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Marvel’s Answer to Cambridge Analytica, Musings on X-Men: Red

I’m a bit late to the party but I must say it is very good to see Jean Grey back in the realm of the living! The character brings this nostalgic warmth that has been missing in the X-Men for some time, and this warmth is reflected by her current mission and approach to mutant-human relations as seen in X-Men: Red.

We’ve seen multiple iterations of anti-mutant sentiment in the X-Universe. We’ve seen it in the form of an ancient bacteria, (John Sublime) hysteria borne from mutagenic viruses (i.e. the Legacy Virus and later Mpox) We’ve even seen it sourced and fueled from a telepathically empowered Nazi. (The Red Skull). The latest iteration of anti-mutant sentiment seems to take a page from the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. With Jean Grey back among the living, the eminent telepath has set her sights on fixing the ills of the world she’s been away from for so long. This includes a plan hatched from a telepathic survey of the minds of humanitarians, and cultural influencers, as well as the formation of a new X-Men team.

Jean Grey’s resurrection is met with the return of a classic X-Men villain and the discovery of an elaborate social media campaign to stoke the fires of anti-mutant furor. The campaign’s target of individuals with known biases and its use of social media is a clear reference to the Cambridge Analytica operation, which sought to influence those with prejudiced proclivities with targeted advertising and fake news.  This is not the first time Marvel has used its stories to as social commentary on real-world issues. Back in 2009 in the lead up to the Utopia Storyline, Simon Trask advocated for Proposition X a proposal for a policy that would have forced mutants, to undergo mandatory birth control procedures. This mirrored the controversial proposition 8 in California that would have seen the LBGT community denied the right to Marriage.

I always enjoy when this art form uses its narrative to represent or pose solutions to real-world problems of this kind. Not only does this connect the reader to the protagonists, it cements the superhero genre as a medium of productive wish fulfillment. Jean’s Grey mission is very wide in its scope and returns an advocative flourish that has been missing from the X-Men for some time.  Whether her team’s mission succeeds or not, it will definitely provide an opportunity for learning and reflection. What I have always enjoyed about the X-Men franchise, is the flexibility of Mutanthood as a metaphor. The team’s recent recruit Trinary, is a South Asian, mutant, who uses her techno-digital manipulating powers to rectify the gender-based pay inequity in India. The fallout from this protest leads to her joining Jean Grey and her team. Trinary’s powers help to bring awareness of this social media campaign to the fledgling X-Men team and raises some interesting questions on how this current predicament will be fought going forward.

Who wouldn’t want to develop powers, to combat the spread of Banonism that has latched on the ever-present “Fear of the other” in the United States? Or to develop a telepathic insight into how mental laziness, propaganda, and malice feed into systematic violence and disenfranchisement? What is so beautiful about this current run, is how it eloquently uses the mutant metaphor, to ponder or creatively inspire holistic solutions to society’s most chronic ills. Instead of reacting the way we always do,  with offense and subsequent attack. (methods anticipated and desired by those driving such conflict) the story in X-Men Red encourages us to move forward with strength in other matters, using understanding and creativity to tackle or disrupt problems that always recur and takes new forms this is essentially the heart of Jean Grey’s mission and it will be inspiring as well as instructive to see how it pans out.  If you’re a fan of Jean Grey, or just want to see a nuanced and timely story addressing difference, fear, and conflict, this is a title that is definitely worthy of your attention.

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