, minorities are told, "If only you would try just a little bit harder."

This is the reality of minority groups. They are victimized and then blamed for their victimization. Many minorities find themselves in "no-win" scenarios. Yet every day, they take another run at equality. They go out to work, to vote, to make their voices heard . . . if and when allowed.

America continues to be a Darwinian thrash of who receives an invitation to the "We the People" club, but minorities are not ignorant as to why their invitation to the soiree' always seems to get lost in the mail. The current polarization in America has been escalating for decades, and now Americans are feeling its effects on a very personal and very painful level.

In the Marvel world, Professor X makes it his mission to try to liberate the minds around him from taking aggressive opposition with a goal of living in a world where humans and mutants can live together in peace. Magneto, on the other hand, believes in fighting for mutant rights by any means necessary. But in the real world, liberating our minds from discrimination and oppression is our own responsibility and this can only be done when we can gain insight as to what has happened and continues to happen to the oppressed.

I recently did a TEDx Talk entitled "Untamed: What Wolverine Teaches Us About Rage." In my talk I outline how Wolverine (the muscle of the X-Men team) represents the rage we experience when facing personal victimization, and the rage minorities feel when experiencing societal oppression. I address how sometimes in life we need to allow ourselves to experience anger in order to understand what is causing it, and what we can do to change it. Many activists strive to channel their anger to one of positive action, through fighting against oppression and discrimination.

The X-Men remind us of the most important things to fight for in this life: respect, inclusion, and equality. Just like Wolverine and the X-Men, we can be heroes too. We can stand up for ourselves and speak out against injustice. We can all make a difference in the world through making our voices heard, even if only one blog post at a time.

Dr. Suzana E. Flores is a TEDx Speaker, licensed clinical psychologist, and author of UNTAMED: The Psychology of Marvel's Wolverine (McFarland Books) and FACEHOOKED: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives (Reputation Books).

Dr. Flores has appeared on national and international newscasts, podcasts, radio and talk shows. Dr. Flores has been quoted in The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Time.com, CNBC.com, ABC.com, CBS.com, Esquire.com, and Men's Health Magazine.

She can be reached at drsuzanaflores@gmail.com or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at liz@kimberelycameron.com.

3 comments :

Eliza Cross said...

Suzana, what a thought-provoking post. This was eye-opening to me -- the storyline of Wolverine and the X Men as a big screen enactment of what it looks like not to stay silently complicit in the face of racism, prejudice and oppression. Your words inspire us to remember that we must never stop fighting for all people to have respect, inclusion, and equality. Thank you.

DeanM said...

Suzana, I would like to leave you with something that I posted as a comment on a Facelessbook share of your article. It is not the "whole picture" of what I would like to communicate to you, but it is a good start. My reasons for wanting to bring it to your attention will become readily obvious if you are as clever as I believe you are based on the content of this article.

Comment follows:

Indeed. An irony is that the way some people choose to interpret the X-Men clearly demonstrates that a lot of people are not getting the lesson.

For example, the belief that the X-Men film adaptations are exclusively about gay rights is not only vastly mistaken, it ignores the principles of intersectionality. It also ignores the fact that in today's world, autistic civil rights are a far better match for the X-Men. Homosexuality has been accepted or at the very least tolerated in so much of the world that the countries that do execute people for being gay are now seen is inhuman barbaric throwbacks.

Autism is still being framed by propagandists in the First World as a horrible disease that will destroy Humanity. Speaking as someone who suffers diabetes, and is thus more vulnerable to the flesh-rotting bacteria that has taken up residence in a part of the world he can drive to in a matter of days, the only part of the First World where it has thus far done so, I not only find that framing offensive. I have promised people that if I catch them doing it in places that I conduct my daily life in, I will kill them. That I have to resort to what normie scum would label murder and the real threat thereof to feel safe from a group of people who are trying to convince third parties that I am not a Human being worthy of respect, means that I am a far closer match to what the X-Men are about than almost every other minority group on the planet could ever have nightmares about.

The X-Men, to me, come across as a story about what might happen if nature finally gets sick of normies and tries to teach them that inclusion is not a virtue, it is a mandatory part of being a species worthy of continued survival. That so many people fail to see this pokes an enormous hole in the idea that Humanity is on an upward trend.

Sesame Street et al might think they are the first to include my kind. X-Men makes them the worst kind of liars.
(cont'd)

DeanM said...

(cont'd)
One thing that might not be clear from my original comment is that if Autism Speaks For Normie Assholes were to come into my local shopping mall and start saying "we has to cure the autismz! giveusmoney! hyuk!", I would go straight to management at that mall and tell the management thusly. Either they, management, remove those people from the mall and tell them to never come back, or I will start attempting to do so by force.

Because I would feel so threatened, in a place that I visit near to every day and go to in order to buy groceries as well as coping-mechanism stuff, that I honestly would not know what else to do.

There is no other minority group where it would be considered acceptable in the First World to go into a place where literally hundreds of them might be at a given time and tell the unwashed public that said public ought to do away with them.

Small wonder then that Brian Cox's performance in X2 and Richard E. Grant's in Logan are among the elite few where I feel such an overwhelming hostility towards the character that when I see the actors in other films, I have to consciously work to remember that these are actors. They are not the people they are portraying.

Nor is it a coincidence that the hardcores among the Mages in my novels have the power to turn emotions into a tangible form of matter and fuel, and transfer emotions that way into other people. If Robert Wright et al could be made to experience what I experience near to every day when I catch sight of curebie propaganda, I would not need to be able to manipulate metal or absorb energy in order to kill them.

Once I had used my power to suck emotions of out one head and put it into another on them, they would do it for me. (end)