Wednesday 15 October 2014

Talking of missing the point

Now there's a lot to say about how the original X-Men movie set the stage for modern Marvel movies and how it compares to Disney's largely literal translations of characters from panel to screen, both for and against either approach. It was a good film that wasn't afraid to make changes to the source material so that it could be a good film whilst remaining a relatively faithful X-Men story so I'm willing to believe that this poster...

was the work of a marketing executive who didn't understand what they were writing about. I mean, really:


That's actually a really, really sinister message to apply to the X-Men, isn't it? And I say this because unlike most forms of racism portrayed in the X-Men franchise this is one I've seen in horrible action. The racism (and other expressions of prejudice) that underpin X-Men comics are, not unnaturally, ones rooted in the civil rights history of the US: the imagery of lynchings, segregation and the epic legal fight over interracial marriage. Its a specific cultural history of horrific organised violence and legislative support for oppressors.

Racism in the UK has a different, and in some ways more insidious, history. We've had racial violence and race-related murders, certainly, but nothing as organised or widespread as the lynchings. As bad as our far right has been and as repugnant as its organised members are there's been nothing as large or as active as the Ku Klux Klan. Segregation existed in parts of the British Empire but was never a legal principal in the UK itself. Interracial marriage has never been illegal here, though it has been subject to considerable social prejudices for centuries.

And that's our racial history in a nutshell: social prejudice. Skin colour, amongst other things like accent and religion, were used in the social construct of an imperial power to divide the world into us (the “rightful” rulers) and them (the ruled). I'm not kidding about accents, by the way, just look at any number of Empire-era films, TV and radio shows. You'll get your heroes speaking in a generic, received pronunciation accent, comedic but sympathetic supporting players speaking in regional British accents with foreign accents reserved for complete idiots and villains (sometimes both at the same time).

The long and the short of it is that British racism is usually a weird extension of class-ism. The thing is that someone's class can change based on their circumstances and so in some cases particular people are allowed out of the “them” category to become part of the “us”.

And here is where my personal experience comes in because I grew up in a time and a place where there was a lot of prejudice for groups (homosexuals and immigrants of East Asian descent in the main) but where huge exceptions were made to those prejudices for the ones your family knew. Your parents might be fine with that one gay man down the street but the rest of them? Perverts, probably paedophiles. The Indian guy who ran the corner shop? Good, honest working class guy but the others? Scroungers living off our taxes.

The sentiment there really was “Trust a few, fear the rest”, which confused me as a child and disgusts me as an adult and to see it reiterated in this poster is really shocking. Especially given that the film itself takes pains to demonstrate how justified Magneto's perspective is through the concentration camp scenes and in Senator Kelly's attempts to enact exactly the sort of identity registration that was the first step towards those camps.

The point I'm trying to make here? I don't know, probably that Bill Hicks was right and people who work in advertising and marketing just don't have souls, I guess.

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