Tag Archives: political divide

What Recent X-Men Comics Can Teach Us About Present (And Future) Politics

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Trying to make sense of politics is like trying to understand quantum mechanics while stoned. The process of governing humanity has always been tricky. Ever since we exchanged our basic hunter/gatherer ways for a more formal system of order, the process has only become more difficult over time. You don’t have to look far to see the complexities and the overall absurdities of politics.

I’ve tried to talk about politics before, albeit with a limited focus on hot-button issues. I never claim to be an expert or an authority on the matter. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. My understanding of politics is as limited as most people who don’t live, work, and breath these issues. Despite those limitations, I still want to make an effort to talk politics in a novel way.

As it just so happens, I’ve come up with just such a way and it involves X-Men comics. Considering how much I’ve written about X-Men and superhero comics in general, this should surprise no one.

More specifically, I want to take the events that have been unfolding in the X-Men comics for the past two years and use it to make sense of the current state politics. I also want to use it to speculate a bit on where these politics might lead us. Again, I am not even close to an expert, but I do believe that art and media have an uncanny way of shining a light on the real world and there are few narratives more uncanny than the X-Men.

The current state of politics, especially in the United States and Western Europe, has been dominated by polarization. More and more, citizens are becoming more tribal. On top of that, people are becoming more divided. That’s not just an anecdote, either. According to Pew Research, the public has become more ideologically split over the past 20 years and it’s only getting worse.

Rather than try to make sense of these decade-long trends, I want to apply it to the politics in the X-Men comics. More than any other superhero comic or franchise, politics are a major driving force for the X-Men, more so than killer robots. Co-creator, Stan Lee, stated that the inspiration for the X-Men was drawn from the ongoing Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the early 1960s.

Over the years, this idea of mutants being an oppressed minority who were hated and feared for being different has been the driving force behind the X-Men’s story. It is also a big part of what helped them gain such a wide appeal. Some of the X-Men’s most iconic stories come from conflicts inspired by the hate and fear that ordinary humans feel towards mutants.

In the real world, hatred and fear are powerful forces that don’t need killer robots to cause upheaval. Hatred and fear is at the heart of debates surrounding migrants and immigrants. That same hatred and fear is at the heart of the political polarization.

Liberals hate and fear conservatives because they think they want to turn the world into one big plantation ruled by rich, wealthy slave-owners.

Conservatives hate and fear liberals because they think they want to abandon their heritage, punish people for the sins of their ancestors, and micromanage their lives.

In the world of X-Men, humans hate and fear mutants because they think they’re too dangerous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. On top of that, if they truly are a new species, then that means their survival means humanity’s extinction.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are there. Mutants aren’t just a metaphor for any minority who has been oppressed, segregated, and denigrated. They represent just how divided two groups can be. Constant conflict ensures that hatred and fear will fester. However, it’s the events of House of X and Powers of X that the entire concept of X-Men has gained greater political relevance.

In case you haven’t been following superhero comics, the details of these events are many, but the theme is relatively simple. After years of fighting, running, surviving, and being marginalized because of movie rights, the entire mutant race has decided to reorganize themselves into a new society.

This isn’t some exclusive club or superhero team. With help from Charles Xavier and the powerful foresight provided by Moira MacTaggart, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have united within a new homeland, which happens to be a living island. They also have their own mysterious language that only they understand. They are essentially establishing themselves as a new political entity.

In the scope of the X-Men’s 50-plus year history, the idea isn’t new. There have been multiple efforts over the years to give mutants a homeland. One was called Genosha. One was called Utopia. Both enjoyed some measure of short-term success, but both ended up destroyed or abandoned. The reasons for this aren’t important. What sets them apart from Krakoa is the scale.

To understand it in a real-world context, think of Genosha and Utopia as enclaves within a community. They’re akin to neighborhoods in America or Europe that are predominantly populated by a particular ethnic group or religion. Many are quite successful in their own right. Others have become the sites of atrocities and tragedies.

What the mutants are doing with Krakoa in the comics is something bigger than an enclave. They’re not just seeking to be recognized as a full-fledged country, either. Charles Xavier, the X-Men, and every other mutant is building Krakoa to be a society that can function with or without humanity. It’s not land borrowed from humans. It’s land that’s theirs and theirs alone.

That’s not to say Krakoa operates in isolation, as Wakanda once did. They actually seek to maintain diplomatic relations with the world. They even have valuable resources with which to trade. They don’t have to make these kinds of deals, but under Charles Xavier, they do anyway. It culminates in “House of X #5,” in which Krakoa gains formal recognition by the UN.

