295: Gifted Youngster

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Gifted Youngster

Susan Arendt sees her own weirdness looking back at her from the pages of an X-Men comic book.

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Excellent article, and I completely agree. I've always made a point of doing much the same thing; there's no point in trying to fit in with everyone else if you don't enjoy it. If people don't like me for who I am, fine, but I'm not going to change who I am for their benefit. This is one of the things I've loved about university, actually; it's much easier to find like-minded nerds who enjoy the same things you do. I never really got into the X-Men, but I do think this is one of the many reasons I like Superman. Ok, he's not actively discriminated against (Lex Luthor aside) but he is an outsider, and a lot of my favourite Superman comics are about him dealing with being the only one of his kind on Earth. Naturally I'm not Kryptonian, although being able to fly would be awesome, but I have often felt like an outsider, like I didn't really belong.

Still, why be normal when you can be abnormal? It's much more fun.

that article made my day.
and I agree, being normal is boring REALLY BORING!. also someone liking doctor who is no problem in my books!

Despite not really being a comics geek, I've always been fascinated by the X-Men. (I learned enough about them to not be able to watch Heroes without pointing out every character's X-Men analogue...)

There's something about the "you can never go home" change of the X-gene mutations that always struck me. Sure, a lot of them could maintain real vs. secret identities, but there were plenty who couldn't ever even appear normal, and even the ones that could... well, they could pretend to be normal humans, but they couldn't ever really be normal again. Kitty Pryde can dress, talk, and act like any other young woman, but she'll never not be able to walk through walls. Mystique can look like anyone or anything she wants, but deep down she'll always be a blue-skinned, yellow-eyed mutant woman. When a mutant is changed, she's changed forever. That's both empowering, and intensely lonely.

I've always tried to investigate that sense of being set apart from others than seems so ingrained to the X-Men in particular, so much so that all the characters I've designed for tabletop superhero RPGs always seem to have that aspect to them. They can't ever really pass for human. A shapeshifter with a stable of cool forms... but none of them were her human self. A loner who got made to look like an elf... in a modern world where elves are fantasy.

When you don't feel like you yourself belong in the world you're in, it's so easy to be captivated by others who don't. And when you feel like there's no way to even pretend to fit in, you get fascinated by others who can't, either. Ask Hank McCoy.

Well done, Ms. Arendt, well done.

Susan Arendt:
Gifted Youngster

Susan Arendt sees her own weirdness looking back at her from the pages of an X-Men comic book.

Read Full Article

From reading your article, I can tell we're all in good company here.

Ours really is a generation made up of freaks, geeks, weirdos, and nerds of all sorts... mostly just because our culture has fragmented so much that it's hard to pin down a "mainstream" to the same degree we could once. Even so, there's still that "old guard" that hangs onto antiquated notions of cool, normal, and WTF, and they still behave as though they have a clear majority.

They don't. If all the different weirdo-enclaves could band together, they'd see that most of us are geeks of one kind or another.

I really enjoyed your comment about not "making life more comfortable" for your detractors by hiding. It really captures the right balanced for how to live outside the norm. You're not looking to make them uncomfortable, and you're not chasing them around with your "weirdness." You're just asking for the same space they claim for themselves.

The one thing I love about superhero comics is the utopian idealism, especially with the X-Men. That you can make a better world if you work towards it. It won't happen overnight, hell it might not happen within your lifetime, and there will always be bigoted, hypocritical, criminal, or self-righteous assholes who will want to kill or discredit you, but the important part is to keep fighting that battle, because it's a cause worth fighting for, and it's something everyone can (and should) get behind.

It's a message I like to come back to from time to time, especially in between long bouts of seeing people play into the same power games that keep us fighting each other over superficial differences like skin color, sexuality, or religion. It's good to know that despite our differences, we're closer than we ever really think.

Good article. I'm starting to see a growing trend here and not just on the Escapist. It seems nerds/geeks/weirdos/mutants of older generations really like to point out how much easier it is for geeks to connect with other geeks these days, primarily due to the internet. While yes, the internet makes finding other like you much easier, and yes, much of geek culture has gone mainstream and is more socially acceptable, that doesn't mean we can't be labeled as "weird" and have a difficult childhood. Its nice that you can find other weirdos on the internet, but being treated with respect and connecting with those around you, especially in your teen years, is an extremely important part of growing up and the internet shouldn't be used as a crutch or a substitute. Anyway sorry, kind of went off on a tangent in what was little more than a footnote in your article XP

I completely agree with everything she wrote. As I'm sure that many of us here can relate to the situation of being "that weird kid" and not having a lot of good friends growing up. I was never one of those popular kids, but it didn't matter. I had my one or two like-minded friends, all of whom also enjoyed watching the X-Men, Batman, and Spider-Man cartoons that were on during the 90s, or what I see as the Golden Age of cartoons. We had each other and everyone else didn't matter. And I still feel that way today: take me as I am, or you aren't worth my time.

