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Life is messy. This is what X-Men has taught me.
It’s true we are still sorely lacking in the area of super strength serums and invisibility concoctions; it’s not often that we see spandex-clad heroes pulling tanker trucks off the edge of bridges. That being said, it seems we’re just as far from a world where we accept people regardless of gender, skin color or lifestyle as we are a world of adamantium bone claws and weather-controlling African princesses.
For all their differences in opinion, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, better known as Professor X and Magneto, have only one goal—to ensure their species’ survival.
Professor X believes that if mutants offer the olive branch of peace and non-violence, humanity will grow to trust them and accept them, even if that acceptance is only experienced by future generations. Professor X’s belief is perhaps affected by his upbringing; he is the son of a wealthy research scientist, he has five Ph.D.s from Oxford University, and his mutation is incredibly beneficial as well as non-visible. He’s had the luxury of seeing humanity at its finest, and cultivated the belief that humanity has the capacity to adapt in the face of extinction.
Magneto, on the other hand, never had the luxury of adopting these beliefs.
Magneto was a teenager living in Warsaw, Poland when the Nazis built the Warsaw Ghetto. His family was killed in front of him, and he was thrown, still breathing, into a mass grave. Eventually, he was found and spent the rest of his teenage years in the extermination camp at Auschwitz.
There, he was conscripted into the Sonderkommando; the squad of Jewish men who were forced to help their Nazi masters run the gas chambers, ovens, and fire pits of the camp. Against his will, he assisted in the atrocities carried out on thousands of men, women, and children in the name of someone’s idea of a perfect world.
Magneto saw what humanity is capable of in the name of an ideology, in the name of survival. He believed if mutants were to survive, they must strike first and carve their survival into the bedrock of history.
Does this mean we simply accept that Professor X is naive? Or do we write off Magneto’s horrifying experience as unrepresentative of all humanity? I think the answer lies somewhere in the difficult, murky area in between.
The problem with Professor X’s ideology is one that persists with us regular folk even to this day: Who will watch the watchers?
When we give police officers the authority of the city and guns, we trust that they are accountable to the rules set in place to govern that power. It’s not a perfect system, but when most people follow it, it works okay.
Now, think of someone like St. John Allerdyce, better known as Pyro. His mutation allows him to manipulate any flame, no matter how small, into a raging inferno. If Pyro has a bad day, a house, a building, or an entire city could be consumed and turned to ash. How can we hold men like Pyro accountable when they’re a disaster waiting to happen?
But Magneto doesn’t have an airtight case either. Yes, humanity tends to react like a honey badger sprayed with a garden hose when cornered, but Magneto’s actions are eerily similar to what he would condemn humanity for—fighting for one people’s survival.
As young men, Magneto and Professor X were drawn to each other as passionate visionaries. They had the means, the motivation and the mutations to bring mutants out of the shadows and to begin walking among humanity as equals. It didn’t take long for the harsh reality of humanity’s fear to show them change was a long way off.
No, we probably don’t have mutants living among us. But if we can’t even pretend to get along with each other as a species, what hope do we have to advance?
It’s not as easy as asking, “Do you follow Magneto or Professor X?” If it were, we’d have a sorting hat to separate us into our faction of choice.
No, if we want to move forward into a species that accepts, trusts, and ultimately loves each other, it’s going to be much, much messier.
I hope we can learn to accept each other’s differences and choose to value life, whoever’s it may be, even if the result is a glorious mess.