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Why Does Marvel Oppose Mutant Rights?
February 20, 2012 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Are the X-Men Human? The US government says yes, these people are no different from you or I, but Marvel claims their strange mutations and powerful augmentations move them beyond humanity into the realm of monsters, angels and devils. This Radiolab short explains why Marvel Toys argued in the US Court of International Trade that Wolverine, Professor X and Storm are inhuman.

Read the court's opinion here. At both parties consent, it was agreed that clearly Beast, Bonebreaker, Cameron Hodge and Robot Wolverine were not human and that Daredevil, Punisher, U.S. Agent, Peter Parker and the Invisible Woman were.

[Spoiler Alert]

The court's conclusion was that all the remaining X-Men and Marvel characters under dispute were non-human, including the Fantastic Four (which confusingly Sue Richards is a member of), with the exception of "Jumpsie," the little girl with toy trampoline.

In its decision, the court considered the Science Fiction conventions of "mutants" and concluded they were more like monsters than men.
posted by justkevin (51 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Human beings are homo sapiens. Mutants are homo superior, the next degree of evolution. But there is only one and only one homo supreme.

(Who has supremely bad timing.)
posted by delfin at 6:58 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, and as for why they did all of this in the first place? The figurines of "humans" are classified as Dolls and have twice the import tariff that Toys do.
posted by mrzarquon at 7:11 PM on February 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


They are human, but if they had one more X they would be would not be -MEN.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:13 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is there a transcript so I don't actually have to listen to Radiolab?
posted by desjardins at 7:20 PM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Radiolab has a vested interest in this, since it's hosted by Black Bolt and Banshee.
posted by benzenedream at 7:30 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, this may be a stupid question, but whose idea was it to tax dolls differently than other toys?
posted by Jon_Evil at 7:31 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


wait, is this really about importing tariffs? I was expecting some sort of clever essay or blog, like the one where the guy explains legal stuff using comic books (if you were in stasis, what happens to statute if limitations? what if you were time traveling? etc)

I guess I will rtfa now.

ok, I just started reading the court opinion and my brain refuses to believe it's real. I think I'll try again tomorrow.
posted by sio42 at 7:34 PM on February 20, 2012


Similarly: Are Jaffa Cakes cakes or biscuits (cookies)?
posted by kmz at 7:37 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every time I see the tensor product operator ⊗, this is what I think about.
posted by Nomyte at 7:39 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


> So, this may be a stupid question, but whose idea was it to tax dolls differently than other toys?

I was going to assume it was something from when dolls were considered a luxury item, but apparently it was only as recent as 1989 that the language changed. But then maybe the tariff on dolls was from an earlier time, and they just broadened the scope of what was a doll in 89?
posted by mrzarquon at 7:39 PM on February 20, 2012


So, this may be a stupid question, but whose idea was it to tax dolls differently than other toys?

The doll lobby.
posted by mikedouglas at 7:49 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was expecting some sort of clever essay or blog, like the one where the guy explains legal stuff using comic books (if you were in stasis, what happens to statute if limitations? what if you were time traveling? etc)

As it happens, we did write about this case [self-link].

There was also the related case of Kamar Int’l v. United States, 10 C.I.T. 658 (Ct. Int’l Trade 1986), which dealt with whether an E.T. the Extraterrestrial doll represented an "animate" object. The Kamar court cited another case in which Star Wars toys were classified as figures of animate objects because “as depicted in the movie Star Wars they are living beings endowed with animal life.” Kamar, 10 C.I.T. at 661.

So, this may be a stupid question, but whose idea was it to tax dolls differently than other toys?

The World Customs Organization produces the Harmonized System of customs classification, which the US adopted as the Harmonized Tariff Schedule for the United States by the passage of the Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. The HTSUS is controlled by the International Trade Commission, and the US Customs Service is responsible for classifying particular goods. In this case, Customs classified the Marvel toys one way, and the toy company appealed the decision to the Court of International Trade.