While I never thought about the deeper issues that were present in the X-men or the like, such as the idea that people of different races, religions, etc can and should get along, superheroes have always been just that for me: people who have been given extra abilities and placed in a situation where they can do a lot of good for humanity. And they don't back down. I think that's why, as a culture, we are so fascinated by superheroes and why there has been such a surge in superhero movies being made recently.

An excellent article, thank you. I imagine that you've probably managed to capture the feelings of most comic book readers. Judging by the successes of the recent string of marvel films I don't think comic book readers are the minority that everyone assumed they were...at least not anymore.

Susan Arendt:
Susan Arendt hopes that someone eventually gets Gambit right in an X-Men movie.

Seconded. Gambit is my favourite, while his powers don't stand out much among the others his personality was by far the best and his unusual relationship with rogue always kept me reading more.

On that note I'd prefer it if they fixed Rogue too. While the angsty teen is an interesting take I preferred her backstory when she was older and had the whole Ms. Marvel's psyche issue.

P.S I always preferred Magneto to Professor X; he always seemed more relatable and more human ironically.

Susan Arendt:
I had always known that I didn't fit in, but I'd never really understood why. I spent my entire education, up through college, trying to copy my peers, in the hopes that I would accidentally find the secret formula to acceptance. I wore what they wore, I watched what they watched, I went where they went. But somehow they always knew I was faking it. Now that I was out of that environment, mingling with people who hadn't been with each other every day since they were 8, I began to finally understand my problem: I was weird.

That part really hit me. I fully understand where you're coming from here. I've spent my whole life trying to make friends and fit in. I've never truly been successful though. I now know, and have known for a few years why this is, but it still gets to me from time to time. I find it amazing how I can have so many friends who talk to me and hang out with me, but only two or three of them are actually true friends who understand me for who I am. The rest are, quite honestly, nothing much more than acquaintances.

I loved this article, Susan. I'm glad that I know one more person who has had similar problems as I have.

Susan...I...Was that boy...

Not really, but I used to love the letters pages back in the 80's where they'd print the persons address. It was a good way to get pen pals (remember when that was popular lol) that shared your interests. And a good way to not feel so much like an outsider because you cared more about who the Hobgoblin was under the mask or why Megatron didn't just off Starscream for his treachery than who the school football team was playing.

I can relate a lot to this. I'd say it hit be a lot earlier in life due in part to a perfect storm of meeting my best friend, discovering comics, then the internet.

I always tried to be girly because I felt that was what was expected of me. And I do like some girly things but I always wanted to read comics or play DnD. Then when I was in 9th grade I meet my best friend who just liked me for me, I never felt like I had to pretend to be someone I wasn't. She had been an avid collector of comics, and I was like well then there is no reason I can't. I had been really into the X-men cartoon on Fox so the first comic books I really got into were X-men. From there I moved onto a whole host of geeky/nerdy hobbies which I really enjoy and while it was still hard in high school after a few years I learned if people can't deal with what I like then f*&k'um.

Fabulous article. I too was a fan of 80s X-Men, although I never got that "I too am a mutant!" feeling - I just loved the characters and the zany blend of sci-fi, superheroes and soap opera delivered with an over-the-top writing style.

The sidebar picture of Storm wearing a mohawk is also excellent, as an example of genuine character development (very rare in superhero comics) and of Claremont's wonderful ability to make you care about people who don't fit the superhero stereotype. This is around the time that Wolverine was left at the altar, Magneto became a Holocaust survivor, and Jean was actually dead.

So what you're saying is...we should...form a Brotherhood of Nerds...and destroy the rest of humanity for what they have done to us?
.....
Where do I sign?

That's an awesome article.

While I wouldn't call myself a "mutant" in any definition of the term, I'm definitely not like how some of my peers would like me to be. Example: (way) back in 2008, me and some coworkers from my unit were in a bar living it up when I suddenly got bombarded with questions about baseball of all things. When I responded in ignorance, I got many looks of astonishment as to how I didn't know such things. Then someone outright asked, and I broke it down to them: I did not care. I broke it down further, saying how I couldn't care less about baseball stats, who's going to win what gold medal in the Olympics, or which celebrity was fucking who. I was far more interested in Saints Row DLC, trying to break my high score in Ninja Gaiden 2, and reading about who the best character was in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Needless to say, this didn't go over too well with some of my coworkers, but they eventually got over it and everything ended on good terms.

