The “Whitelash” theory of Trump’s super-embarrassing slide into the presidency (well, we never claimed the U.S. wasn’t anti-intellectual, did we?) has the still-ascendant, but demographically shrinking and culturally stagnating white/cis-het/male contingent (helped substantially by their female counterparts) striking back at the diversity of Obama’s America by electing a crypto-white-supremacist in response to his racist and xenophobic dog whistles. Although not the only compelling narrative of the last year and a half, Trump’s Whitelash has enough truth to it to make it into at least a Ronald-Takaki-authored history book, if not a textbook from Texas.
Meanwhile, pop culture may be lashing in the opposite direction — and, in fact, contributing to the panic. Whereas the last Academy Awards shows of Obama’s presidency featured a field of winners that rivaled a wedding-dress-clad polar bear fainting on an iceberg for whiteness, it is President Trump’s first Oscars that saw the Academy — now led by a black woman — crowning its first African-American-made Best Picture. The last season of tv was the most diverse in history, and we don’t need numbers or stats to know this. And even the debate around diversity failures points to how far we’ve come, and how aware of the changing nature of American culture the mainstream has become.
So it’s not much of a stretch to see Logan, clearly the end of a franchise, as the gentle, mournful and mourning, Hollywood-sanctioned version of conservative white panic.
Logan, inspired by — but not much — the comic Wolverine: Old Man Logan, does away with the bad-guy-created future dystopia of the comic book and sets itself up in a 2029 that looks more or less exactly like the X-Men’s fictional present, except for the decline and death of pretty much all mutant-kind.
No mutant children, we’re told, have been born in 25 years — clear evidence that mutants are not the future of the human race, as they had thought and declared earlier in the franchise, but rather an evolutionary cul-de-sac. Whether inspired by this knowledge or by some other political movement, the film waves its hands and suggests that most of the mutants that didn’t die out naturally were swept up by some evil governmental initiative… except for the X-Men that Professor X himself accidentally killed.
Yeah, you heard that right. The intellect-and-mind-power-driven Charles Xavier, now in his nineties, is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease that causes seizures. And given his abilities, a Prof. X seizure literally seizes every person within a certain radius of Charles in its psychic grip and prevents them from moving — or even breathing — until it has passed, or until Logan, who is less affected than others, manages to inject Charles with a seizure-suppressing drug. Apparently, in the film’s recent past, Charles had had his first devastating seizure and killed seven mutants. We don’t know which, but it’s a pretty sure bet that franchise-favorites Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, and Beast were among them.
And the ironies don’t stop there. Logan, whose primary power is his healing factor, is not only healing more slowly on the outside, and aging for the first time in 200 years, but he’s also clearly carrying some sort of disease that is rotting him from the inside. He knows what it is: he’s being poisoned by his adamantium skeleton; thus, the source of his strength and indestructibility is weakening and destroying him.
Trying to keep his head down and earn enough money to get himself and Charles onto a boat and away from the double whammy of human malice and human susceptibility to Charles’ power, Logan at first refuses to help a woman trying to smuggle a young girl out of the country into Canada. But when the woman is murdered and the girl turns out to be a mutant — and not just any mutant, a mutant created from Logan’s own DNA; a clawed, superhealing, already adamantium-grafted beast just like Logan — Charles guilts Logan into taking her to what Logan is sure is a fantasy sanctuary.
(Brief pause: if you graft an adamantium skeleton onto a still-growing girl, does it keep her from growing or does she outgrow it or what?)
Anyhoo, a bit of business and some backstory ensue: the government took mutant DNA they had on file and made some new mutant children that they thought they could control. When they discovered that they couldn’t, they tried to kill ’em off, only to find out that training super kids to kill will bite you hard in the ass. Thus, Logan, Charles and Laura (Logan’s “daughter”) head off on a road trip to meet up with the other children from the experiment and cross over into “Eden.” The kids do actually meet up, and they do actually turn out to have a realistic plan, and Logan and Charles die to make that plan a reality — to ensure the kids escape and have a future. The End.