So basically a combination of international agencies, Congress, executive agencies, and the judicial branch.
posted by jedicus at 7:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


So Radiolab just kicked off Days of Future Past? That's all you had to say. That Radiolab just kicked off Days of Future Past.
posted by greenland at 7:51 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


something something EU something straight bananas something jaffa cakes.
posted by arcticseal at 7:52 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


lawyers
posted by polymodus at 8:01 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So basically a combination of international agencies, Congress, executive agencies, and the judicial branch....decided that X-Men are not human.

This is what Magneto has been telling us all along. They don't even consider us human. Well, we don't want them either. And when we inherit the world, we'll classify all humans as unnecessary.
posted by eye of newt at 8:01 PM on February 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Up next: are lawyers more like monsters than men? The jury's still out on this one.
posted by chinston at 8:07 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Who is paying for this?
posted by TheKM at 8:18 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best doc review assignment ever? "Yeah, Jim, I know we said that you were going to be reviewing 25,000 pages of financial reports this week. But we've just got a new client and so we're going to need you to read comics for the next six months. Hope this is okay."
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 8:31 PM on February 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Up next: are lawyers more like monsters than men? The jury's still out on this one.

You know, when someone, for example, builds a redundant, ugly bridge, no one comes out and says all engineers are evil scum that should be burned alive and eaten by demons.

Why hate on an entire profession because of one piece of bad regulation?

Incidentially, the isue has now been fixed according to jedicus's link:
A final note: the Harmonized Tariff Schedule has since been changed to eliminate the distinction between dolls and other toys, which are now in the same category.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:32 PM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why hate on an entire profession because of one piece of bad regulation?

Oh, are all lawyer jokes based on this one case?
posted by mokin at 8:41 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why hate on an entire profession because of one piece of bad regulation?

This seems like a bit of an overreaction to a mild joke. I think if you're a lawyer and you can't see the humor in cases like this, and the absurdity of arguing over minutiae like this (even if, on some level, it's a reasonable way to settle a dispute) then I don't know what to say.
posted by chinston at 8:49 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think as a toy marketer, I'd start introducing the X genome everywhere. Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo, Barbie, GI Joe... you name it. I woulnd't stop until two-year-olds everywhere are surrounded by Hordes of the Inhuman.
posted by Metro Gnome at 8:51 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rather than define for us all what is not human, would the courts or congress care to define what is human?

Or to phrase that ambiguous question in a more pointed fashion: how many mutations; silent, phenotypic, or otherwise, does it take to push what was once a member of Homo sapiens into some other category?

For instance, if a person were to have several retinal degenerations resulting from genetic abnormalities (mutations), a bell chest (another mutation or possibly developmental accident), two left feet with piano toes, AND have several conspicuous double joints would that person still be human? Or do we need to throw in a couple more for good measure?

And to really muddle things up, would the courts care to detail which sequences of each gene are 'canonical' and which sequences are 'non-canonical', homologous, or (from the resulting gene product) analogous?

I know its really just about toys... but still, lets think of things to happen further down the road, shall we?
posted by Slackermagee at 8:56 PM on February 20, 2012


As I lawyer, and comic book lover, I'm going to do a dangerous thing. I'm going to comment on the decision without actually reading the case.

I hate this decision. Absolutely loath it for one major reason. To quote basic biological dogma and wikipedia: A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.

Mutants and humans interbreed in the comics pretty much constantly. Mutants are born from human parents. I can't think of an example right now, but I'm pretty sure I've read comics where mutants had human offspring. In other words, Homo Superior, as a biological reality inside the Marvel universe, doesn't exist. "Homo Superior" is a political construction, created by Professor Charles Francis Xavier and probably, as a concept, did the Mutant cause more harm than Magneto.

Wisdom of Xavier's mutant branding aside I'm disappointed. Humans breed true with humans. Mutants and humans produce fertile offspring. Therefore mutants are humans.

