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  1. #1
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    Default The problems with the ''mutant metaphor''

    I guess I don't need to elaborate about what I mean, but for the sake of completeness in my argument I will - I'm talking here about the ''mutant metaphor'', the idea that mutants and the challenges they face are meant to be representative of real-world minority groups and/or oppressed peoples.

    This notion of the franchise has practically become the gospel truth, taken as conventional wisdom by large sections of the fanbase, by critics and commentators, and by many of the creators who work on the franchise and its various adaptations themselves. Back in the 2000's, the original X-men films were viewed as a metaphor for the struggles of the LGBT community. X-men First Class drew a parallel between the Civil Rights struggles of the 60's and the struggles that mutants face (which I recall Michael Fassbender talking about in an interview around the time). Magneto's backstory and characterization to a large extent relies on equating the persecution of mutants by humans to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, and there is certainly a degree of Holocaust imagery associated with stories like Days of Future Past.

    To a large extent I definitely agree that there is a parallel, and that the struggles and experiences of mutants are in some ways similar to those faced by certain real-life groups or communities. X-men stories can definitely be used to comment on real-world issues of identity, prejudice, segregation and extremism, among others.

    The problem arises when this ''mutant metaphor'' gets taken too literally and becomes the alpha and omega of the entire franchise. When we forget that mutants are, at the end of the day, a sci-fi concept used to tell a wide range of stories, as opposed to just being a metaphor for minority groups. And when we forget that some of the issues involved in the human-mutant conflict simply do not exist in the conflicts between real-world groups.

    Two of my biggest issues with the ''mutant metaphor'' being the dominant interpretation of the franchise can be summed up as follows:

    1. Mutants are, in-universe, supposed to be the ''next stage in human evolution'': This is an idea that has been part of the franchise since virtually its inception, and has been around longer in fact than the ''mutant metaphor'. Mutants being the next step in human evolution isn't just some mutant supremacist talk from the likes of Magneto, but a premise which the X-men and Charles Xavier, our ''heroes'', believe in as well.

    Now, if mutants are considered to be to humans what we are to, say, the Neandrathal, then the ''mutant metaphor'', when taken too literally, falls apart. Is the message being sent out by the X-men franchise that real-world minority groups or oppressed groups are the ''next stage in human evolution'' who might one day ''replace'' members of majority groups? I'm pretty sure that's not the message creators want to send out or that fans want to receive! The conceit of the franchise is that mutants are the next stage in human evolution who could potentially replace humans one day and that the human-mutant conflict is an evolutionary one, while at the same time, aspects of that conflict are compared to real-world struggles between different groups. The latter only works up to a point before the former shatters the metaphor.

    2. Mutants are inherently dangerous in a way real-world minority or oppressed groups aren't: I feel this is an extension of the previous point, albeit from a more ''practical'' perspective.

    The hard reality is that mutants are inherently a danger to individual humans and even entire societies in a way that no real-world minority or oppressed group can ever be. Yes, members of real-world minority groups could become a ''danger'' to members of majority groups if they become radicalized and/or take some kind of violent action against them. But there's a lot that needs to happen on both sides before a conflict gets to that boiling point. A member of a real-world minority of oppressed group is ultimately just another human being like a member of the majority/oppressor group. Under ''normal'' circumstances, barring any explicit move towards violence, no one is a danger to anyone else. That's not so with mutants. Even the most innocent mutant kid, if he/she manifests their powers, could be a walking WMD. Mutant powers are, in many cases, deadlier than any weapons an ordinary human could normally come upon. A fight between an 'unarmed' human and mutant is inherently an unfair one. So measures by human groups and governments to develop anti-mutant weapons and containment measures, when viewed through the prism of the ''mutant metaphor'', may seem like discriminatory behavior at best or plans for a genocide at worst. But realistically, they are in many ways pragmatic measures taken by a population and their representatives to safeguard against a very real threat. It's hard to equate the existence of something like a Mutant Response Division with, say, the KKK, if a mutant can be capable of levelling a couple of city blocks with an energy discharge, or of controlling people's minds.