So yeah, there’s a super-obvious argument to be made that Logan is a meditation on mortality, and making the all-powerful mutants physically and mentally fallible is symbolic of the process of aging we all must go through and blah blah blech. The more sophisticated might even make the argument that Logan’s own personal arc is more one of mid-life crisis — of what-is-it-all-about — than of mortality, and that also has a surface relevance.
The problem with these grand and obvious themes, however, is that the melancholy of Logan is aimed not at the decay of two individuals, but at the fact that those two individuals are literally the last of their kind. Charles and Logan are facing the natural genocide of their species. It is both horrific, and not at all symbolic of anything your mainstream American audience member faces among their #firstworldproblems.
Because meditations on mortality always carry the sub-theme of examining one’s legacy, and Charles and Logan literally have no legacy: no mutant children have been born naturally since X-Men: The Last Stand (or the second timeline ending of Days of Future Past, if you like.) This means that no mutants have produced mutant children, either. There is no legacy to examine.
Sure, we can say that the test-tube mutant children are Logan and Charles’ legacy, and they are, in the sense that they will carry mutantness forward for a generation. But there’s no reason to suppose that they will be any more successful at producing children — or, in Laura’s case, combatting adamantium poisoning — and Logan and Charles and their X-Men cohort did not produce those children in any way, shape, or form. The children are not a product of mutant-kind except in the most oblique way.
And here’s where the real subconscious message of Logan starts to come out. Logan, Charles, and their albino helper Caliban, the last three naturally born mutants alive, are all white men — as are all the bad guys. In fact, all the important X-Men (X-Persons) in this entire franchise have been white (including Storm, because really, how important was she to any of the stories?) as have been all their villains and antagonists. The franchise revolves around Professor X and Magneto, with Mystique and Wolverine the twin stars that orbit their galaxies. Other standouts: Jean Grey, Cyclops, Deadpool, Rogue, Beast, Iceman, Quicksilver… white white white. In fact, name a single X-Person of color or villain of color who actually moved a plot forward even a step. Well… maybe…
The diverse characters in Logan are in two places: the nurses and orderlies at the lab where the children were created, and the children themselves, who are a mini-Benetton of colors and abilities. This is essential. Because the rainbow children are constructs: created by white men to serve white men. And the lab staff are servants: brought in by white men to serve white men. And instead of serving and obeying, the lab staff and the rainbow kids band together, escape the white men’s control, and take over the world!!!!!! Well… no, actually they only band together and escape the white men’s control, with much loss of life among the lab staff. But the over-the-world-taking is implied because these are powerful children and what do children do? Grow up and take over the world, natch.
So the melancholy of Logan is the melancholy of people whose natural order is on the brink of extermination, and who are trying to understand the morality of helping vs. hindering the unintentionally murderous generation who will replace them.
This is exactly what Trump-voting white men think people of color and immigrants and immigrant people of color are doing to them. They brought us here to serve them and allowed us to reproduce, and now we’re taking over the world and they are dying out!!!!!
Of course, it’s absurd. Even if whites do become the minority by 2044, there won’t be a different majority for a very long time, if ever. (Unless you count Latinxs as one race and even then…) And it’s not like white Americans are just going to disappear the moment they dip below 50%. Or ever. And race mixing, which is becoming increasingly prevalent, will complicate these questions more and more. In fact, you could say that the mutant children in Logan are in essence a metaphor for the mixed race children of white people: do we claim them as our legacy or don’t we?
But absurd or not, this is the feeling so eloquently, if inelegantly, expressed all over twitter and the white supremacist internet. White Genocide, it’s called. And you don’t have to be a Klansman, nor a conservative, to feel the melancholy of creeping irrelevance deep in your bones. If you’re a stupid white man, that is.
And let’s be honest, most film critics are. That’s why Logan scores 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. The 8% holdouts are overborne by the violence and heavy atmosphere, which doesn’t fit in with the rest of the franchise, and perhaps a sense that this supermutant set of stories hasn’t quite earned a French New Wave treatment, nor the status of metaphor for the human condition (provided the humans are white men.)
In other news, Logan is shockingly violent and profane, because those are the markers of an “adult” movie. Violence, profanity, and a driving concern with the relevance and legacy of cis-het white men. Yeah.