Maybe, someday, I'll read the decision and change my mind. But for now I'll the X-fucking be my guide.
posted by bswinburn at 8:56 PM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


This seems like a bit of an overreaction to a mild joke.

Not just to that specific joke, but more the generalised lawyer-hate that arises when something involving a law (any law) is discussed.

Anyway, I would have thought my 'roasted and eaten by demons' example would have evidenced that I was being reasonably flippant. Forget it, it's been done to death and we don't need to discuss it any further.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:41 PM on February 20, 2012


So, this may be a stupid question, but whose idea was it to tax dolls differently than other toys?

This kind of weirdness happens from time to time. It's what led the Supreme Court to have to decide in Nix v. Hedden that the tomato is a vegetable, even though any biologist would tell you that tomatoes are fruits. This came up, naturally, because an import duty applied only to vegetables and not fruits.
posted by zachlipton at 11:40 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I lawyer, and comic book lover, I'm going to do a dangerous thing. I'm going to comment on the decision without actually reading the case.

It was refreshing that you didn't start with the 'IAAL, BIANYL, ATINLA' boilerplate bullshit that seems to get trotted out in every...single...legal thread, like there's been an epidemic of people suing anonymous lawyers for giving bad legal advice to complete strangers online.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:21 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Similarly, is a burrito a sandwich?

I love it when courts are forced to resolve what are pretty clearly terminological debates because of indeterminate or vague language in laws and contracts. If anyone knows of any other examples, please post!
posted by painquale at 2:18 AM on February 21, 2012


bswinburn: by that logic, would not Klingons and Vulcans also be human?
posted by hoople at 2:32 AM on February 21, 2012


One of the grandest events in the DC fundraising season is hosted by the organizations that put the tariff in question in place:

The Doll Hobby Lobby Ball.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:16 AM on February 21, 2012


To quote basic biological dogma and wikipedia: A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.

The key word being "often". The debate about species definition continues to this day, and there seems to be no fully satisfactory answer. There have been reproductively viable lion-tiger hybrids in captivity for instance, but it's not particularly useful to call lions and tigers the same species. There must therefore be, at the bare minimum, some behavioural/territorial component to a useful definition of species. My biology extends to doing an A level in it over a decade ago, so I don't claim to have any answers, but the problem of defining "species" is certainly not a solved one.
posted by howfar at 4:54 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The liger is not contrary to the biological definition of species, per se, because the biological definition includes the presumption that the species will meet and mate by choice in the wild, which lions and tigers clearly will not do, since they do no coincide geographically and even pretty much hate each other on sight in zoos (ligers are made in the lab, obviously).

There are several definitions of species other than the biological one. The morphological definition was the historical one--if they look alike they are one species; if they consistently look different they are two.

The ecological definition asks whether they live in the same place and fill the same niche. A good example of ecological species are the grizzly (lives in northern forests, eats primarily terrestrial or freshwater plants and animals) and the polar bear ( lives in the Arctic, eats primarily marine creatures). These two clearly distinct species do not meet the biological definition of species--when they meet in the wild, they do indeed mate and form viable, fertile offspring.

There are also more recently attempts at phylogenetic definitions of species which consider degrees of difference in DNA. This is to me a pointless task since we know of species of plant that differ only by a single gene yet do not mate in the wild and we know of many many species with oodles of genetic variation within the species (e.g., Homo sapiens).

I would argue that the X-Men currently do not meet the biological definition of species because of the interbreeding with everybody else thing. Also, the fact that they each have a completely distinct mutation means they are each more likely to found their own new species than to combine those unrelated mutations into one species.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:24 AM on February 21, 2012


Mutants are homo superior

See also: The Whelk.

