Erik Dussere characterizes the majority of comic book readers, and X-Men in particular, as “mostly people like me: boys, mostly geeks, weirdos, smart kids - in a word, mutants” (2000:1). Dussere explains that young, male readers are taught to associate their own hardships with those represented in X-Men, as “the comics'evocation of the ordeal - and the hostile rhetoric - that many gay men and wome nface allows the adolescent reader to see his or her own alienation in the experiences of these characters” (2). But while the X-Men metaphor appears socially progressive in its inclusivity, the company and creators’ refusal to suggest that some identifications are closer to the mark than others – and indeed, that one person’s unique ordeal can be easily substituted for or appropriated by another – implies an equivalence between all of the various readers’ oppressions.In a slightly different context, comics critic David Brothers also examined the whole "mutants as metaphor for actually existing oppressed (minority) groups and argued that it only works if it's kept broad and doesn't go into specifics too much:
Though adolescence is often traumatic, the implication that being a“geek” brings with it oppressions that are akin to those of racism, sexism, or homophobia seems wholly overstated, especially when the majority of X-Men’s readers are white, male, and heterosexual. It is useful to think of the advantages of being male and/or white in North American society not simply from the perspective of educational and professional opportunities, but as an “invisible knapsack” of unearned assets, advantages as simple but important to one’s sense of safety and well-being as “the expectation that neighbors will be decent to you,or that your race will not count against you in court” (McIntosh, 1988:11). It is this suggestion of equivalence that is the key problem underlying the politics of mutanity in X-Men: If being a straight white “weirdo” or “geek” is equated with being a gay and/or racial minority reader and all can claim mutanity, what kind of reader is X-Men actually soliciting and how is it empowering them? As a substantially young, white, and male group of heroes within a genre whose creators and reader are nearly uniformly white males, the X-Men actually solicit identification from a similarly young, white, and male readership, allowing these readers to misidentify themselves as the “other”. Rather than reflecting McKellan’s suggestion that disempowered minorities are reading about and identifying themselves in the pages of the comic book, most readers are being taught to identify with oppressions that are unfamiliar and, I would argue, unequal to their own. Additionally, the use of racialized and gendered victim positions by white male readers is particularly troubling when one considers that, despite the obvious difficulties associated with being a teenager or a geek, these readers still often benefit from the “unearned advantage… of our arbitrarily awarded power.
BUT! I do think doing this sort of story with the X-Men is a mistake. The X-Men are, in the eyes of both Marvel and the vast majority of fans, an oppression metaphor. Mutants-as-blacks, mutants-as-gays, mutants-as-outcasts. You can fill in the blank with your preferred marginalized group, up to and including white dudes. It’s a tremendous asset to the franchise, because everyone feels alone and like an outcast sometimes. The X-Men are feared and hated by a world they are sworn to protect, which sets them up as underdogs.Mind, Brothers is also criticial of the whole idea of recolouring the X-men:
BUT!!! This is an example of the franchise flying too close to the sun and getting too specific, which is usually a mistake. The metaphor has worked for so long because it’s amazingly broad and they rarely ever address the actual factual parts of being marginalized within the text. The X-Men franchise is a soap opera about pretty people having sex and fighting evil and sometimes disfigured bad guys, but somehow they’re still underdogs and we love them for it. They’ll borrow specific things here and there, but fictionalize them to the point that they have a taste of real life, rather than a full bite.
These are palette swaps, not actual characters. They’re still White(ish) Psylocke, White Wolverine, Black Storm, Chinese-American Jubilee, and so on. Their ethnicities may not be front and center in the text, there’s not a lot of “I, (attribute), feel this way,” but they still matter. Black Wolverine’s life would have been drastically different from White Wolverine’s, and the odds of them ending up the same person are vanishingly small, right? Professor X debuting an all-black team of teenagers with wildly destructive powers (and I guess wings, sorry Angel) in the ’60s would have been stopped dead in the water on several different fronts.
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