I’m not saying don’t see it. It’s actually a really apt valedictory to a franchise that’s straining in the era of a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a female Thor, a black/Latino Spider-Man, and an Asian American Hulk. Excellent riddance, I would say. Now, what’s next?
22 thoughts on “Logan: The End of Ol’ White Men”
This post just won the internet!
Arggggghhhhh! Buzzword overload!
Reblogged this on Live Your Dreams.
Interesting interpretation, but I think it lands a little off-base. After all, in regards to the question posed at the end: “do we claim them as our legacy or don’t we?” I think the film’s answer is very clearly yes.
If Logan the movie were truly a manifestation of white panic, then I think the kids would be portrayed as menaces rather than as sympathetic victims. Particularly Laura, who is essentially a Spanish-speaking refugee; under a right-wing lens, she would be depicted as an outside threat and opportunist, not as someone who is rightfully defending herself against a shadowy corporate entity.
And under that same conservative lens, the villains would certainly not be white men with extremely capitalistic mindsets. If Logan the movie is mournful, I’d argue that it’s mournful towards Logan and Charles specifically, not white men as a whole. After all, despite whatever lies ahead of them, the kids are about the only hopeful aspect of an otherwise dour movie.
Agreed, and maybe I didn’t spell this out enough, but Logan is the white progressive version of white panic, where there’s a hefty helping of white guilt, and a desire to root for the success of poc, and yet there’s still a sense of whiteness passing away, a sense that stimulates melancholy and navel-gazing, not cross-burning and Muslim bans.
Reblogged this on Geeking Out about It and commented:
BEWARE: This post does contain Spoilers.
What a contrast to when Hugh first started out he’s been playing the character nearly 20 years. He would make a great Joel in a Last of Us movie but games becoming movies rarely work if ever. I know they are planning more movies in the Xmen franchise so I don’t see it going back to Marvel anytime soon. Bittersweet ending to Logan’s story.
And demographics of the future hard to predict, race mixing will be increasingly prevalent more and more. Children coming of age in the 2030’s will be more likely to marry someone of a different race/ethnicity. Then again like the movie children might be grown in the future than born.
you dont have to tell me to not see it the trailers did it for me. all white and all boring. not my cup of tea at all. and then they got that little white girl to play x-23 too? NOPE! besides never been a loserine fan and never seen his movies in the theater so why start now? only watched them cause they are connected to the x-men whom i love.
as far as people of color in the x-films doing stuff: storm in x2 and x3, the “new” brotherhood in x3 (two asians and two latinos. they sought mags out to team up with him) and apocalypse in apocalypse lol isnt the actor latino? as the osmonds sang “one bad apple dont spoil the whole bunch girl”
Oh, there ARE X-People of color in the movies, but they aren’t IMPORTANT. Main characters are characters whose desires and actions move the overall action of the story forward. You can’t say that about any of the POC in the X-Men franchise, except Apocalypse, and the Japanese characters in The Wolverine.
i agree that is how it is for most of the x-men films except for x3. sadly it took jean going bad and cyclops to die for storm to step up front and center. spike (played by ken leung) killed kavita rao preventing her cure ever coming back, callisto (played by dania ramirez) led her group of the brotherhood and was the one who led magneto to jean prompting to push her over the edge before xavier could help/stop her from going full dark phoenix. i would have hope for the future but for some weird reason the x-men films have a quota on mutants of color lol. fingers crossed jubilee will be made a full x-men and she and storm actually DO something but not holding my breath. my hopes are on the new mutants. hopefully they wont take dani’s big moment of defeating the demon bear and give it to sam
You do realize the Dafne Keen who portrays X-23 and is a major integral haracter in “Logan” is Spanish. She was born in Spain.
I’m sure if you did proper research before spotting of this bile, you wouldn’t have made your comments but I know what agenda you’re trying to push. Hell, I see this site and its followers care more about race and ethnicity than those with disabilities and that goes towards all walks of life with disabilities in case you attempted to paint me in a negative light.