Mrs. Example compels me to also post that she is his biggest fan.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:26 AM on February 21, 2012


"...we've just got a new client and so we're going to need you to read comics for the next six months. Hope this is okay."
posted by Clandestine Outlawry


Reminds me of the time a law office hired me to review compilation porno DVDs for a week, looking for scenes that were still under copyright by their clients.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:22 AM on February 21, 2012


Are the X-Men Human? The US government says yes, these people are no different from you or I, but Marvel claims their strange mutations and powerful augmentations move them beyond humanity into the realm of monsters, angels and devils.

Hold up; very misleading. This is a court case about toys, not about the hypothetical biological status of comic book characters. The distinctions are being made solely on visual criteria (and not on any fictional or hypothetical criteria).

The law makes a distinction between natural representations of humans ("dolls") and representations of humans with any fantastic elements like animal or robot parts ("other toys"). So presumably even Batman would not be classified as a human "doll" because he has an animal-like costume.
posted by dgaicun at 6:27 AM on February 21, 2012


So, would a figurine of Jean-Luc Picard require twice the tariff than one of Locutus of Borg? Or does Picard's communicator badge count as a fantastic element?
posted by soelo at 7:27 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hold up; very misleading. This is a court case about toys, not about the hypothetical biological status of comic book characters. The distinctions are being made solely on visual criteria (and not on any fictional or hypothetical criteria)

Nope, the court explicitly looks to the nature of the characters in their fictional context as part of its decision:
Second, these Marvel characters are known in popular culture as "mutants." That fact further informs their classification. Cf, e.g., HQ 950200 (Dec. 18, 1991) (Customs recognizing that some knowledge from popular culture is necessary to identify certain figures, such as angels, devils, monsters, as "non-human"). They are more than (or different than) humans. These fabulous characters use their extraordinary and unnatural physical and psychic powers on the side of either good or evil. The figures' shapes and features, as well as their costumes and accessories, are designed to communicate such powers. For example, "Storm" (a tall and thin figure with white mane-like hair and dark skin) in assortment 4900 K has a lightening bolt as an accessory, reflecting the character's power to summon storms at will. ...

Third, the "X-Men" figures are marketed and packaged as "mutants" or "people born with `x-tra' power." That they are denoted as such by the manufacturer or the importer lends further credence to the assertion that they represent creatures other than (or more than) human beings.
In footnotes the court quotes the fictional backstories of the human-looking mutants Magneto, Professor X, and Longshot. To wit:
In the rare instances that a figure seems to exhibit no non-human characteristics, its "mutant" nature is communicated otherwise. For example, "Longshot" in assortment 4900 F looks like a young man with blond long hair who is equipped with knives, and wears unusual clothing. Longshot has extraordinary abilities at par with the other "X-Men" figures (as provided for on its packaging):

Once a slave to the extradimensional tyrant Mojo, Longshot eventually escaped, came to Earth and joined forces with the X-Men. Armed with razor-sharp throwing knives, his combined abilities of amazing agility and incredible luck allow him to take on the fiercest foes.
This fits with the Kamar court's note that courts must sometimes look to the "subjective characteristics of mythical or fictitious characters" in order to determine their proper classification.
posted by jedicus at 7:35 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


These people clearly need to be kept busy and out of positions of real infuence.
posted by HFSH at 7:42 AM on February 21, 2012


bswinburn: by that logic, would not Klingons and Vulcans also be human?

Maybe, but I'm not a trekkie. I have no dog in that fight. Do not, however, get me going on elves and orcs and humans and dragons in D&D. With half-elves, half-orcs, and half-dragons running around interbreeding willy-nilly the real question is when will humans start popping out scaly eggs all on their own.

I'm not convinced that D&D "humans" even have belly buttons.

Back to the original point, I've heard the proper term is mulatto-vulcan.
posted by bswinburn at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, when someone, for example, builds a redundant, ugly bridge, no one comes out and says all engineers are evil scum that should be burned alive and eaten by demons.

