Caring for your mutant child

By Shamus
on Oct 31, 2006
Filed under:
Movies

Lileks nails my #1 gripe with X-Men:

[…] never really loved the franchise, to use that horrid word. The entire mutant-as-a-metaphor was insulting, anyway –if you know anything about kids you know that a teen with the ability to shoot fire out of his ears would not be shunned as a weirdo freak but elected class president on general principle: dude! Awesome! I can understand parents getting upset if their kid was blue and covered with hairy nodules, but the idea that parents would consider their kid “sick” if she had the telekinetic ability to raise every car in the neighborhood nine feet in the air – please. We have parents who will go across the ocean to adopt a Down’s Syndrome baby; are we to believe that the majority of American parents reject their kids because they can levitate or cough up gold by the quart or exude perfectly formed Neapolitan Ice Cream bricks from their hindquarters? Far from persecuting them, they’d get their own reality shows. Storm would be a TV meteorologist in New York. As for your morning commute, I’ll see what I can do. Stay classy, Manhattan.

The second movie made me nuts. In a movie with people who can turn into metal and control the weather, the most unrealistic part was when Bobby went home. His parents did not act like real people. They way they rejected him way very un-parent like.

It is in the nature of parent to claim that nothing is wrong with their kid, even when there obviously is. Once in a while you’ll see one of these stories about some sicko serial killer / mass murderer who gets caught killing / raping / eating young women, and their parent(s) will end up on the news saying they still love their kid and believe he’s a “good person”.

In the real world you’d see bumper stickers:

Proud parent of a mutant honor student
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20323 comments. Highly cototient!

From the Archives:

  1. Alex says:

    Singer used mutancy as an allegory for homosexuality (and, unlike the speculation about Superman Returns that got turned into “fact” by people who haven’t seen the movie, this actually sticks). The line “have you ever tried not being a mutant?” is pretty much a play by play for someone coming out to unreceptive parents in a society that does not deem something “normal”.

    Of course, I’m not a parent, but I know that some parents will reject their offspring due to this revelation. Yes, I am aware that who you choose to have sex with is rather different to who you choose to turn into metal and then use that metal to escape from prison and then read minds and get hypnotised by freak girls and … uh … well, yes.

    Happy ending, though: in time, one of my friend’s heavily religious parents came in time to accept him. It wasn’t easy at the time.

    PS. I didn’t really like the X-Men movies at all. I enjoyed X-3 precisely because I didn’t care for the movie franchise in the slightest.

  2. Ubu Roi says:

    I was never very comfortable with the whole “shunned mutants” thing. Seemed to me that they had too many talents that someone would want to pay good money to use. Like the feds paying Storm to make sure JSC was clear for launches, or outdoor festival orgainzers paying her to guarantee good weather, or Cyclops drilling subway tunnels (how much cheaper could he have done the Big Dig?). This could be an interesting game… name the mutant and their job in the “real” world.

    Charles Xavier: the prosecutor’s ultimate witness. If telepathic evidence is allowed by law, that is.

    Wolverine: Celebrity spokesman for Ronco. (Hey, if a boxer can get a grill named after him…)

  3. Shamus says:

    Thinking about it more, I think I see why it bugs me so much: The mutant-hate in the story has a strong “you people are all a bunch of bigots” subtext.

  4. bkw says:

    My mutant child can beat up your mutant child.

  5. Crusader Corim says:

    The only thing that I could see happening is the same version of envy that all teenagers get against those who “won life’s lottery” with good genes that give them lithe, pretty forms with no acne.

    Meaning teens would be teens, but otherwise there probably wouldn’t be much change from the world we live in now.

    I know I would think it was cool if my little sister busted out the ability to control the weather or something like that.

  6. ubu roi says:

    “The unlimited class 5A high-school state championship game was halted three times in the fourth quarter alone, to replace the adamantium goal posts, and once to repair the sideline shield generators. Those were visably smoking from the strain of protecting the crowd from senior Sam Guthrie’s uncontrolled ‘runs’ upfield.” Coach Siryn was visably upset at her star ‘flying back’ for his lack of directional control, which once saw him dart 50 yards towards his own goal line…..

    …failed to set a new record with 213 footballs used, just barely missing the old record of 214 set by the 1996 team, led by Pitor ‘Colossus’…”

  7. David V.S. says:

    Not to be argumentative, but I have to disagree with Alex.

    In the X-men comic books, being a shunned mutant is about being anything people shun. This was a successful marketing ploy for teenage boys because society as a whole shuns teenage boys, and teenage boys know this.

    (As an educator, I’ll make a quick tangential observation: not too many generations ago there was no demographic of “teenager”. People went straight from “child” to “adult”. But society, especially its marketing, created “teenager” without giving them any practical and positive ways to earn approval, except for the often-unrealistic goal of scholarly success in a reputable school. (Negative goals, things to avoid doing, abounded but you cannot really define yourself by what you avoid.) So teenagers were left to make up their own definitions of success, and have often chosen unhealthy ones.)