This is where the politics of the X-Men comics add some necessary nuance to what we’re seeing in the real world. When people feel marginalized, they tend to feel unwelcome. Even if you are legally an American, a German, an Italian, or a Wakandan, being hated and feared by a large segment of the country makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Between divided polls and America’s colorful electoral map, it’s not hard for anyone to feel out of place. The added polarization provided by the internet, social media, and cable news only adds to the divisions and the animosity. As a result, people naturally retreat into groups and tribes where they feel welcome. Whether it’s a political group, a religious group, or an identity, they seek some form of sanctuary.

In doing so, these groups essentially create their own little world within their community. It’s a world that might as well be a separate reality from what others see. It’s how different people can see the same facts, but have wildly different interpretations. Their brains are still working and the facts are still facts. It’s how they apply them to their world that’s different.

Each group feels they don’t belong. They may even feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if the group happens to make up the vast majority of the population. They still feel like they’re the ones under attack, not unlike the X-Men when they constantly confront fearful, hate-filled humans. They act as though they need to carve their own place in the world and defend it at all costs.

This is where House of X and Powers of X can provide some possible insights into the future of politics. To some extent, Krakoa is a natural byproduct of mutants being hunted, attacked, and denigrated at every turn. They tried isolating themselves on islands. They tried living among humans, sometimes in their most populated cities. Now, they’re trying something bigger.

It’s not exactly peaceful and not everyone understands it, which seems antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream. However, it’s pragmatic in a very political sense. They have a homeland that they can control. They have barriers for entering and exiting that homeland. Nobody who isn’t authorized can enter it. It’s basically the ultimate immigration control.

On top of that, it has valuable resources that the rest of the world wants. The mutants of Krakoa are willing to share them, but only if they respect their new homeland and treat it like a legitimate country with its own culture, laws, and norms. In a world where people constantly attack others for not respecting their culture or norms, it feels like the ultimate endgame of sorts.

Those who want their culture and way of life preserved will only have more incentive to become more organized. If they keep feeling hatred and fear, they may look for ways to simply function without those they feel don’t belong. People won’t just become more ideologically divided. They may end up more divided in a very literal sense.

It’s the ultimate manifestation of our natural tribal instincts. We seek to join, maintain, and protect our tribe from others, be they real or imagined. It doesn’t matter if there are objective facts that show our tribe is somehow wrong or misguided. We still feel inclined to protect it at all cost.

This era of X-Men comics has been exciting. Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has turned the X-Men from just another superhero team into a blossoming community with its own culture, identity, and borders. As an X-Men fan, I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. As someone in the real world who can’t always avoid politics, it leaves me worried about just how divided we’ll ultimately become.

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Is It Us Or The Politicians? How “Parks And Recreation” (Hilariously) Explores Corruption And Those Who Enable It

Throughout the history of television, the best shows are often the ones that resonate with audiences through different eras, cultures, and places. It’s one thing for a show to be a hit when it’s on the air. It’s quite another for a show to still have appeal many years later.

Within that rare collection of TV shows with that special level of appeal, “Parks and Recreation” is in a class of its own. It started as a generic rip-off of “The Office.” It eventually developed into one of the most beloved and endearing TV shows of the past several decades.

Personally, it’s one of my all-time favorite shows. The recent reunion special only reminded me how much I loved it. I’ve gone out of my way to praise it in the past, from highlighting the respectable ideals of Ron Swanson to celebrating the joyous spirit of Leslie Knope. There are many more lovable characters on this show that are worth highlighting. I could write entire articles on the secret appeal of Jerry Gergich.

For now, I want to highlight another element of “Parks and Recreation” that I believe has become much more relevant lately. At the rate we’re going, we’ll come to see certain themes in “Parks and Recreation” as prophetic warnings, of sorts. It might not be as prophetic asThe Simpsons,” but it’s still critical, given the current state of affairs.

To understand the importance of those themes, take a moment to think about politicians. I’ll give everyone’s inner Ron Swanson a moment to endure the nausea. What ideas and images come to mind when you think of politicians? What’s the most common perception that most people would agree with? If you walked up to a random person, they’ll probably describe politicians as follows.

They’re all corrupt.

They’re all crooks.

They’re all power-hungry.

They’re all evil.

They’re all arrogant.

They’re all narcissistic.

They’re all greedy.

They’re out to steal our money/land/guns/rights/whatever someone happens to value.

It’s easy to have negative perceptions about politicians. To their credit, they do plenty to affirm those perceptions. You don’t have to look hard to find cases of laughably corrupt or downright evil politicians who couldn’t care less about their constituents. It’s enough to make understand where Ron Swanson is coming from when he brilliantly chastises government.

That said, there’s another side of the story that rarely gets explored. A big part of the comedy in “Parks and Recreation” stems directly from how it explores the challenges that governments face. It doesn’t avoid cases in which government officials behave in deplorable ways. It also doesn’t avoid the role the voting citizens play in enabling those same officials.

It’s the lesser known, but equally distressing aspect of government corruption. It’s not always the case that they just muscle their way into positions of power. In fact, it’s not that uncommon for these deplorable human beings to be legally elected to office. Some don’t even need to rig the vote. They’re able to win within the existing democratic institutions.

