The Lure of the Normal: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mutant?

So, the next entry in my “Philosophy in Popular Culture” series takes on something from “X-Men and Philosophy”, a piece by Patrick D. Hopkins entitled “The Lure of the Normal: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mutant”. In it, he talks mostly about the issues raised in “The Last Stand” about the mutant cure, and particularly the reaction of Storm to it. As he quotes her, she demands to know what kind of coward would take the cure just to fit in, and points out Beast’s reply about how many of the mutants have an easier time fitting in even with their powers than others. Hopkins takes off on this to talk about normality, and the conundrum we all face of wanting to be normal enough to fit in, but different enough to be special. Which is all very interesting and worth reading.

However, I want to take a bit of a different tack here, and focus more on issues of group identity and how it relates to personal identity. And I’ll start with a fairly controversial thesis about the similarities between Storm and Magneto in how they react to the cure. Storm says to Rogue, essentially, that you can’t cure being a mutant because there’s nothing wrong with being one. In a very real sense, even her coward example seems to suggest that being a mutant is a part of a person’s identity, that there’s nothing wrong with being a mutant … even in the face of reactions like Rogue’s and Beast’s who point out clear and obvious physical problems that their mutant abilities give to them. Since Storm sees being a mutant as something people are and not a set of abilities or physical conditions, she simply can’t understand how anyone could see that as something to be cured, while for Rogue and Beast it seems to make more sense.

Magneto also has this sort of outlook on being a mutant, which was well-established in the previous movies, but is abundantly clear here. When Mystique is shot with the cure and depowered, Magneto turns to her and says, sadly, “You’re not one of us anymore”. She’s no longer a mutant, and so not part of the “group” anymore. And for him, being part of the mutant group is the important thing, the important factor, and so he leaves her for the authorities, feeling no loyalty to her and, in fact, showing no concern or thought of her as a person. It is, in some sense, as if she’s now a completely different person, and a stranger to him.

Note that in terms of abilities, Storm and Magento are similar as well. Both have powers that make it so that they can easily walk among normal humans when they want to, but that raise them above it in terms of abilities. Both have powers that basically make them gods among humans, but without any really serious detriments. Storm, in fact, in regular canon used her abilities as a goddess, and in one early series of comics is despondent to the point of suicide when she loses her abilities and is returned, basically, to the state of being an incredibly attractive and competent “normal” person. Compared to other mutants, their being a mutant is, in fact, pretty much an unvarnished good except for the prejudices of normals who react with fear towards them.

Thus, I think it fair to say that Storm is, in her way, as much a mutant supremacist as Magneto is. She divides the world up into humans and mutants as he does, and makes being a mutant a crucial part of someone’s identity. And she thinks that being a mutant is good and something to take pride in, because the only way she can tell Rogue that there’s nothing wrong with them (mutants) is to ignore the very serious personal problems that Rogue is having with her powers and to see mutants — and their abilities — as being better than human.

It is interesting, I think, to contrast her attitude with Wolverine’s. Wolverine is someone who sees the conflict not on a group level, but on an individual level. Even early in the film trilogy, Wolverine expresses skepticism about taking sides, while Storm admits to having chosen one and thinks that choosing a side is good and even required. But it is in his reaction to Rogue that we see the biggest difference. When Rogue asks if he’s going to stop her, his reply is “I’m not your father, I’m your friend.” He takes it immediately down to the personal level, and addresses her as a person — friend and/or daughter-figure — instead of as a fellow mutant. And his advice follows that, as he tells her to make certain that she’s doing it because it’s what she really wants and not because she’s afraid that she might lose her boyfriend if she doesn’t. It’s all personal, and he never once talks about what her decision might mean for mutantkind or if being a mutant can be cured or if there’s something wrong with being a mutant. He simply understands that her powers are causing her serious problems and tells her to make sure that she understands what she’s giving up, and that it’s what she, as a person, wants to do.

I think this focus comes at least in part from the fact that unlike Storm and Magneto who have powers that have no real detriments, and unlike Rogue who has a power that has very, very strong detriments that can easily be seen to outweigh the benefits, Wolverine’s powers fit neatly into the middle here. Sure, he has that healing factor that keeps him alive and slows his aging … but it isn’t invulnerability and doesn’t do anything to stop the pain. Thus, he is hurt by and feels all the wounds, but they just don’t kill him. He can fit in fairly well, but his powers also seem to contribute to the animal-like nature and the berserker rages that he struggles to keep under control. For him, his mutant abilities are equal parts blessing and curse, and so he can see why someone might want to give them up while at the same time seeing why it could be considered a gift that people shouldn’t give up. Adding in his normal individualistic nature, and for him whether someone should get the cure or not comes down to exactly whether they feel the benefits of their being a mutant outweigh the detriments, and that’s a personal decision.

Ultimately, the mutant cure debate raises issues about group identity, and to what extent your group identity impacts or determines your personal identity. For some, it is felt that group identity is as important as if not more important than personal identity, and for some group identity is irrelevant and it is only personal identity that matters. Given the interconnectedness of the two in many cases — a lot of your personal identity is developed from how the groups you are part of see the world, and the groups you associate with depend a lot on your own personal views — the truth is almost certainly somewhere in between, and then the real trick is figuring out when to act as if group identity takes precedence, and when to act as if personal identity takes precedence.

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One Response to “The Lure of the Normal: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mutant?”

  1. Privilege, Again … « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] seems like something that you wouldn’t be able to build an actual movement around (although it does make for some interesting philosophical fodder.). So there has to be more to […]

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