How X-Men taught me empathy
Superheros save more than the fictional universes they inhabit, they also can help us, in the real world, save our own.
Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, especially without having a father driving home the importance of sports and physical domination, my personality was heavily influenced by the media (see: Saturday morning cartoons) I chose to pay attention to.
In particular, the X-Men animated series.
For the uninitiated, the X-Men animated series ran for 76 episodes in the early 1990s. The series focused primarily on Cyclops’ Blue Team, which included Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Rogue, Storm, Gambit and Jubilee.
These topics really hit home in the beginning, when Jubilee is first introduced. She’s young — a teenager, much like I would soon become — and she’s got this amazing gift that she sees as curse. She doesn’t know why she was born different from everyone else, and she finds it hard to cope with the hatred she had earned not for something she’d done, but just for who she was.
As a boy, I understood within the context of the show that (some of) the mutants were the heroes. They were different, yes, but they were on the side of good. And at a young age, good and evil were all that I needed to know.
Seeing Jubilee struggle with her difference, and the pain caused by unwarranted hatred stuck with me into my later years. When I began taking an interest in the world outside my bubble, I saw that there were people living in my universe that had been born different. It wasn’t always identifiable, but they were different.
Not all mutants in the X-Men universe had melted faces or six arms. Some of the mutants, notably Rogue and Storm, could pass for “normal” on the outside, but on the inside were quite powerful and quite different.
Looking around today, there are people who are visibly different from I am. People of different skin color, eye color, hair color, height, weight and sex. And among those differences, there are those who hide another difference: a different gender identity or sexuality. Those differences are not on the outside, but they are nonetheless part of what makes that person who they are.
I didn’t know, when I was a young boy, that my favorite cartoon was showing me the injustice in my own world. When I reflect now on the themes presented, and the different battle lines that were drawn in that TV show, I’m proud to say that I’m on the side of Professor Xavier, and his vision of an equal society. In our own world, the side of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who believed in a world where all (people) could be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I am on the side of equal rights for all people, regardless of who they love, what they look like or whether they can shoot explosive sparks from their hands.