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Oppressing the Übermensch

28 January 2015

Cross-posted from The Molinist. Come and read The Molinist at its new home!
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As you’re likely aware from reading this blog, or possibly from following me on Twitter or Tumblr, I enjoy both critical theoretical analysis of texts and speculative fiction. I also enjoy submitting the one to the other, especially on questions of political ideologies inherent in or communicated by the text. This is basically how I unwind after a long day of working on my dissertation. [1] One of the reasons I love speculative fiction, be it science fiction or fantasy (is magical realism a genre of speculative fiction? I don’t really care for magical realism) is that the limitless range of possibilities of setting provide ample ground to explore the issues that define our own. The power to reshape the world around an idea is to power to raise a truly limitless number of mirrors to the world as it is and to interrogate those reflections. Unsurprisingly, then, speculative fiction often raises questions of social justice and oppression. Rightfully, the power of the pen is deployed to question the structures that hold some in bondage and keep others in privilege. Rightly but not always successfully. Intentions not being magical, even the best ones can’t guarantee a successful effort. One of the more common missteps (or perhaps stumbling blocks) is the thematic trope of the oppressed superhman: a minority of humans with superhman abilities who are marginalised and/or oppressed by the the mass of regular people. This is a familiar enough trope, explored across a wide variety of media and through a number of narrative lenses: from genetically engineered superhumans in Star Trek: The Next Generation to subterranean-humanoid-monsters-as-queer-metaphor in Clive Barkers Nightbreed. Despite its ubiquity, and presumed utility, however, the trope is fundamentally problematic as a way of exploring the issues and experienced of marginalised peoples and communities.

In order to better explore this trope and why it is both engaging and problematic we’ll first need to define it then examine it in action. First I’ll lay out some salient characteristics of the trope, then we can take a closer look at two of my favourite speculative fiction texts in which the oppression of a class of superhumans is a major or the major theme: X-Men and Dragon Age. [2] I’ll be peppering both textual analyses with links to the relevant wikis so that the interested can follow up on the specifics of each IP. Finally, I’ll build on those analyses by using them to illustrate the problematics and shortcomings of the trope…

Continued at The Molinist.

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