    The X-men movies have tried to stay true to this generality, to my surprise and enjoyment. Sure, sometimes being a shunned mutant involves a scene that is blatantly pointing to homosexuality, but elsewhere are other scenes where it is just as blatantly about liberalism, conservatism, visiting an abortion clinic, having AIDS, etc.

    Singer did a remarkable job respecting the generality of “shunned mutant” despite probably having a lot of pressure to emphasize one facet or another of the general metaphor especially heavily.

  8. Alan Scott says:

    I’d love to be able to agree with Lileks, but I think he’s being way to optimistic here. He says that kids would Idolize peers with mutant powers, but I find that highly unlikely–In practice, a kid is going to be more likely to be cruel or dismissive towards another who excels in a field that the kid does poorly in: The C students mercilessly tease the straight-A nerd, the folks who don’t play sports resent the Jocks, and so forth. While a talented mutant will see some admiration from other mutants with less-cool powers, the non-mutants are more likely to dislike the guy.

    And to say that parents will love and support their kids no matter what is to ignore every son or daughter who’s been kicked out of the house due to their sexual orientation. Every son or daughter that’s been shunned because they converted to a different religion. Every son or daughter that receives dirty looks at thanksgiving because they chose to marry someone of a different ethnic group. The Idea that mutation is a positive trait comes because we’re reading the X-Men comic books and seeing mutants use their powers to save the world. Parents dealing with a rebellious teenager aren’t going to be made happier by the fact the the teenager can read minds and spit fire. Add in Pastor Jeff saying that Mutation is a lie spread by secular Darwinists, and that Jenny’s powers come from her pact with the devil, and you’ve got a sure recipe for disaster.

  9. Alex says:

    David V.S.: I don’t agree with the “queer” reading all the way, but that was a coming out scene and Singer essentially referred to it as such on several occasions.

    Generally I was looking at the movies as a case of discrimination based on “otherness”, which was particularly blatant with Magneto being taken to a concentration camp or similar when he was young. What confused me was that the mutant “cure” units in X-3 were rather like abortion clinics – and people were blowing them up. It’s like a bunch of faux liberal freedom fighters suddenly went and turned into pro-lifers.

    Then, I suppose that the mutants blowing them up were the extremists.

    I’d say that we shouldn’t be reading this much into it, that they’re just comic books, but that would be stupid and condescending: the secret appeal of comic books and superhero stories is their allegorical appeal. It’s a way of teaching people social issues without them realising.

    We call that … stealth. Like Nightcrawler, baby.

  10. retinaburn says:

    Shamus, I have to disagree.

    I would hope that most parents would not reject their ‘special’ children. Yet we still hear of people who are perfectly normal and love someone of the same sex (or someone of a different race, or heaven forbid a different religion) being shunned by their family, friends and social circle of choice (classmates, religion, carny folk).

  11. Shamus says:

    I would accept this argument if being a mutant went against established beliefs and values. No major religion teaches that mutant.. isim… is wrong. It doesn’t conflict with any known value system. Alan Scott took the angle that some parents might think the power is demonic in nature. That’s a pretty cool idea for a few parents, but it doesn’t explain everyone.

    The rejection due to homosexuality or marring someone of the the “wrong” race / ethnic group does indeed happen, but it isn’t NEARLY as widespread as mutant rejection it is in the X-Men universe. Particularly the latter. This is why I feel like the story has a “you people are all a bunch of bigots” subtext.

  12. Alex says:

    That does it, Shamus! I’m injecting you with mutant DNA in the real world and seeing how your peers react!

    The best thing about this plan is that it involves replacing you with Rebecca Romijn.

  13. Maureen says:

    Um… I thought that in the comic, these days, Angel _is_ gay. So it wasn’t really a metaphor; it was just piling on the angst.

    Actually, the original metaphor was the “mutants as Jewish people” thing. The problem is, it got used as a metaphor for so many other things (“mutants as black people”, “fan are slan”, “nobody loves smart kids without social skills”) that it eventually took on a really paranoid worldview. Especially since it’s apparently okay in the Marvel Universe to have teratogenic powers, alien powers, or powers you find at a garage sale for 25 cents; but mutant ones are Right Out.

    So yeah, school would probably suck for mutants, and occasionally the FBI would stop by to ask questions about that weird grade change incident. But they would network until they got through college, and then most of them would go on to high-paying jobs in both the government and private sectors, about which their parents would brag. “Mutants as computer geeks”.

