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Mutants: Why does this idea work?


armadillo
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First let me say that I was always onboard for the idea of mutants. In Marvel, there are all these people with powers but for some reason mutants are singled out to be feared and hated.

 

But, to me, it always worked. I bought into it. Captain America could be high-fived in public by a little kid, but someone suspected of being a mutant wouldn't be allowed anywhere near that kid, even if that mutant just saved the day.

 

I guess what I'm asking is, What is the psychology of this situation? Why does it work and ring true narratively?

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I would agree that the fear of the stranger, the "other," plays a major role in a psychological justification for that attitude. But IMO it would go much deeper, in that the other in this case can be your own children. These strangers can be "hiding" in the very bosom of your family. The people you're closest to, who you think you know best, could be concealing something alien and "monstrous." Those you count on to carry on your legacy, your name and bloodline, may be genetically "corrupted." I can see that concept terrifying some people to their core.

 

On top of that, in a world with superhumans, mutants aren't just different than you, they're more than you. They could have powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. ;)  Every one is a walking loaded gun waiting to go off. Even more intimidating, they may show no outward sign of their abilities unless and until they use them. That's the ultimate concealed weapon of which they can't be disarmed. There's no way to prepare for what any of them might be able to do, so the familiar expectations of life that help us all feel secure go out the window.

 

IMO either of those factors could become normalized. But put them together, and you have a recipe for paranoia and knee-jerk reactionism. Of course part of the convention in Marvel Comics is that non-mutant superhumans often are treated differently. IMO that can be partly explained by them not necessarily sharing all the factors listed above. Mutagenic accidents are rare and like acts of God; deliberate experiments leave a recognizable and understandable footprint; advanced technology can be identified and isolated. The habit that superheroes and villains have of wearing distinctive identifiable costumes probably gives the average person a feeling that they can "see them coming."

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I always thought it was overblown, I mean to the average citizen what's the difference between Spider-Man and Cyclops, or Captain Marvel and Storm?  Yet one is hated and the other adored?  The concept has its valid points, particularly as Stan Lee was trying to use the concept to teach young people how bad prejudice is.  But logically it kind of falls apart.

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  Prejudice does not and never has needed a logical reason to exist.  All the psychology and sociology in the world can’t explain it.   Look at the guard/prisoner experiments.  Or the one that became known as “The Wave”.

All arbitrary, all completely artificial and random separations of a group and over the course of a three day weekend you get violence.  It’s the ugly part of human nature.  Look out for it, root it out, never tolerate it in yourself or others and stomp it to death whenever you get the chance.   But don’t waste your time trying to understand it.

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33 minutes ago, Tjack said:

  Prejudice does not and never has needed a logical reason to exist.  All the psychology and sociology in the world can’t explain it.   Look at the guard/prisoner experiments.  Or the one that became known as “The Wave”.

All arbitrary, all completely artificial and random separations of a group and over the course of a three day weekend you get violence.  It’s the ugly part of human nature.  Look out for it, root it out, never tolerate it in yourself or others and stomp it to death whenever you get the chance.   But don’t waste your time trying to understand it.

 

 

I think a lot of good points have been made so far. Liaden and Christopher are circling in on it. But the word that triggered an "aha" moment for me was "arbitrary." That's it. That's exactly what I was grasping for. The Marvel mutant thing feels very arbitrary, but also very...authentic? 

 

The guard/prisoner experiments do have that same feeling, IMO. Maybe it's just that Tjack and I are on the same wavelength? Or is it more?

 

So if Tjack is on the right track, it would kind of imply that someone has planted this idea, that there was anti-mutant propaganda that preceded the prejudice? Does Marvel explore the roots of mutant paranoia? Is there an agency that started the rumors and fans the flames?

 

I know that there's the government agency that has the Sentinels (you know, those giant mutant-hunting robots that Chris Claremont stole from Genocide's Minutemen ;) ). But is it part of that secret agency's agenda to promote hatred? Weren't they just trying to capture mutants to experiment on for military purposes?

