We’re about to start my Media Studies class when I notice a student with a print-out copy of Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morality, which traditionally invokes for me Magneto and Professor X from X-Men. New today was this: a swift assessment of hegemony within the X-Men universe. Why did hegemony crop up? Because that’s been a focus recently in class.
Here’s the skinny: let’s accept that hegemony works through the privileged groups’ interests being represented and enacted as universal interests. What is the privileged group in X-Men? Humans. A weak, inferior species. A link to the past. What is the oppressed group? Mutants. The truly strong. Let’s go so far to say a vision of Nietzsche’s ubermensch, as they would drive our species forward into a new stage of evolution. In Singer’s X-Men, Magneto states early on, “we are the future, Charles, not them.” He abides by the philosophy that the strong should be strong. They should rule. We should follow natural selection and let the most fit survive and thrive.
Unfortunately, the mutants are born into a social construct that actively constrains their strength and reframes it as weakness. This is similar to Nietzsche’s understanding of Christianity’s effects on society. Religion was a hegemonic tool that favored the weak and crippled the strong; in X-Men, all it takes is the law. For the oppression to work fully though, the oppressors need the oppressed on their side. They need leaders from the oppressed groups to internalize their oppression and adopt the oppressive order as supreme, natural, inevitable, and right.
Enter Charles Xavier, Professor X, the educated one. He works with and for the weak humans, having internalized their oppressive order, and he fights against Magneto’s despotic declarations about mutant greatness. Don’t mistake my description for truth there; I was filtering my words through a hegemonic lens, seeing Magneto as his enemy humans would see him. Professor X perpetuates hegemony; Magneto seeks to destroy it create a new one, but this was the role of Nietzsche’s ubermensch, to transcend the prevailing order of the day and to create new values from out of the abyss; his primary role is as creator, not destroyer. He advances humanity, whereas modern morality paralyzes us. Magneto denies the code of his world and looks to privilege the strong instead, to return hierarchy to a more natural form.
And then there’s the way we’re urged to support Wolverine’s domestication. In fact, any time a mutant becomes “civilized” under the tutelage of Professor X and the socialization of his institution, we chalk that up as a win for the “good” guys.
Let’s be clear here: I’m not taking sides. I’m just pointing out possible ways to conceptualize a fictional world. Fun.