Like most others, I'm sure, it took a while to realize that I was a stranger in my own land. I didn't have the best clothes, from my speech habits it was obvious I was no kind of "thug" in any sense (hell, I used to catch flak for actually doing my homework - got moved to a different class as such too), and most of my spare time was spent speed-running Sonic 3 & Knuckles and drawing [terrible] Dragonball Z fanart than playing basketball and trying to get a girlfriend.

I used to follow the lore behind the X-Men, and I think it was around the time I too noticed the symbolism behind the entire premise that I realized that I'm one of the biggest nerds I've ever known. It wasn't until around high school that I was actually comfortable with it, and that wasn't until I came across fellow video game and comic book nerds who just recently embraced their cultures. We had a good time, making obscure sci-fi jokes, tripping over character tiers in fighting games, and going into serious discussions about the continuity of such things like Pokémon and and all the censoring they did in Sailor Moon. We found comfort in each other's understanding of geek culture.

I'm still a geek to the core, but I didn't realize that through reading about the eccentricities of the X-Men. But if I did, I met have accepted myself sooner... and probably would've pissed off my coworkers that much more. :P

I have to agree on the Gambit comment. I mean what does Hollywood have against a gambling, lascivious Cajun? He's the most like Wolverine in temperament and the least like him in passion and vices. I always thought he was underdone in the comics, let alone in the movies. :(

My only issue with the article (being around the same age as the lovely Susan) is the number of fellow geeks and mutants I grew up with. It became something of a badge of honour to be a geek or a freak and proud of it, yet the one thing that is true in the X-Men is that it's just a thing. Not something good or bad, just something. It's true that you should never hide your true self and glad Ms Arendt found her voice, but I've met a whole host of people who kinda shove it down your throat, like being pissed off and angry is their right?

The internet is the worst offender of this as legions of geeks spew out the bile over anything they think criticises or threatens their fragile egos. Many of those reading these columns will have been bullied or picked on in some way simply for being who they are but it doesn't automatically give you the right to then BECOME one of the bullies you suffered through. Comics touch this subject very well across almost all materials and books have done so for generations. In the struggle against what you hate, be careful you don't become the thing you hate.

I wish this forum had a like or rating button so I could give this article a thumbs up or whatever cause I don't have anything interesting to say other than I liked it.

Worse than being a lonely weird? Being that in Rio de Janeiro where everyone must be ripped, hot, like beaches and be a sex fiend.

It is sad that I understand the focus of the schools shooters.

Huh, I really enjoyed that. I wasn't expecting much since I'm not much of a comic fan, but it turned out to be about much more than that. Something I'm sure everyone can relate to in some way (for me it was growing up in rural Ireland with no interest in sports - I was the only guy in my primary school that didn't play hurling).

So, yeah... Well done.

I read X-men for the longest time and I kinda dug on the underlying message.

It is okay to be different and the best way to fight intolerance was through violence whether it was for Wolverine to slit someone's throat or for Storm to hit them in the face with a lightning bolt. (Admittedly, with Wolverine, the throat-slitting was usually non-marketable characters, ninjas, or Brood so that added an element of facelessness.)

So, yeah. While I did a paper comparing Genosha to Apartheid in college, looking back on it as well as my older comics, the underlying message seems to be a bit mixed between "We must seek to accept each other's differences" and "Klebold and Harris were right."

Miss Arendt, while I'm not a comic book geek, I do have a similar high school experience as far as trying to act like that one group, the one that gets everything. Well, I realized in my senior year that I was different. That's a lot earlier than many, and for that I'm thankful.

So the only thing left I have to say about your article is this:

HELL YEAH!

An excellent article. It's always nice to hear heartwarming tales like this.

I don't really have anything meaningful to contribute, just that this is good stuff!

Bravo Susan, loved it!

Great article; I like to tell people that the X-men taught me tolerence. Not my parents (who complained that the Asians were stealing our jobs), not my religion (that told me my Sophmore year roommate was sinful), not my school (that said that girls couldn't wear spandex to class...fascist pigs!
)No, I learned a lot of the "free to be, you and me" stuff from a supersmart bald guy, a Canadian with unbreakable bones, and even one very angry guy with a great helmet. And in keeping with their lessons (well, not Mag's lessons; he wants me to hold the UN hostage), I try to accept those that are different, and to point out the intolerence in others.

Just wish I had an optic blast to go with it....