 

Or wait...maybe that is it. The agency would have to sow the seeds that the mutants were subhuman in order to justify their agenda. So if you had a child, as Lord Liaden mentioned, and it started exhibiting superhuman abilities, you'd turn in your own child because it has been dehumanized by the propaganda.

 

Whoa!

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From a human perspective, the idea of Magneto conquering the world to benefit mutants definitely justifies a very strong reaction but its too arbitrary for me; without basis or justification.  People cannot tell the difference between mutant and scientific experiment and bitten by radioactive spider by looking at someone.  All they know is "has powers," and prejudice is based on some perceivable source of animosity.  You speak different, you look different, you believe different, you're from that town instead of my town.

 

Mutants aren't distinct enough to choose to hate just them and not every person with superpowers.  Sure, there would be small groups (like Genocide) that would hate and fear mutants for genetic reasons and so on, but the general public, the masses would not draw that kind of distinction.

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Real human beings hate and fear people for the color of their skin, or the religion they practice, or the language they speak, or where they or they ancestors came from, or how much money they make, or who they vote for. As a species we never run out of lame-ass distinctions to create someone to look down on.

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I also don't think we should underrate the effect that costumes and code-names have on the perception of superhumans. People with powers are just that, people, with all our inherent flaws. It's not unreasonable to be afraid of that. But when a person with powers takes on the guise of a superhero, they become a symbol of something greater, not judged by the same standard. So long as they continue to behave consistent with the ideals they espouse, the public will view them as a different category. Clark Kent would make people nervous if they connected him with what he can do; but Superman has proven repeatedly that's he's incorruptible and will always act for the good.

 

So, Spider-Man is simply Spider-Man, a single superhero. A whole species of "spider-men" would be a different matter, particularly if you family gives birth to some of them.

 

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I would really like to help you, but all I can do is state to you that I personally never thought it did work.

 

yes:  I understand the old "it's allegorical racism" reasoning, but for all the reasons you have pointed out and more (two heroes, even if they are both heroes, even if they have identical _abilities_ and _appearances_, yet one of them took a bunch of random drugs and became much loved, while the other just won the genetic lottery and gets hated)  isn't even easy to rationalize.

 

In a world with super powers being gained through drug use, radiation exposure, being raised from the dead, finding magical totems, being blessed by a pantheon of ancient gods, making the best of a curse, being an alien from space, having a parent who isn't human, being stuck with a glowing meteor, being taken apart and reassembled at a molecular level, surviving an extra-deep alien probe, and whatever else you can imagine, "being born with powers" is not only ridiculously easy to lie about (hence the >ahem< "need" for mutant detectors, etc, it just doesn't ring true, and can't by itself carry a narrative.

 

There are mutants in the real world, today.  People born with various deformities, Down's Syndrome, extra chromosomes, additional digits, heterochromia, and a thousand-thousand other things.  Granted, in the real world, a genuine mutation (other than blue eyes) is unfortunate: rather than gaining abilities, people suffering from real mutations generally have to cope with having fewer abilities, or reduced levels of abilities.

 

We don't fear them, and it takes a real rat bastard to shun them.

 

 

To address what I think is the core of your question, though:  "why does this work in the narrative:"  Who is the "I" character in the narrative?  Is he written in such a way as to offer appeal to the reader?  Is he "super cool" or "badass" or some sort of devil-may-care, I can survive anything sort of character?  Is the appeal that this character is a mutant?  Or is it that "I would kinda like to _be_ this guy?"  Or is it "I actually think of myself as having the same traits that I find positive in this character?"  Can't lie: from what little bit of comic books I had exposure to (late 70s, early 80s, and even then: not many), I always that -- sorry; took me a minute to remember his name.  Not that you can tell, as there will be no break in the post!  :rofl: Colossus was a pretty cool character: very friendly, yet private.  Very concerned about his friends, and his manners were simple and up-front.  Gracious and kind, in spite of being extremely powerful.  That's a pretty cool concept to me, and I kind of liked the "fish out of water" aspect of a displaced communist living in an american mansion and sampling american life.  But that's just me.   There was another guy on the same team, and I'm trying to remember his name-- red-headed guy, sonic powers.  Hated that character.  Felt like he added nothing except for weird punctuation intended to show off an accent.

