Miscellaneous Musings: Triple X: X-men, Xenophilia and Xenophobia Part III – Ideologies
In case you haven’t read the first and second part of these ruminations, here are the Links:
All right, so we’ve analyzed the types of prejudice featured in the movies and come to a conclusion regarding potential reasons why they simply don’t manage to evoke a pronounced sense of empathy.
And granted, I already hinted at my stance towards Magneto. To get my position out of the way – I actually empathized more with him than with Xavier and his X-men, but that may be founded in my fondness for villains and antiheroes in fiction in general. Then, thinking about it, I never felt this way in the comics…so how come? Well, we’ve already established that, both Magneto’s allies and the X-men themselves are a void of positive emotional responses, CGI-powered cardboard cutouts instead of relatable people. Well, Magneto at least is honest in his one-dimensional world-view: In the movies, he is basically a paradox, the definition of ethical hypocrisy.
Let me elaborate, in case you’ve forgotten: Magneto, born 1920 in Germany, was once known as Max Eisenhardt, German-Jewish son of a distinguished veteran of World War I and obviously suffered under the rise of the Nazi-regime to power. This traumatic time, ultimately, is used time and again to justify his harsh, jaded world-view…and it doesn’t work. Let’s do some easy word-replacement, shall we? Let’s replace “Mutant” with “Arier” or “Übermensch” in his rhetoric.
And BAM, I just Godwin’d the whole argument, didn’t I? Okay, to make that abundantly clear – this comparison is NOT intended to insult anyone, nor should it be seen as me mitigating the subject matter. Know how I mentioned that I consider the movie’s Magneto, overall a hypocrite as well, but at least an open, unapologetic hypocrite? Well, the good Mr. Eisenhardt basically has internalized the very notion that, by virtue of his powers and those of mutants under his command, he has an intrinsically higher value and must therefore be seen as a threat to the populace. This ties into our findings from part II, where we elaborated on the nature of prejudice within the context of these movies.
Once again, this also ties into a leitmotif of the comics that the films utterly fail to get. We empathize with the X-men, because they are depicted as “Us” + the X; the mutation. They see themselves as a cohesive identity, yes, but as one that overlaps with ours. We do not empathize with Magneto and his cadre in the comics, simply because he constructs himself and his followers as separate via his powers, yes – but more importantly, via his exceptionalism-drenched rhetoric, a leitmotif that can be ascribed to many of the “big” X-men villains, btw.
The movies, by failing to set the X-men up as relatable, deprive the viewer of any means of finding common ground – which makes sympathy, ultimately, boil down to the performances of the actors and the writing for the character. Ian McKellen. Need I say more?
In spite of McKellen’s significant charisma in the role as Magneto, there is another issue waiting in the wings, one that would probably piss me off more by virtue of association: Magneto, as we’ve established, basically has a goal of “Us” vs. “Them”, seeking to destroy the regular humans because he considers this the only way forward. The movies, however, also depict him emphasizing the “liberation struggle”, borrowing heavily from Malcolm X’s Black power-movement. And here things get icky. When someone who basically is a mutant-nazi, in all but explicit nomenclature (think about his ethnicity – the persecuted Jew, but also the persecuting German – another reductionist dichotomy jammed down our throats), leads to an ultimately distorted depiction of the exceedingly important Civil Rights Movement and presents a distorted view of current race relations. If we recall the second part of this series, prior to the Civil Rights Movement, Black people would have been mostly subject to contemptuous, NOT envious prejudice as per our categorizations. Beyond the aforementioned problems, this discrepancy shows a crucial lack of understanding regarding the functions of prejudice and its consequences in general. Urgh.
This week’s rambling is all about the despicable ideologies in these movies – so yeah, Magneto is basically a nazi-like supremacist. Great. Thing is, the human antagonists of the X-men are no better. They are, frankly, just as bad, only inverted in their stance. And this is WHAT MAKES THEM VILLAINS. Their b/w-thinking, their strict adherence to dichotomous thinking and identity construction are what make them despised villains in comic books and movies alike.
Now here’s the catch: The X-men in the movies are just as bad in their own way. Even though oppressed groups viewed by the dominant majority with prejudice are not necessarily sans power, unlike the X-men and mutants, these groups typically lack the physical force or economic/political power to stop their oppression. Considering this simple factoid, Xavier’s agenda becomes downright despicable: The ideology of the X-men in the movies would be one that accepts the envious prejudice placed upon them and puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the mutants. Some writer must have thought s/he was particular clever when white knighting (get it, white knight, because of Magneto’s rhetoric?) Xavier beyond his role in the books. They missed the point utterly. The point is, obviously, that mutants would have to make accommodations to fit into normal society, sure. But at the same time, this puts the blame on the victimized for their victimization.
It’s basically if he had said in the comics: “Your fault for showing your powers!” Ahem…what? When applied to discrimination strategies and forms of oppression in the real world, this notion would but the blame on the Jews for being slaughtered in Nazi Germany, blame Blacks for their struggles in the antebellum South, etc. In fact, and here things get decidedly creepy – that’s what happened. The Nazis DID blame the Jews for their condition; and colonizers and slave-owners all over the world argued that the “uncivilized” would need the firm hand – of non-mutant society or masters.
And this notion, mind you, is exhibited by the very central ideological hero-figure of the franchise, the ideological back-bone of the “good” guys. Perhaps that’s why I prefer Magneto in the movies – he’s a hypocrite, but he is openly so. Ideologically, there is frankly not much difference between Xavier and Magneto as depicted – one is a steel fist, the other a steel fist in a silken glove. Both are clenched, but what they have in their grasp differs. Ultimately, both ideologies espoused in the movies, to me, are capital “E” Evil, despicable and fail to grasp the notion of inclusion and non-dichotomous thinking that made the X-men comics as beloved as they were and are. They are an accumulation of negativity, unbridgeable Othering of whole demographies and the tarnishing of a sense of inclusion and the hope to finally belong and be accepted as we are; in short, beyond the basic issues already covered in Part I and II, these are what sinks the movies for me, what makes them, ultimately, the antithesis of everything positive and hopeful about X-men. And personally, I don’t want to stand for these world-views.
*takes a deep breath* And that was my rant on the first 3 X-men movies! Next week, I’ll write about an odd movie you (probably) won’t have seen…yet. And yes, next week will be a positive musing.
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