  14. Alan Scott says:

    I wouldn’t say it ever specifically started as a Jewish thing, save that Lee and Kirby were Jewish and likely drew upon their own experiences with discrimination when writing the book. I know that the Magneto as a Concentration camp survivor came much later in the book’s history. And as far as I know, Angel has always been portrayed as straight (save for Neil Gaiman’s 1602 version).

    Shamus, I think you’re wrong about mutation conflicting with known belief systems: Mutation is a part of the evolutionary process. Various Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates say slightly different things about mutations, but the general consensus among the “Mankind did not descend from apes” crowd is that positive mutation is impossible–That either mutations are strictly degenerative in nature, or that they don’t exist at all.

    That means you have a huge chunk of folk believing that Mutation is either a disease or an impossiblility, and that to believe otherwise directly conflicts with an important aspect of their religious beliefs. In addition, there’s the fact that the mutants’ own rhetoric is pretty abrasive and condescending (Professor X, for instance, believes that Mutants are Homo Sapien Superior, the next step in evolutionary ladder, and that normal humans are becoming obsolete. And he’s the good guy.) Throw in the general fear of outsiders and fear of change that grips many people in our society, and you can see why mutants have as many enemies as they do.

  15. Selki says:

    @Maureen: “Especially since it’s apparently okay in the Marvel Universe to have teratogenic powers, alien powers, or powers you find at a garage sale for 25 cents; but mutant ones are Right Out.”

    In the X-Men comics’ glimpses of the future, the Sentinels started going after all the super-powered.

  16. Telas says:

    Odd… In the first movie, I saw “mutant powers” as an excellent parallel to the Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms).

    Later installments became more PC, but I never really saw it as “gay”; just “different”. I suspect Singer’s comments were meant to ingratiate himself with the Hollywood elite.

    And yeah, the reactions seemed over the top, but it’s a movie, for cryin’ out lout… It’s supposed to be over the top.

  17. Deacon Blues says:

    As an Aspie (a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism), I have to say that not all such discrimination has to do with being “against established beliefs and values”. We Aspies are very poor at non-verbal communication (“body language” and the like), we tend to think in a fairly straightforward and logical fashion, and our minds work primarily in a visual idiom. (We also tend to have extensive vocabularies – my apologies if this inconveniences anyone.) None of this is, so far as I know, against anyone’s religion. Yet we do experience discrimination on a frequent basis. (For example, I was fired from a job I’d excelled at for almost three years, because I didn’t “look busy” when I wasn’t busy. No one even explained that they expected me to do such a thing – they apparently assumed *every*one would pretend to be what they weren’t.)

    For more examples, I would refer you to autistics.org, or wrongplanet.net.

    (In point of fact, some at WrongPlanet have taken X-3 as an allegory for the “curebies”, who insist that there’s something *wrong* with Aspies, which needs to be cured – and, of course, that they’ve got a cure, if we’d just sit still and let them screw with our actual physical brains for a while…)

  18. Kimera says:

    The core truth of the Xmen and related comics is simply this

    People Hate what they cant understand.. or control.

    Mutants are left on the outside because they are different, not only that they are stronger/faster/smarter/pick an adjitive and fill in the blank.

    Anything that isnt ‘normal’ must be wrong, and its perfectly justified in hating something abnormal. What could be more abnormal than mutants?

    -The whole thing is a great allegory for racisim, sexisim, homophobia, or any other exclusionist view. That’s why I like the stories so much.

  19. Andrul says:

    Man, I must be the densest guy on earth. Here I thought the mutant haters hated them because they were the next step in evolution and would eventually replace “normal” homo sapiens. This was even stated many times over the last 40+ years even to the point that Charles Xavier regretted coining the name Homo Superior as that just caused more friction. The idea that a society of animals/people would turn on any sign of evolutionary deviance is not new, and was not new when Stan Lee first created the X-Men. Seriously folks, sometimes a spade really is a metal tool with a wooden handle used to dig holes in the ground.

  20. elda says:

    i’m on both sides of the fence on this one. i came out to my parents, and they were really supportive of me. not in a “i love my child and i will no matter what” kind of overdoing it way, but in an “awsome as long as you’re happy” kind of way. however i do know of a girl in my school who’s parents were convinced she was a lesbian (although she isn’t) and kicked her out because of it.

  21. Robert Mason says:

    I always thought that the bigotry was along these lines: If you are a regular person, when you look at a mutant you will, at least subconsciously, realize that they are replacing you. I don’t think most people would be conscious of the fact that they think that mutants are going to be the next dominant species, but I doubt that many people would be comfortable with full-blown in-your-face proof that they’re just a transitional species.

    Always,
    Robert Mason

  22. Tigress says:

    Hi! I know this really isn’t on the subject but I would love to be a mutant. If I could I would be called Tigress and I would have all the carachteristics of a tiger and I would have a tiger tail but would look like a very attractive female. Tell me what you think.

  23. Tigress says:

    Oh! And today’s my birthday!

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