    Again, I must reiterate that it's not that the ''mutant metaphor'' has absolutely NO merit and that you can't use X-men stories to shed light on real-world themes. But increasingly, on this board and elsewhere, I've seen the ''mutant metaphor'' being taken way too literally, and as the predominant feature of the franchise since Day 1. The latter is actually not true at all - contrary to popular belief, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did not create mutants to comment on the then-contemporary Civil Rights conflict. Mutants were simply a sci-fi concept they came up with to avoid having to come up with unique origins for every super-powered character! The X-men franchise is not just a metaphor for real-world discrimination and prejudice, but can be used to tell a wide range of stories. While the franchise can and has been used as a metaphor for the plight of real-world minority and oppressed groups, taking the metaphor too literally can be problematic in a number of ways, as I've described.

  2. #2
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    While I don’t necessarily disagree with you, you may want to prepare for the storm this might end up causing.

  3. #3
    Amazing Member Souther's Avatar
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    Of course, the mutant metaphor has its limits and shouldn't be taken too literally. You've done a good job of explaining the two most glaring issues. To be blunt, Xavier and Magneto are not supposed to be understood as stand-ins for MLK and Malcolm X, as much as you can run a superficial parallel between their respective visions.

    Nevertheless, the metaphor still opened doors into new ways of thinking, interpretation and even representation for many people back in the day, so there is value in such a concept as you've acknowledged. Quite a lot, I'd say. You just can't stay there forever.

    As for the original Lee-Kirby run...I think it was a rather unsuccessful effort in practice, compared to their other works such as the Fantastic Four, because the X-Men didn't really take off as a series until subsequent writers were willing to move away from the narrow path of their original run and introduced additional layers, such as the mutant metaphor in question, which allowed them to dig deeper and do more interesting character work as well.
    Last edited by Souther; 01-25-2022 at 08:32 AM.

  4. #4
    Mighty Member Outburstz's Avatar
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    I've been on this thread long enough to know that no matter how many times people debunk and explain the flaw in these talking points against the mutant metaphor it's not going to change your mind. So just let it go.


    Mutants are a hated minority in the comics and people like that. That isn't changing either keep reading or not but it isn't changing.

  5. #5
    Astonishing Member ChronoRogue's Avatar
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    It's a metaphor for a reason, so no, it should not be taken literally.

    However I do want to point out those two examples you are using do play into irrational fears of minorities in some ways.

    Fears of minorities can be seen as "replacing" a majority and so people either want them to move elsewhere or use less... friendly ways of making sure that the majority remain in power.

    And for the other part, again it's not logical but there it's not uncommon for minorities to be seen as associated with violence or representing a danger of some kind. (again, possibly related to the first point above)

    It's never really been a 1:1 comparison, considering it's a book about superhumans, but even to this day I think it still fits as a decent metaphor.

  6. #6
    Astonishing Member Kingdom X's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bat39 View Post
    When we forget that mutants are, at the end of the day, a sci-fi concept used to tell a wide range of stories, as opposed to just being a metaphor for minority groups.
    I mean... even the comics now aren't just about the metaphor. Ewing's books are about space politics, Ayala's New Mutants is about the struggles of youth within a new society, Duggan's X-Men is about a team of mutants acting as global heroes, etc.

    The metaphor acts as backdrop to a lot of X-Men stories, but that's always going to be the case.

    Quote Originally Posted by ChronoRogue View Post
    It's a metaphor for a reason, so no, it should not be taken literally.

    However I do want to point out those two examples you are using do play into irrational fears of minorities in some ways.

    Fears of minorities can be seen as "replacing" a majority and so people either want them to move elsewhere or use less... friendly ways of making sure that the majority remain in power.

    And for the other part, again it's not logical but there it's not uncommon for minorities to be seen as associated with violence or representing a danger of some kind. (again, possibly related to the first point above)

    It's never really been a 1:1 comparison, considering it's a book about superhumans, but even to this day I think it still fits as a decent metaphor.
    All this. It's a heightened metaphor to include flashy superpowers and raised stakes.