 

 

Everyone gets behind a cool character-- well, a character they think is cool, anyway, for whatever reason that they think he is cool.

 

 

Realistically, though, it's both:  The character as written appeals to the reader.

 

The character and his friends are by default of the setting "outcasts."  This appeals to such a wide cross section of comic book fans that this fact in itself is worth discussing:

 

Teenagers.  _All_ teenagers feel like outcasts, or uncomfortable, or unloved at some point.  It's probably the hormones ravaging their brains; it could be the zits ravaging their photos; I don't know.  But being able to perceive this same problem in a character the reader already thinks is cool is going to lead to the forgiveness of a _lot_ of goofy, unworkable, or just odd things: like giant robots molded so as to include knit watch caps.

 

Introverts: "this person is forced to trust only this tiny group of similar people.  I can get behind that; I _understand_ that.  I want to see this character persevere and even triumph, because I identify with him, and I maybe I just need the reminder that it can be done."

 

Young adults: "It's us, fighting our way into a world that doesn't respect us."

 

I mean, we could do this over and over, with easily a hundred more "types" of people, but the fact remains that the essential elements of the story are "cool character; outcast for reasons beyond his control" are always going to be absolute winners with comic fans, and the fact that typically, our tastes don't change that much as we age.

 

_Those_, I believe, are the reasons that these stories are popular enough to continue on into the future.  I do not believe it is because they "work" on any level.

 

 

But, as I have said before:  that is just the opinion of one lunatic.

 

:D
 

 

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21 minutes ago, armadillo said:

 

 

I think a lot of good points have been made so far. Liaden and Christopher are circling in on it. But the word that triggered an "aha" moment for me was "arbitrary." That's it. That's exactly what I was grasping for. The Marvel mutant thing feels very arbitrary, but also very...authentic? 

 

The guard/prisoner experiments do have that same feeling, IMO. Maybe it's just that Tjack and I are on the same wavelength? Or is it more?

 

So if Tjack is on the right track, it would kind of imply that someone has planted this idea, that there was anti-mutant propaganda that preceded the prejudice? Does Marvel explore the roots of mutant paranoia? Is there an agency that started the rumors and fans the flames?

 

I know that there's the government agency that has the Sentinels (you know, those giant mutant-hunting robots that Chris Claremont stole from Genocide's Minutemen ;) ). But is it part of that secret agency's agenda to promote hatred? Weren't they just trying to capture mutants to experiment on for military purposes?

 

Or wait...maybe that is it. The agency would have to sow the seeds that the mutants were subhuman in order to justify their agenda. So if you had a child, as Lord Liaden mentioned, and it started exhibiting superhuman abilities, you'd turn in your own child because it has been dehumanized by the propaganda.

 

Whoa!


     I think you may have misread me a bit.  Everything you’ve said will make for a wonderful and interesting game. If I helped you clarify your own thoughts then I’m quite happy to serve. But I was talking about the sorry state of our own all too real world. 

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27 minutes ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

From a human perspective, the idea of Magneto conquering the world to benefit mutants definitely justifies a very strong reaction but its too arbitrary for me; without basis or justification.  People cannot tell the difference between mutant and scientific experiment and bitten by radioactive spider by looking at someone.  All they know is "has powers," and prejudice is based on some perceivable source of animosity.  You speak different, you look different, you believe different, you're from that town instead of my town.

 

Mutants aren't distinct enough to choose to hate just them and not every person with superpowers.  Sure, there would be small groups (like Genocide) that would hate and fear mutants for genetic reasons and so on, but the general public, the masses would not draw that kind of distinction.

 

The Magneto thing makes sense to me (I'm not saying that you don't think so too--you just made me have a realization). Magneto sees his people as Homo Superior, and sees the humans trying to say that mutants are subhuman, and he's saying, no, they're the opposite. So he's working towards wiping out the Homo Sapiens to make way for the Homo Superior. (David Bowie said it better.)

