Huge box office numbers are already in for X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). The Marvel comic-book superheroes with young adult angst are given another big screen, CGI-loaded treatment in this latest outing. With all of the surface distractions, it’s easy to gloss over the political undertones of the film.
Debuting in the 1960s, when Stan Lee was at the helm of Marvel comics, the X-Men focused on the theme of teenage outsiders looking for a sense of identity. (An earlier version of this theme had been worked successfully in 1950s movies such as Rebel Without a Cause.) The X-Men’s superpowers did not so much elevate their status in society as alienate them from it. So, they were often wrapped up in their own personal dramas while fighting global menaces. It was a formula, but one that worked.
The X-Men have always been a Trojan horse kind of franchise. It’s surely been one of the comic book world’s most politically suggestive titles, both in the original comics and now on the big screen. In the latest screen version, they face a dilemma that brings their personal conflicts together with larger concerns.
In X-Men: The Last Stand, the so-called “mutants” are struggling to choose between assimilation and maintaining their unique identities. According to the storyline, the X-Men, and others like them, are trying to decide whether to join the mainstream of “normal” citizens by taking a drug that will erase their superpowers. Predictably, there is little agreement on the best course, and this conflict that fuels much of the storyline.
The film’s theme of conforming and not conforming reminds us of the current American political climate in a way. Americans value individuality, but it’s often hard for people to agree when they should give up some of their uniqueness for the sake of the larger society. In recent weeks, we find some of this dilemma in renewed calls to mandate English as the nation’s official language. It’s a complicated and hot button issue.
Why should designating a language as “official” cause such discord among Americans? For those who oppose the idea, it’s probably not only because of the inconvenience or difficulty of learning English. More likely, those who oppose it probably fear what it symbolizes to them – the loss of an important part of self identity and a break in something that connects people from where they are (figuratively and literally) to where they have come from.
On the other hand, those who favor adopting English as the official language also seem to fear something – perhaps most of all the disintegration of a common national identity. A common language, they say, is essential for this. They argue it’s a necessary tool to help people to build a strong community.
Beneath the surface of this problem is the basic question of balancing individuality and conformity. It’s a tension built into American society. It pops up throughout history in different guises, and it’s reflected in many works of fiction in film, television, novels and, yes, comic books. It does seem that the issue is greatly complicated when you add fear and apprehension to the equation.
We don’t have the answers to this dilemma, and we know it is more complicated than this. But we do think that maybe it’s time to listen to each other more as we talk about this issue, even if we need a little help translating now and then.