  7. #7
    Better than YOU! Alan2099's Avatar
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    I think you left out one thing.

    Mutants asking "who do people hate us?" when you have people like Magneto appearing on TV attacking military bases and ranting about how they're superior and how mutants will one day crush humanity under their heels.

    The fact that the X-men support Magneto (or vice versa) these days only makes that worse.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChronoRogue View Post
    It's a metaphor for a reason, so no, it should not be taken literally.

    However I do want to point out those two examples you are using do play into irrational fears of minorities in some ways.

    Fears of minorities can be seen as "replacing" a majority and so people either want them to move elsewhere or use less... friendly ways of making sure that the majority remain in power.

    And for the other part, again it's not logical but there it's not uncommon for minorities to be seen as associated with violence or representing a danger of some kind. (again, possibly related to the first point above)

    It's never really been a 1:1 comparison, considering it's a book about superhumans, but even to this day I think it still fits as a decent metaphor.
    While I agree that the metaphor can definitely still be used, I don't think the idea that those two points are playing with irrational fears of minorities works in this case because in the real world these fears are just that, irrational and based around conspiracy theories and things that are definitively not true, while in the comics these are scientifically proven facts that could easily come to pass. In the case of mutants, the comics are asking that we take these two things as real inside the world of the comics, which makes addressing the irrationality of what drives those beliefs in the real world much harder to address.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan2099 View Post
    I think you left out one thing.

    Mutants asking "who do people hate us?" when you have people like Magneto appearing on TV attacking military bases and ranting about how they're superior and how mutants will one day crush humanity under their heels.

    The fact that the X-men support Magneto (or vice versa) these days only makes that worse.
    Magneto has changed enough over the decades that I give him the pass for that, even in the eyes of the marvel public. Apocalypse on the other hand should never have been carried around and shown off to all the human delegates.

  10. #10
    Better than YOU! Alan2099's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saithor View Post
    Magneto has changed enough over the decades that I give him the pass for that, even in the eyes of the marvel public. Apocalypse on the other hand should never have been carried around and shown off to all the human delegates.
    I don't think Magneto has changed that much. I'm not going to say he's not handled oddly though. They keep wanting to treat him like a hero in the books, but he keeps getting these villainous moments and they keep using his reputation as a villain.

  11. #11
    Astonishing Member ChronoRogue's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saithor View Post
    While I agree that the metaphor can definitely still be used, I don't think the idea that those two points are playing with irrational fears of minorities works in this case because in the real world these fears are just that, irrational and based around conspiracy theories and things that are definitively not true, while in the comics these are scientifically proven facts that could easily come to pass. In the case of mutants, the comics are asking that we take these two things as real inside the world of the comics, which makes addressing the irrationality of what drives those beliefs in the real world much harder to address.
    I don't think the first one should matter much to the average human. It's just as irrational as the "minorities" replacing them fear, why is it an issue who is in power or who is the majority, when it's more about the underlying issue if the government and laws are able to protect it's citizens from discrimination and prejudiced?

    The only one I would give credence to is the random manifestations of power, but I'm not even sure that one is completely an issue either. If the world was majority meta-human or had programs to deal with a stressed out meta-human in safe ways, it shouldn't be that dangerous. I assume that realities like House of M found ways of dealing with this, considering the way the society was structured. Or heck, even places like Genosha.

    Yes, I think in real life people with powers would be scary, but in theory a society that has metahumans would naturally find ways of having checks and balances to fit that structure to adapt to those issues.
    Last edited by ChronoRogue; 01-25-2022 at 09:09 AM.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChronoRogue View Post
    I don't think the first one should matter much to the average human. It's just as irrational as the "minorities" replacing them fear, why is it an issue who is in power or who is the majority, when it's more about the underlying issue if the government and laws are able to protect it's citizens from discrimination and prejudiced?