 

So it's this angle that makes Magneto more admirable as a villain. He sees himself as preventing genocide by wiping out the mutant-hating humans.

I think that's why I always liked Magneto--his agenda made sense.

 

 

 

5 minutes ago, Tjack said:


     I think you may have misread me a bit.  Everything you’ve said will make for a wonderful and interesting game. If I helped you clarify your own thoughts then I’m quite happy to serve. But I was talking about the sorry state of our own all too real world. 

 

Sorry, Tjack. I thought I was taking your ball and running with it. But you did indeed clarify my thoughts, then! :) Thank you!

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I always saw Magneto fighting a defensive war.  Having seen the extremes to which humans will go to destroy those they hate, all too personally, he's determined to make sure that does not happen to his people, no matter what it costs.  In a way he's kind of noble, but he goes about things a bit too heavy handed and is creating enemies more than he protects friends.

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A bit of clarification, that may help (or not).

 

Stan Lee specifically noted that the principle behind the mutant plight, and the main two leaders, was to draw a parallel between the civil rights struggles; with Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr.  In order to "hide the irony", Professor X would be MLK and Magneto would be Malcom X.

 

The concept was to show the two ways one can try to overcome the civil right oppression of the majority; either peacefully or militantly.

 

So, one of the reasons that the mutant plight rang true (at least in America, but to a lessor degree world-wide), is because it was mirroring struggles that were really happening (and still do).

 

It didn't need to make logical sense in regards to why "altered humans" or aliens were not treated the same way.  The point was that unlike an altered human or alien, mutants were born that way, and thus had no say in their plight - so, somehow people had to just "know", so the analogy would work.  In fact, the fact that altered humans or aliens are accepted and mutants (who were born that way and had no say) are not, makes the whole parable that much more heart churning.

 

Finally, another aspect not mentioned by others (which the point I've made above does not contradict, but only explains the "why"), is that most mutants express their powers around puberty - and have no training how to use them, so many are angst-ridden teenagers, with powers they can't control - not a very safe or comfortable prospect (for "normals").

 

My $.02.

Edited by Echo3Niner
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4 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

 Colossus was a pretty cool character: very friendly, yet private.  Very concerned about his friends, and his manners were simple and up-front.  Gracious and kind, in spite of being extremely powerful.  That's a pretty cool concept to me, and I kind of liked the "fish out of water" aspect of a displaced communist living in an american mansion and sampling american life. 

 

I kind of figured that living in collective housing was probably the only familiar part of the experience....

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6 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

Stan Lee was trying to use the concept to teach young people how bad prejudice is.  But logically it kind of falls apart.

Which just makes it that much better a metaphor for racism, since the very concept of race also falls apart on close inspection.

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The primary reason that I have always seen had to do with the unknown and uncontrolled aspect of our own nature.  Humans like to believe that we know everything and have everything under control.  Even such random items such as the weather can be reliably predicted to several days out. When scifi aliens are created,  they generally are some aspect of humanity,  removing the strange and unknown elements.  This is seldom the case for mutants.  While they are usually humans with powers,  those powers are strange and random,  making them an element that people naturally fear. 

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It's questionable whether Stan or Jack really had that concept developed when they first created the X-Men. Just as it's questionable whether it's coincidence that DC debuted their own team of misfits led by a wheelchair-bound scientist, the Doom Patrol, three months earlier.

 

TBH I prefer the tack taken by the official Champions Universe. Mutants are a thing, and there are elements of society who see them as a threat to "normal humans" and have even mobilized to destroy them; while there are also violent mutant supremacists who want "their people" to dominate the world. But both are a minority, among the general populace and superhuman mutants.

 

OTOH Book Of The Empress describes an alternate-universe Champions Earth which offers a more logical path to mutant suppression. In that world Menton took control of Doctor Destroyer's vast organization, recruited other mentalist villains, and attempted to conquer the world, initiating a global war. Menton was ultimately stopped, but at great cost. A traumatized humanity readily supported draconian legal and security measures to prevent mentalists from again becoming a threat. Because the majority of mentalists were mutants, those measures were later extended to all mutants.

