We might well wonder why Marvel’s X–Men has stood the test of time in popularity and widespread appeal. We all loosely know about Professor X, Jean Gray, Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto et al. The answer may lie in its underlying theme of the universal preoccupation with social exclusion. Throughout each instalment – from comic book to Hollywood blockbuster, prequel to sequel, revival to reboot – the constant is a story about marginalisation, prejudice and bigotry. “The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than they are mutants”, X-Men author Chris Claremont powerfully remarked in 1981…
Central to the X-Men plot is the picture painted of a humankind which fears difference. Perceiving difference to be a threat, the reaction generates hatred and social conflict, here on a global scale in a them vs. us conflict (sound familiar to the present day in lots of ways?)
“ I always believed I can’t be the only one in the world. The only person who was… different” – Professor X
Whether told through books or broadcast on the big screen, we believe that lots of non-fiction stories have relevance and resonance when it comes to parenting and we can even draw comparisons between the X-Men storyline and our own mission as parents! This metaphor brilliantly captures that phase of development known as adolescence (though you may know this time as ‘the terrible, dreaded teenage years’!) We say this, as we often hear of parents’ apprehension and the impending teen years – even many years in advance of their children entering this crucial and character-building phase of life.
Like the mutants in X-Men, our teens are struggling to find, develop and express their unique identities. They’re anxious, unsure, maybe a little stand-offish, unconfident in their own skin. This transitional phase, no longer child but not yet adult, is the chaotic and unstable ground from which they emerge into the adult world and it can be laden with conflict, crisis, disagreements and disillusionments as both teens and their parents aim to either dismantle or save the status quo at all cost!
Ultimately, from X-Men’s turbulent subject matter comes a lesson: acceptance of minority groups, embracing people of every difference and celebrating their special and unique gifts – isn’t that what these mutants are after all? Highly specialised, skilled, yet different. How can the human race and the Marvel mutants work together. It’s less about right and wrong and more about seeing both sides and understanding where the other side. The same is true in real life, whether parent, teen, or indeed mutant!
We actively encourage parents to watch the X-Men franchise with their teenage children to engage in emotional discussions about bullying and marginalisation on both personal and social levels. As parents, let’s not be afraid or wary of uncertain adolescence, let’s embrace this phase of development. Understand that difference is to be celebrated, not condemned. Difference is to be allowed not disavowed. Difference is embracing individuality not dissuading it.