Sunday, January 8, 2012

Of Mutants and Humanity: My Take on the X-Men's Status-By-Way-of-Tax-Law

Oh, no!  Marvel doesn't consider their own X-Men to be human!  What ever shall we do?

A recent story by Radiolab describes a court case that essentially details the fact that Marvel's official legal position on mutants is that they are not, in fact, considered human, despite the thematic content of their stories portrayed in their comics.  The basic argument is that the action figures they import into the U.S. for sale should be considered "toys," which are taxed at a far lower rate than "dolls."  The difference between toys and dolls in U.S. trade law is that toys is that dolls are considered representations of human beings, and toys are representations of non-humans, like monsters, robots, animals, and... well, you get the drift I'm sure.

And there have been all kinds of reactions in the comics world.  Essentially, there was a collective bemoaning of the fact that Marvel is taking the official position that they don't consider their own creations human, with basic human rights.  The line of thinking seems to be that, since Marvel publishes stories about the struggle of mutants to be accepted by the humans of that universe, that it shouldn't be taking the legal position of classifying their characters as non-human so that they can save a buck on import taxes for their toys.

I know I'm a little late to this particular party, mostly because I've tried to avoid the insanity/inanity of this entire non-debacle debacle.  I'm also not going to pretend I'm anyone particularly important, but after absorbing enough of the fallout from this issue, I think I should express my own opinion on this issue.

Succinctly: haters, get over it.

There are plenty of reasons I feel this case has reached a logical, well-placed conclusion, and it seems that a lot of our industry stalwarts have overlooked a few basic facts and realities in bewailing it.  It mostly comes down to my opinions about how mythologies are and should be treated, but there are a few logical statements in there that can not be ignored by a rational person.  Basically, a few of the reasons I think people should leave well enough alone with this case are as follows:
  • This is a customs and taxation case, not a civil rights case.  Yes, the interconnectedness of U.S. law sets a precedent for broader application of this decision, but I highly doubt it's really going to stand if there were an actual civil case that came up regarding someone's status as a human being.  The fact that this decision was reached in regards to the taxation of dolls toys--NOT living, breathing people--will have a minimal, if any, influence on whether or not a theoretical someone with a sudden, significant mutation is entitled to the basic freedoms and rights of a human being.  
  • The non-human label applies to all Marvel character, not just mutant characters.  So while the X-Men and other mutant characters from the publisher may not be considered human, neither are a lot of characters who ostensibly are: the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, are not human.  But neither are the Punisher, who has NO superhuman powers, or Mary Jane Watson or Harry Osborn, Spider-Man's human friends.  If they're Marvel creations, they're not human.  So, it's not like Marvel is discriminating against its mutants here.  It's an equal-opportunity humanity stripper (of toys).
  • Charles Xavier’s dream was of peaceful co-existence between mutants AND humans.  Ergo, mutants are intrinsically not human, according to one of the most relevant minds on the issue.  Logic'd!
  • Superheroes are like our modern mythology, or our gods, if you will.  Are gods human? Of course they're not.  I mean, if anything, this decision is in some ways an elevation of its characters, an acknowledgment that the creations within a modern mythology are intrinsically not, as mythological figures, human.  Personally, I don't have any problem calling Emma Frost, MJ, or Spider-Woman goddesses ;-), and I basically see this as Marvel officially backing my stance. :-P
  • These decisions are applied to intellectual property, NOT REAL PEOPLE.  I feel most of my points already support this statement, but it bears its own bullet point.  None of this is being applied to real people, and I can't help the feeling that were this to apply to real people, the stakes would be much higher and this would be a far more scrutinized issue in the comics world, not to mention the public eye.  Marvel's decision to try to save some money on shipping taxes shouldn't be taken as a hypocrisy in regard to the themes of its stories for this reason alone.
Okay, fine.  I'll worship you all. *sigh*
So, there you have it.  I'm not particularly bothered by any of this, and see it for (what I think) it is, which is essentially a business decision to keep the overhead as low as possible and save some money.  If anything, I think it support the idea that it's an elevation of its characters as mythological figures, even if it's one that brings to light that these characters are intellectual property they own, and control for time eternal.  

Finally, I think that the reaction to this has been very... well... reactionary, and not particularly well thought out.  

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