Great Article.
It seems society forces fitting in into our lives without needing to.
Again What is normal. How do we define a normal situation. Your likes don't define your
status or how "normal" you are. to have hobbies and things you enjoy is to be normal in my opinion. We're not human without them. There should be nothing wrong (to an point of completley wrong and sick such as wanting to go and rape)with things you love and enjoy doing.

I love The Beatles and people at school always lay into me for it. I still like DBZ and funny enough I still think as ,an overall comic series, x-men is brilliant. X-men did show many hidden signs of teaching kids of the original generation about tolerance. That something the parents wouldn't have realized. To them it was just a 60 cent comic book.

Being different is better then being the follower.

First off, great article!

I grew up in a relatively small city and went all through school with basically the same bunch of people. Perhaps it is because we were a small school that everyone was pretty tolerant towards everyone else, but I never had any of these issues growing up. I was always upfront about my geekery, I even wore Star Trek shirts to class in high school and I never got any crap about it. Obviously, the guys on the sports teams (in my case hockey) were the most popular, but the geeks were not bullied by them.

As an adult, I have met people who had a very different experience growing up and it makes my wonder why people have to be such dicks. People are not all the same, they have different interests and hobbies. How can a world where everyone is the same be interesting? My life is richer because of the passionate people I have met who have shown me how the look at the world in a different way, not by trying to fit into someone else's idea of normal.

Hi all,

Excellent article, that hit me like a deja-vu. As other pointed out for themselves, I experienced the same feeling Susan Arendt analyses in the article.

Back to the days of childhood, I've always wanted to be an inventor, while others talked about policeman, assistant, firefighter, caretaker or lawyer. That may be why I'm now an engineer : that was the nearest I could find in real world schools... And even as an engineer, I engaged into a "normal" career in industry, consultancy, public services and then back to industry. But the key moment was when I didn't apply for that videogame company called Delphine Software, because, well, in 1993, getting a job at a videogame company was not serious and my initial contract at a great industrial group was about to be renewed. I knew game design was my way, but at the time I couldn't resist the pressure of school-induced and family-induced prejudices.

Now, 20 years from that day, I've never been perfectly fit in a single company I worked with, and my personal publishing project is only a way of keeping a link with my true homeland. I fought this feeling during years, "in the hopes that I would accidentally find the secret formula to acceptance", to no avail. Finally, a skills review prompted deeper recognition and I decided to devise a strategy to get my personal project from leisure to pro without putting my revenue at risk, step by step. Because now that I earn my life and have a house and family to support, I can't just let go my dayjob to follow my dream. I live in France and the job market isn't as fluent as in the US. Now, trying to catch up the pieces of my dreams is what I'm currently doing and why I'm an Escapist-addict (if primarily lurker) in the first place.

Now that, at least, I've publicly wrotten down that facts, I feel at ease. I have no more need to play fake. I can be true to myself and work on catching my long-neglected dreams. So, thanks Susan for the article that prompted it all ^-^

The Random One:
And they tell me there are people who are normal, but I don't know what they look like because I've never met one.

Gawd. I fall under panel 5, 6, 8, and occasionally 9. Possibly 4 depending on your definition of odd clothing.

Nicely put :D

That was a beautiful story. :)

We are all Mutants here. The Internet is our Sanctuary :)

Nice article. The Claremont era of the X-men will always be one of my favorites, not only because of the way the characters were brought to life, but because it occurred simultaneously with an amazing time in my life. I had a great group of friends that didn't care about what anyone else thought, and in the days of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and 24/7 texting, when everyone is hung up on how many friends/hits/twits they have, I can't help but miss them.

Thank you Susan. Something about this article resonated with a 14 year-old version of myself that still exists deep beneath my (supposedly) grown-up exterior. I well remember that feeling of otherness and even after all this time it's great to read your article and maybe feel just a tiny bit of vindication that I was right: There was never anything wrong with me, I just hadn't met my peers yet.

This article speaks to the very essence of what Stan Lee was doing when he, as good as, created Marvel. Stories and characters that spoke to the readers sense of isolation and idealism, as well as extolling moral virtues without shoving them down our throats.

The Hulk taught us that rage is ultimately destructive and should never supersede reason;
The Fantastic Four taught us that family is most important and stronger than the sum of it's parts;
The X-Men taught us that no matter how shitty the world treats you, you have to rise above it;
Spider-Man, despite what Kick Ass claimed, taught us that being true to ourself is the key to happiness and a fulfilling life;
And Captain America, well, he taught us is that the truest heroes are the ones with no powers at all.

It's a crying shame that Marvel has been corrupted by the taint of financial success and self important creators who have no respect for where the characters came from.

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