What the X-Men movies didn’t say.


I’ve now seen X-Men 3. Most of my thoughts on it are summed up in either the post or the comments at the Ragged Edge’s review of the movie (although I’m sure plurals who read this will note that they’re represented in the Ragged Edge comments only by someone who thinks of them as having a “dissociative disorder”). Another thought, which has long bothered me about the X-Men despite liking them, is as follows. (Most of what I’m about to say is common to all X-Men stuff, so there won’t really be spoilers.)

It reinforces a particular way of thinking about people and their political beliefs, that is common but destructive. It lumps several beliefs and actions together, into basically two groups.

Group one (represented by the Brotherhood of Mutants):

  • Bad/evil.
  • More extreme views relative to the society they are living in.
  • Separatist
  • Hatred.
  • Sense of superiority over non-mutants.
  • Willingness to kill or betray without remorse, particularly non-mutants.
  • In fact, willingness to kill all non-mutants. Only lives truly concerned with saving are mutant lives, and particularly mutants who are on their side.
  • The strongly held belief that mutants are perfectly fine as they are and need no cure.

Group two (represented by the X-Men):

  • Good.
  • More moderate views relative to the society they are living in.
  • Assimiliationist
  • Love.
  • Sense of equality with non-mutants.
  • Primarily trying to save lives, killing only as a last resort and with reluctance, and a general sense of fairness.
  • Saving the lives of mutants and non-mutants alike.
  • More variety in response to the question of cure.

As one reviewer put it, you’re clearly supposed to side with the “good guys,” but it’s the bad guys making all the best arguments against cure and successfully pointing out the real ways in which it will be used. The issue of siding with the “good guys” is forced by the actions of the “bad guys,” which very few people would condone.

But those two groupings of ideas up above, are not the only way ideas can be grouped. Unfortunately, I’ve actually seen people arguing what views to hold and not to hold, based on whether they sound more like views held by the Brotherhood of Mutants, or more like views held by the X-Men. People are influenced by this stuff. It provides two convenient stereotypes of styles of activism, for one.

For the record, with regards to autism, I don’t believe in a cure, I don’t believe that cure will be voluntary, I don’t believe that even what looks like “voluntarily” choosing a cure is as voluntary as its proponents would have us believe, I believe that prevention would be merely a form of eugenics, I don’t believe that some autistic people are so defective that cure is the only option (I don’t even think of people in general as defective), and my views on many things disability-related are characterized by the society I live in as extreme. At the same time, I am neither hateful nor perpetually angry, I am not a separatist, I have no sense of superiority over anyone, I don’t want to see anyone dead, and I have a strong sense of equality for all kinds of people, autistic and non-autistic.

But take the first several viewpoints, and it’s easy to view me as at least either angry, hateful, or having a certain sense of superiority, based on certain stereotypes of what it means to hold the views I hold. And those are often charges I have to answer to, by people whose vision of the world seems to bear a strong resemblance to the cartoonified simplifications that make their way into the X-Men.

I should note, also, that while I am not a separatist, separatism does not necessarily mean any of those negative things either. It can mean just entirely or primarily wanting contact with a particular kind of people, for all sorts of reasons. There are many autistic people who mainly or entirely have contact with other autistic people, where they can manage it, and there are others who want to build communities of entirely autistic people. This doesn’t seem like a problem to me, even though I wouldn’t want to live there. I don’t automatically view them as hateful or supremacist, because most of them aren’t. Some people do view them that way, though, and that is not accurate.

Moreover, there are plenty of people who think that if they hold one of those views, then they themselves must do the other things described on there. There are people who start out with a view that we are absolutely okay as we are, and work themselves up into a state of artificial hatred or superiority that they would not have worked themselves up into to begin with had they not believed that these things were all necessarily connected. There are plenty of people with more moderate viewpoints who characterize the degree of moderation or “neutrality” in their viewpoints as the only way to promote equality or love, and there are people who are drawn to embracing more “moderate” or “neutral” viewpoints in the fear that they will not be promoting equality or love unless they do so.

In America, the extreme version of views of women’s rights a hundred years ago would be considered unbearably sexist now, even by most people who are not feminists. And many of today’s views held by many people who have plenty of sexist viewpoints, would have been considered unbearably radical back then.

Whether a viewpoint is considered extreme or not depends entirely on the society it takes place in. In a society that totally devalues a group of people, saying that this group of people is valuable as they are and does not need to be prevented or changed into a different kind of people, looks like an extreme view. But in a society that more or less accepts that group of people, it’s not an extreme view at all.

Therefore, it has always seemed to me that a view should be taken on based on whether it seems to be the right view, rather than on whether or not it is extreme in the society that it’s a part of. Taking an “extreme” or a “moderate” view for its own sake, is putting yourself totally at the whim of the society you live in, and reinforcing its own structure of how views are seen.

I talked about the movie to a neighbor of mine, and she said something like “It sounds like the good guys in the movie were what people think of as the good guys in real life. But in real life there’s a third group of people, and that’s us, even though people really don’t hear about us.”

So, while I enjoy watching the X-Men, I really hope that it doesn’t reinforce too many of people’s rather polarized views of what certain beliefs mean about a person’s other beliefs. There are third, and fourth, and fifth, etc, categories, we’re not all X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants out here in the real world.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

One response »

  1. The comic series by Joss Whedon did it better, I think. I haven’t seen the movie yet myself, but based on what I’ve read about it, I’ll probably prefer the way Joss handled it. Then again, I love pretty much everything Joss Whedon writes, so… ;)

    My brother gets it, though. Which is interesting. I have a very good brother. He’s seen the movie and he’s read the comics, and we’ve discussed autism and disability rights enough now that he totally understands why I love Joss’ take on the “cure” issue.

    That brother is actually the one who had the words to defend the use of medication for ADHD (for those who feel they need it, like myself) when another brother suddenly went off on a rant about how it’s a conspiracy. I had no words, I was pretty much just shocked. So glad he was there and could speak up.

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