I asked you on twitter already what relevance Dafne Keen’s being half Spanish has to my article. You didn’t answer there. Maybe you’ll answer here. Also: I’M disabled. And I don’t talk about disability here BECAUSE THIS SITE IS ABOUT RACE. Actually, I HAVE mentioned disability before, here and there, but not much because, again THIS SITE IS ABOUT RACE. Don’t bring that tired derailing method here again.
Thank you for clarifying for stance of Diversity with this site. My point of bringing up Dafne Keen was because she in fact plays a huge role in the film even though you have transformed the film into a space to further political and racial commentary. If me trying to push for Diversity that includes the disabled which in nearly 95% does not,I’ll keep doing it because while you solely focus on the 2 dimensional aspect of race/ethnicity I look to further the scope of Diversity.
Jonathan: one more chance before I give up on you: what relevance does Dafne Keen’s half-Spanish ethnicity have to any of this? Did you actually READ what I wrote? You drop her ethnicity here as if it’s some sort of proof of … something, but I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say. Could you please say it already, or else just admit that you have nothing to say?
This website is NOT ABOUT “DIVERSITY” IT IS ABOUT RACE. Your coming here and saying “diversity should be about the disabled as well” is ridiculous because NO ONE HERE DISAGREES WITH YOU. Elsewhere, I actually spend quite a bit of time talking/writing about disability and advocating for accessible and inclusive spaces. But I don’t spend a lot of time doing that here BECAUSE THIS SITE IS SPECIFICALLY ABOUT RACE. That’s what the site’s founder built the site on, that’s what we writers were recruited to write about. We can talk about other things, sure, but we do need to stick to the main theme of the site, which is RACE.
So knock it off. Explain your weird fixation with Dafne Keen’s ethnicity, or go away.
I really liked Logan. Definitely one of my favourite superhero films of the past 5 years. I think the villains could’ve been stronger but the film is really about Logan, Charles & Laura. I wouldn’t mind them letting James Mangold direct the next X-Men film.
Deeply insightful! You have given me much to think about. Very, very good.
The article reminds me of Kyle Kallgren’s video essay “From Caligari to Hitler”. It’s a good watch, about how films of a culture often display internalized fears and desires, like spots of an illness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndFysO2JunE
I doubt Logan meant to consciously portray a moral of “white people are going to be washed away by all the POC and immigrants” and more likely it’s a symptom of a caste-system film industry that continues to place white men at the spotlight and non-white actors as extras. But even if it’s unintentional, it can still mean that viewers, particularly on the so-called “alt right” spectrum, might read it that way and so feel justified in their prejudices. Oftentimes a simple change of protagonist may have been enough to change the implications of a story, so it’s not merely “white guy vs ‘the system’.”
I don’t think these things are ever done consciously, no.
Wait, so the film where the only unambiguously good guys are minorities is racist? There’s no pleasing you is there?
Near the end of the movie, the evil Weapon X doctor actually mentions that mutants have stopped being born because the government (i.e. the doctor and his cronies) have engineered changes in the water supply, changes in the national diet, and other infrastructural elements that literally prevent mutants from being born. And if that’s not an incredibly insidious metaphor for what White supremacists would like to see done to minorities and their children, I don’t know what is.
Whoa. I missed that part! That makes the whole metaphor that much worse.
You understood nothing from a very interesting movie.
It doesn’t talk about the end of the “white men”, but what happens when a society has been hating “others” for generations and generations. They go so far as put a anti-mutant vaccine in the drinks so no more mutants will be born (such an important criticisms about big corporations and GMOs, incredible how you missed it).
The movie shows the idea that the US no longer is a safe place for “others”, deportation lines appear twice in the beginning of the movie. Logan, Laura and Xavier go from Mexico to Canada, knowing well that the US is no safe haven.
The family who is suffering from a big corporations pushing them out, who gives them a moment of normality, when they are all killed, the dad, looks to Logan, see him for what he is, a mutant, and tries to kill him. Someone who has been victim of prejudice finds time before dying to hate and fear the “other”.
And the kids are Latino Mexicans, because the lab was in MEXICO.
The movie is not about the fear of the end of the White Men (even though they look white, are Mutants who look white considered white Caucasians?) , but what happens after decades and decades of nothing but hatred about anything different.
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