That’s the case for multiple politicians in the world of “Parks and Recreation.” Some characters are so laughably scandalous that it’s easy to forget that some of them were inspired by real-world events. However, this only compounds the underlying issues that the show explores, both directly and indirectly. At the heart of those issues is a simple question about the nature of government corruption.

Is it us, the people, or the politicians who foster corruption?

It’s not a strict either/or question with a clear answer, but it’s one that “Parks and Recreation” does more than most shows to explore. Take, for instance, the chaotic town hall meetings that the department holds in multiple episodes. Just look at how the citizens of Pawnee conduct themselves.

Some of these people are just obnoxious. Others are downright malicious. However, every one of them still votes. They’re the ones who ultimately decides who gets elected and who wields the power in their city. As a result, the many absurdities surrounding the fictional city of Pawnee tend to reflect that sentiment.

Throughout the show, the citizens of Pawnee aren’t depicted as exceptionally informed. They often make unreasonable, absurd demands. They’re quick to react and cast blame on others. They hold government officials to impossible standards. Even genuine, sincere public servants like Leslie Knope get attacked for not delivering, even when their requests are unreasonable and/or misguided.

On top of that, many of these same people are easily swayed by corrupting influences. In Season 5, Episode 2, “Soda Tax,” Leslie works with her good friend and competent nurse, Ann Perkins, to implement a soda tax that would curb the sale of exceedingly unhealthy soda consumption. It’s based on a real-world proposal. It addresses a real-world health issue. It’s the kind of thing you’d want a caring government to address.

Even so, the Pawnee Restaurant Association restaurant lobby rallies the people against it. Even though it passes, it ultimately plays a part in Leslie being voted out of office in a recall election during Season 6. That means her reward for trying to do public good is to lose her job while those mired in multiple sex scandals continue to hold power.

Take a moment to think about the bigger picture. In every season in “Parks and Recreation,” Leslie Knope conducts herself as an ideal politician who simply wants to do good for her community. She has to fight, tooth and nail, just to get elected in Season 4. Even when she does good by her citizens, they still vote her out.

Leslie dares to tell the truth and be honest with the people. Others, like Jeremy Jamm and Bill Dexhart, simply tell people what they want to hear and/or hire the right people to manipulate the public. They don’t force the public to vote a certain way. They don’t even rig the votes because, in the end, they don’t have to. The people are swayed by the necessary forces and vote accordingly.

Now, you can make the claim that the people of Pawnee are more gullible than most and, as the show often depicts, it would be a valid observation. They still have the power of the vote. They’re still the ones who ultimately make the choice to elect or depose public officials like Leslie Knope or Jeremy Jamm.

Politicians do all sorts of shady things with their power, but that power is still contingent on the will of the people, to some extent. Are the people not somewhat responsible for enabling the corruption that they so deplore? The plot and themes of “Parks and Recreation” don’t attempt to provide a definitive answer, but the show makes a relevant observation that has become even more relevant in recent years.

There are multiple real-world cases of people voting against their own interests for reasons that often confound outside observers. Even an alleged child predator managed to get 48.4 percent of the vote in his state in running for the United States Senate. Even though he lost, the margin for his loss was so narrow that it’s disturbing to think that people are willing to put a man like that in a position of power.

That’s not to say that the people who voted for such a deplorable human being are bad people. Chances are they either didn’t believe in the allegations levied against him or simply voted for him out of loyalty to a political party. Given the limitations of the democratic system, sometimes people are simply left with two bad choices and have to pick the one that’s least awful to them.

Limitations aside, the fact remains that very few of these corrupt politicians would be in positions of power if people just didn’t vote for them. Even if they had power, they wouldn’t have much influence if those same people didn’t support them, even if they aren’t overly corrupt. It’s why politicians often pander to their base supporters so much. They need that support, even if they’re corrupt.

Since “Parks and Recreation” went off the air, people have only become more politically divided. The rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum has gotten increasingly extreme and the COVID-19 pandemic only made it worse. Both politicians and the voters are guilty of conducting themselves as arrogant assholes. Thanks to the internet and social media, this conduct is being captured for everyone to see.

There’s a lot of ugliness to go around in politics. Part of what made “Parks and Recreation” so endearing was how it forged humor in that environment. In doing so, it also shed some light on the absurdities surrounding politics, democracy, and society in general. It didn’t hide from the flaws. The show even magnified them in many cases.

As real-world politics gets uglier and meaner, the insights within the characters and plots of “Parks and Recreation” may prove more impactful in the long run. The show will always be funny, if only for the moments involving Ron Swanson and Jean-Realphio. It’ll give us a chance to laugh at how corrupt elected officials can be, but it won’t hide the fact that we still voted for them.

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