Mutie Go Home


Terrorist symapthizer and doubtlessly mutie scum, Matt Yglesias, has now taken to arguing that Magneto was right:

I already said this, but I think the important thing to recognize is that limiting yourself to the text of "First Class," Magneto is the good guy and he ends the film leading a rainbow coalition of red-skinned, blue-skinned, brown-skinned, Jewish, and female crusaders for mutant pride. The X-Men are led by a Professor Xavier who's not just naive, but callow and hypocritical. Naturally he attracts a team of privileged white men and the self-loathing Hank McCoy. But the moral here is precisely that the struggle for justice won't be waged by a team of enlightened white dudes. The team of enlightened white dudes is offering a kind of craven appeasement, while the multi-hued emergent Brotherhood of Mutants stands for self-respect.

Given where I'm from, you don't really have to sell me on this one. I started in on comic books, just about the time shortly after Magneto joined the X-Men, though I've never read the books where this actually happened. (What back issues should I be digging up?) Anyway, like any self-respecting proto-Malcolmite, I immediately identified with Magneto.

There's a great scene in the first Secret Wars where all the heroes are ragging on the X-Men for embracing Magneto. I think Captain America calls Magneto a "terrorist," and Wolverine steps in and basically goes off on Cap explaining the history of mutants, and how Magneto came to a "drive em into the sea" philosophy. I would transcribe the thing but my collection is all boxed up. But Wolverine ends the rant being held back by other X-Men, yelling something like "I used to respect you!"

It's funny how these things strike you: I was a black kid in Baltimore, not even 20 years out of the Civil Rights movement, with these quasi-radical parents, growing up in the Reagan era. From that perspective, it was Wolverine's indignation, his disappointment  that really hit home--the notion that someone named "Captain America" would moralize about Magneto's methods.

But the problem is that reactive nationalism hasn't aged too well with me. I'm fairly sure that Magneto tells Xavier that the struggle isn't merely on of being "left alone" but one of domination. (I think it's in the last scene before they go off for the final battle.) Magneto agrees with Shaw's vision of the world which strikes me as something more than "just leave us in peace." 

If Xavier's integrationist attitude is naive (and it is), I'd argue that Magneto's faith in violence and ethnic nationalism is equally so. For me, that really is the beauty of the film. I don't think it can be reduced to who is "right." As Magneto says, Xavier thinks all humans are like Moira. And as Xavier replies, Magneto thinks all humans are like Shaw.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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