Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Kelly Problem

I mentioned in my post on UXM #176 that people like Senator Robert Kelly and Agent Henry Gyrich have motivations that are a bit too complicated, even in some ways sympathetic, to be simply written off as heartless villains.  I also threatened to go into this in more depth, which is the purpose of this post.

With the US presidential election not half a week away, it's perhaps timely that my overall point here is going to tie in to the difference between Democratic and Republican policies. Not that it will be unique to those two parties, the left-right divide in my own country would work just as well (perhaps better, since it's hard to call the average Democrat a leftist with anything approaching a straight face).

So, here's the thing.  There is no doubt in my mind, none, that the fear Kelly and Gyrich have about the potential destruction mutants can cause is entirely rational.  The best expression of this is probably in the first X-Men film, where Kelly makes the point that any number of mutant children could prove as dangerous to their classmates as, say, the Columbine shooters. That's a strong enough point that it can't be waved away with "mutants are people too" type protestations - usually what the comics rely on, if we're being honest - so we need to put together something a little more robust.

Here's the thing, though.  If the Kelly's of the world proposed some kind of detailed process by which mutants could be judged in control of their powers, arguing against it would be much more difficult.  It would not by any means be impossible, since the central problem - people hate mutants and so mutants don't like the idea of revealing themselves - remains, but it would move the debate into genuinely morally complex terrain.  I'd be hard pushed to come up with a coherent response to it.  Moreover, all the metaphors the comics have played with over the years would start to fall apart as well.  Homosexuality no longer works, because we're specifically talking about a minority who are a potential danger, and doom-saying religious pricks aside, no-one's claiming that about gay people.  The AIDS metaphor that Scott Lobdell (among others) seemed to be playing with when they introduced the Legacy Virus doesn't really work either, since the circumstances of HIV infection are so different to those of a child suddenly manifesting destructive powers when they hit puberty.

Fortunately, we can sidestep this genuinely difficult issue, because Kelly never seems to consider it.  Rather than putting any effort at all into figuring out how a confidential screening process for mutants genuinely posing a threat to human life might work, he just wants to have all the mutants identified to make his life easier.

This is what makes me think of the Mitt Romneys and George Osbornes of this world. Conservative attacks against the welfare state take many forms, of course, but one of if not the most common is to argue that too many people on the receiving end don't really deserve what they're getting.  Actually putting more effort into checking everyone's getting what they're supposed to be would cost too much time and money, though, so it's best just to slash the funding instead.

This is the inevitable result of a thought process that concerns itself first with ensuring that no-one gets an easier ride than necessary, and second with keeping costs down.  And it's this approach that most closely parallels that of Kelly and Gyrich; they don't want to let dangerous mutants threaten lives - deliberately or otherwise - but working out how to handle that problem case-by-case is just too damn hard, so they want to make mutant registration (or even incarceration, in Gyrich's case) mandatory.

The problem Kelly identifies is (within the Marvel universe) entirely real, but his solution is defiantly impersonal, and that's where the problem truly lies.  Because doing it on the cheap doesn't lesser costs, it merely transfers them, and if the history of what happens when the Republicans in America or the Tories over here get into power has taught us anything, it's that the costs tend to get forced onto those least able to pay them.

In that regard, at least, the metaphor hasn't truly failed at all.

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