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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

X-POLITICS

"The X-Men are hated, feared, and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have..., intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry, and prejudice."-- Chris Claremont, 1982 quote.

Ever since I analyzed GOD LOVES MAN KILLS a few weeks ago, I've been intending to blog something about the politicization of the X-Men.

In a post entitled QUICK NON-POLITICS POST, I wrote that, "...one can believe that, in the real world, nothing is free from political associations. However, in fiction that freedom does exist, even if it's only a freedom of the imagination."  I also said that those critics who would equate everything in art with "political rectitude" are in effect saying that "Man really is made for the Sabbath, not the other way round."

Yet many artists, like Claremont, draw attention to their political allegiances, and one cannot know if a given artist does so out of a sincere desire to change the world or merely to cash in on a particular social trend.

The downside of doing this, of course, is that as soon as one declares a political position as representative of one's art, some critics will begin circling like sharks. Most shark-critics care nothing about what the author intended; their passion is to subject the work to a moralistic purity test. I can't count the number of times I've seen forum-posters complain that X-MEN is no good because it doesn't reflect their political perceptions. Some even go so far as to assert that reading about mutant prejudice is just a dodge for not talking about real-life forms of prejudice. And then there are critics whose heads are so far up their butts that they can't even organize a coherent thought.

In The X-Men as racial allegory, blacks are indeed a serious threat to the white social order. And let us make no mistake: it is the white social order. No blacks appear in that first issue. The soldiers on the base are entirely comprised of good Aryans. Moreover, The X-Men offers us a racial allegory (of black and white) in black and white: “evil” mutants or blacks who want to take over America and “bad” mutants or blacks who will put their lives where their mouths are andfight their rebellious brothers for the very social order that cannot accept them.-- Julian Darius, X-MEN IS NOT AN ALLEGORY FOR RACIAL TOLERANCE.


I found this old 2002 essay while looking for an example of the "politics above everything" attitude, but the essay's fervid, Werthamite rhetoric exceeded all of my expectations. It anticipates the worst of Noah Berlatsky, using ridiculous hot-button words :like "good Aryans" and ignoring basic facts of comic book publishing. Even if one could tentatively agree with the idea of a one-to-one equivalence between "mutants" and "blacks," the author conveniently sidesteps the fact that comic books of this period, the first half of the 1960s, rarely depicted blacks at all. I suspect this state of affairs came about largely because one of the assaults made by Original Wertham was the stigmatization of race in Golden Age comics. Thus, by the late 1950s: allusions to non-whites, like allusions to sexuality, were elided because the publishers sought to placate the Comics Code organization (which, admittedly, they themselves founded to avoid governmental controls). Saladin Ahmed comments in this 2014 essay:

The Code also contained the surprising provision that “ridicule or attack on any religious or racial group is never permissible.” Given the countless depictions of monkey-like Japanese and minstrel-show black people in Golden Age comics, one might think this provision a good thing. But Murphy soon made it clear that this provision really meant that black people in comic books would no longer be tolerated, in any form. When EC Comics reprinted the science fiction story “Judgment Day” by Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando (which had originally been printed to little controversy before the Code), Murphy claimed the story violated the Code, and that the black astronaut had to be made white in order for the story to run.


Given that the "purity tests" of ideological critics are worthless for evaluating art, the pluralist critic should be aware that even an author who calls attention to his own politics may not be entirely truthful. I don't doubt that Claremont consciously evoked racial and political themes, but he did so in the context of an escapist action-adventure. It should go without saying that one of the primary functions of "racial difference" in Claremont's X-Men is not to lecture (implicitly white) readers about their political shortcomings, but to evoke strong individual characters about whom the readers can give a damn. 

This basic fact of fiction-making makes absurd the sort of readers who fault a given X-title for not being diverse enough, or for distracting readers from the "real world" and its problems. Such readers are not interested in the art of fiction, but the artifice of non-fictional diatribes.

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