 

Much of the authority for controlling mutants was ceded to UNTIL, but its director, Juan Martinez -- on that world a man of ruthless ambition -- stoked the public's fear of them to put even more power into his hands, and leveraged it to make himself the effective dictator of the whole Earth.

 

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9 hours ago, Opal said:

Which just makes it that much better a metaphor for racism, since the very concept of race also falls apart on close inspection.

No, it's a horrible metaphor for racism.  Yes, racism falls apart on any inspection, but it's not even remotely close to the same thing since mutants like the X-men threaten the survival of the human race.  That's not hyperbole, its simple extrapolation of known facts.  Their benevolent and powerful mutations provide clear advantages over plain old humans like me, you, and everyone else, and they are competing for the same limited resources.  If you don't think mutants will eliminate humans, perhaps Homo Erectus could convince you.  Or Australopithecus.  And while you may welcome our alien overlords, or mutant masters, or whatever other superior species you'd like, as a human being I would be on the human being side.  The most unrealistic thing in many comics is the casual acceptance of superbeings and the self-hatred necessary for people to idolize them.  If mutants existed, it would be sensible and necessary to eliminate them.

 

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18 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

I always thought it was overblown, I mean to the average citizen what's the difference between Spider-Man and Cyclops, or Captain Marvel and Storm?  Yet one is hated and the other adored?  The concept has its valid points, particularly as Stan Lee was trying to use the concept to teach young people how bad prejudice is.  But logically it kind of falls apart.

 

Well, to be fair, Spidey was feared for quite some time as well, mostly due to J. Jonah Jameson. A good chunk of NY, including law enforcement, bought it Jameson's "He's a Menace" schtick.

 

17 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

From a human perspective, the idea of Magneto conquering the world to benefit mutants definitely justifies a very strong reaction but its too arbitrary for me; without basis or justification.  People cannot tell the difference between mutant and scientific experiment and bitten by radioactive spider by looking at someone.  All they know is "has powers," and prejudice is based on some perceivable source of animosity.  You speak different, you look different, you believe different, you're from that town instead of my town.

 

Mutants aren't distinct enough to choose to hate just them and not every person with superpowers.  Sure, there would be small groups (like Genocide) that would hate and fear mutants for genetic reasons and so on, but the general public, the masses would not draw that kind of distinction.

 

Magneto and others (Apocalypse, The Brotherhood/Sisterhood of Evil, etc.) have provided the media, particularly the anti-mutant media groups, the right amount of ammo needed to launch campaigns swaying the populace against the "Homo Superior" species. Those that have apparent mutations such as Nightcrawler or Leach, or those that have risen up to fight for mutant rights (aka The X-Men) become the poster children for such campaigns as well. How else do you get panels such as...
 

striker-and-nightcrawler-from-god-loves-

 

Or have ad campaigns that look like this?

r1mtqs8ubaiy.jpg

 

Hate is an all too easy path for many, and giving direction to that hate is even easier for those with the right charisma. Even in recent history we've seen atrocities that prove that the lessons taught by Marvel's Mutants are still falling on unhearing ears. 

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I think that's the main draw of mutants: you don't have to figure out an origin.  Some people just have powers, good enough.  I think that's partly why Marvel tried so hard with the Inhumans thing, in part.  Taking up half a movie with origin story is tiresome.  The idea that you don't even need to bother with that at all doesn't seem to have occurred to them yet.  I mean, the first Bond movie didn't need an origin story.  Indiana Jones went 2 movies without any origin and the third really didn't touch on much except to intro dad.  There's no Rambo origin movie (yet, thank God).  People are fine without needing to be told the background and origins of heroes.

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OTOH MCU Spider-Man didn't get an origin story. Marvel clearly understood most audiences knew it by then from multiple movies. And MCU Hulk's origin was covered in a flashback montage in the first five minutes of his movie. Another character with a history in other media making him known to a wider audience.

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