You're right, that's unfair. I'm going to start saying that.
posted by dgaicun at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


They are human, but if they had one more X they would be would not be -MEN.

twoleftfeet, you are simply beautiful.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:51 PM on February 21, 2012


The liger is not contrary to the biological definition of species, per se, because the biological definition includes the presumption that the species will meet and mate by choice in the wild, which lions and tigers clearly will not do, since they do no coincide geographically and even pretty much hate each other on sight in zoos (ligers are made in the lab, obviously).

hydropsyche, that's incorrect.

The various species of Galapagos finches are not defined by their inability to cross the water to other islands. They cannot interbreed successfully.

(ligers are made in the lab, obviously).

It sounds like you're imagining some sort of test-tube setup, with beakers and bubbling glassware. In fact, it has occurred with something more resembling horny, be-maned tomcats mounting in-heat stripey pusscats.

Furthermore, ligers do not lead to generally fertile lines. They tend to be infertile in the first crossbreed generation - there are no octoon-lions, AFAIK.

Nor octolions. Unless Dr. Doom grafted them.

Does he have an M.D., or a Ph.D.?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:58 PM on February 21, 2012


Biological species concept

The biological species concept absolutely requires the ability to breed and produce viable, fertile offspring (which continue to be fertile with repeated crossing of hybrids), but it also, in all textbooks with which I am familiar, requires that this occurrence could happen in nature, i.e., that there are neither geographic nor other physical barriers (incompatibility of sexual anatomy) to copulation.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:12 PM on February 21, 2012


Does he have an M.D., or a Ph.D.?

Neither. He was expelled from college and later adopted the "Dr." moniker in response to Reed Richards having that title. See here and Books of Doom #4.
posted by jedicus at 1:19 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the time a law office hired me to review compilation porno DVDs for a week...

posted by StickyCarpet at 9:22 AM on February 21


Really? Nobody beat me to this "eponysterical"? Shame on you all.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:20 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky,
You can bet that he's doing it for some doll
When you spot a Thor waiting out in the rain,
Chances are he's insane, as only a Thor can be for a Jane.
When you meet a gent paying all kinds of rent
For a flat that could flatten the Taj Mahal,
Call it bad, call it funny, but it's better than even money,
That the guy's only doing it because of the restrictive clauses of the Harmonized System of customs classification adopted under the Omnibus Foreign Trade and Competitiveness act of ninteen eighty aaaaaaaaaaight!

A simple mnemonic really.

Call it dumb, call it clever, ah but you keep on forever...
posted by Smedleyman at 5:12 PM on February 21, 2012


Really? Nobody beat me to this "eponysterical"? Shame on you all.
posted by Amanojaku


You're welcome, it was my little gift to whoever wanted to pick up that penny.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The biological species concept absolutely requires the ability to breed and produce viable, fertile offspring (which continue to be fertile with repeated crossing of hybrids), but it also, in all textbooks with which I am familiar, requires that this occurrence could happen in nature, i.e., that there are neither geographic nor other physical barriers (incompatibility of sexual anatomy) to copulation.

So, hydropsyche, since a toy chihuahua can't naturally reproduce with a 100-kg mastiff, they are different species? (They're both Canus lupus familiaris, BTW).

Or if the ocean rises enough to sequester some lizards on an island that was formerly a hill on the mainland, they automatically become a new species?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2012


I am giving you the definition of The Biological Species Concept as used by biologists. We all acknowledge this definition has problems. Much bigger than the one you bring up is how to define asexual species, or what to do with bacteria given both asexual reproduction and a tendency to grab random DNA from their envieonment. That's why we have the other definitions that I also gave you, morphological, ecological, and molecular, and why we continue to discuss the issues.

If you read any of the dozens of links provided by googling Biological Species Concept you can follow this discussion. If you would like to pick up a copy of Campbell Biology or another intro textbook you can learn more there. It is not something that I made up yesterday or anything.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:58 PM on February 22, 2012


Back to the original point, I've heard the proper term is mulatto-vulcan.

Dear gods, please tell me that you are joking.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:33 AM on February 23, 2012


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