    The only one I would give credence to is the random manifestations of power, but I'm not even sure that one is completely valid either. If the world was majority meta-human or had programs to deal with a stressed out meta-human in safe ways, it shouldn't be that dangerous. I assume that realities like House of M found ways of dealing with this, considering the way the society was structured. Or heck, even places like Genosha.
    I’m not saying it’s any less overall irrational, but it does start with “Assume that the core tenet of Great Replacement theory is true”, which I still stand by that being a horrible, horrible idea made worse by introductions of things like the E-gene. And while it’s very true that there should have been estabilished some way to help mutants with expressing their power

    A). This is the marvel universe, where the government is at best treated as well-meaning but incompetent and more typically as outright villains.

    B). This is the marvel universe where by now something like that should be established but this is the marvel universe, and they are essentially never going to improve mutant-human relations to the point where something like that would happen.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan2099 View Post
    I think you left out one thing.

    Mutants asking "who do people hate us?" when you have people like Magneto appearing on TV attacking military bases and ranting about how they're superior and how mutants will one day crush humanity under their heels.

    The fact that the X-men support Magneto (or vice versa) these days only makes that worse.
    This is actually a good part of the minority metaphor, but not for the reason you probably meant. It's very real that many minorities are judged by their worst members while the majority is judged by their best members. No one in the US blames all white people for all their mass murderers and school shooters. Just like humans in the MU don't take responsibility for mass murdering humans. Instead, they just blame all Mutants based on their identity rather than their actions.

    Quote Originally Posted by ChronoRogue View Post
    It's a metaphor for a reason, so no, it should not be taken literally.

    However I do want to point out those two examples you are using do play into irrational fears of minorities in some ways.

    Fears of minorities can be seen as "replacing" a majority and so people either want them to move elsewhere or use less... friendly ways of making sure that the majority remain in power.

    And for the other part, again it's not logical but there it's not uncommon for minorities to be seen as associated with violence or representing a danger of some kind. (again, possibly related to the first point above)

    It's never really been a 1:1 comparison, considering it's a book about superhumans, but even to this day I think it still fits as a decent metaphor.
    Great post. It's a metaphor for a reason, not to be a name replacement for any one existing group.
    Last edited by useridgoeshere; 01-25-2022 at 09:20 AM.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by useridgoeshere View Post
    This is actually a good part of the minority metaphor, but not for the reason you probably meant. It's very real that many minorities are judged by their worst members while the majority is judged by their best members. No one in the US blames all white people for all their mass murderers and school shooters. Just like humans in the MU don't take responsibility for mass murdering humans. Instead, they just blame all Mutants based on their identity rather than their actions.


    Great post. It's a metaphor for a reason, not to be a name replacement for any one existing group.
    TBF, most of those bad minority members are not put in charge of a country of said minority and have it treated as a good thing. And before anyone brings up Malcolm X, his faults were greatly exaggerated by media, the government, and law enforcement so he could be a scapegoat, and at no point did he ever even attempt anything on the level of what characters like Magneto and Apocalypse have pulled.

    On another note, I actually did have the unfortunate case of remembering that not only has Marvel made it so a great replacement is a factual thing, they actually have justified why the humans in the marvel universe would have actual concerns about mutants suddenly taking over and converting everyone to mutants. And no, I'm not talking about the E-gene. I'm talking about Mothervine

    God I wish I could forget X-men Blue.

  15. #15
    Astonishing Member ChronoRogue's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saithor View Post
    I’m not saying it’s any less overall irrational, but it does start with “Assume that the core tenet of Great Replacement theory is true”, which I still stand by that being a horrible, horrible idea made worse by introductions of things like the E-gene. And while it’s very true that there should have been estabilished some way to help mutants with expressing their power

    A). This is the marvel universe, where the government is at best treated as well-meaning but incompetent and more typically as outright villains.

    B). This is the marvel universe where by now something like that should be established but this is the marvel universe, and they are essentially never going to improve mutant-human relations to the point where something like that would happen.
    Demographics change that's part of life, these things fluctuate across time. Considering the source, I don't think it's surprising the this theory is based on the same irrational fears that should be ignored.

    Sure the marvel government tends to be incompetent but it does work out in some realities, so I don't think that means we should give up hope on that lol.
    Last edited by ChronoRogue; 01-25-2022 at 09:29 AM.

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