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More X-Men Metaphors: Role Models and Leadership

In talking with Steven about his current fascination with the X-Men, I ended up rereading Eve’s post about why she likes them. One paragraph in particular has stuck with me:

If you read “X-Men” as a book about leadership, you won’t be disappointed–and leadership is something I could think about all day. It’s an endlessly fascinating topic to me, since I was pretty much forced into a leadership role I wasn’t suited for, and had to figure out how to make it mine. I think I did. I’ve seen my debating society hijack a lot of lives, and so I’ll read anything that helps me understand how it exists and how its particular brand of alienated, intense, political personal leadership works. “X-Men” resonated.

In college, before Steven read X-books, the people I talked to about them were all, like me, seriously overloaded with intellectually rigorous activist leadership responsibilities. This was obviously partly a function of the nature of my peer group — although I’m including professors and administrators in it too — that we readers were all women with heavy leadership burdens. I don’t remember ever talking about whether we read as a sort of cheap therapy, but I think we all intuitively connected with a lot of the dynamics and personal setbacks the team endured.

Back then, I was falling too deeply into metaphors, dealing with my life by partitioning it into more manageable fictional pieces. I could cry for Betty Banner because I couldn’t enunciate my own pain. I could understand X-Men problems and didn’t always think about how they weren’t such a stretch from my own seemingly endless inability to get my fellow executive board members in the same room or to make people keep their phones on when on-call for hotline duty. I wonder now if they were doing the same thing, relaxing with the X-Men in the same way we’d decompress with each other, with people who understand and care. It wasn’t escapist fiction, because even the happy “endings” are never satisfying or complete, but it was certainly encouraging to see the successes the team has, though it was easier (at least for me) to identify with the setbacks.

In talking about geek pride and alienated teenagers, maybe I didn’t stress enough the power of hope, that no matter how different from “normal” you may feel, you can, through much effort, be a profitable member of a society you shape. Part of the continuing theme of the X-books, as I read them, has been an effort to get the reader to identify with the X-Men, but not without recognizing the humanity and integrity of the groups with whom they have conflict. As someone who spent a lot of time working toward a little legacy of change on the campus, I’d be encouraged to think this was something incoming freshmen were thinking about, issues of mutual respect and philosophy of leadership and responsibility and modes of social change. If you can get that from X-Men, that’s as good a place as any.