Friday, March 20, 2015

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST — Progress for the Short (8 June 2014)

 Short People got no reason
To live — Randy Newman

           The only time I was openly discriminated against, it was discrimination on the basis of height.

            From adolescence until my vertebral discs started to go, I was more or less 5' 2" tall (1.58 m.), which made me two inches too tall to be "4F" and unfit for US military service but two inches too short to be an officer in any of the armed services of the United States.

            This was not a big deal for me since I'd taken two years of high school ROTC — Reserve Officer Training Corps — and had decided that I really didn't want a military career; however my height issue didn't stop the University of Illinois from compelling me to take two years of college ROTC, even though I couldn't become an officer, reserve or otherwise. Or I couldn't unless I got a really, really late growth spurt, which I didn't.

            Anyway, I didn't mind ROTC much: US involvement in Vietnam was still at the "advisors" stage, and ROTC was my introduction to real history and serious thinking about military policy; and it was refreshing to get past the jingoistic bullshit that I'd been taught in school and that passed and still passes for public discourse on "defense" issues.

            It did bother me a bit that I was only grudgingly made a squad leader for drill and could never become platoon sergeant. Not that I wanted to, but it was the principle of the thing. The world and the US Army (or at least the ROTC detachment in Urbana, IL) wanted leaders that the men could look up to, that were, ideally, head and shoulders above the rest, that could look big men straight in the eye, that — anyway, you get the point. They definitely didn't want some little shit at the head of the line who'd make the platoon look ridiculous during drill, and drill, fortunately for the security of the United States, was all our platoons as platoons, did.

            So now let me praise X-Men: Days of Future Past, Bryan Singer director and one of too many producers, and, more or less relevantly, with casting by Roger Mussenden. The 2014 X-Men has as its villain Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage, who is 4' 5" tall 1.35 m.), and about whose height there is not one word in X-Men.

            And that is not one word even though a few words could be relevant since — no SPOILER, actually — Trask is duplicated by the shape-shifter Mystique, and if X-Men were serious science fiction, it would be an issue of how someone of her size and mass (5'9" [1.75 m.]) could scale down to someone of his size: the law of conservation of matter/energy and all. Days of Futures Past is a serious movie, but it is not serious, "hard" SF, and basic laws of physics can be safely ignored as the plot and neat visuals require.

           Also, as a commenter on the blog pointed out, Dinklage is an actor with mutation-caused achondroplasia dwarfism, and the script could have made explicit the irony of Trask as a familiar kind of mutant trying to exterminate more exotic mutants. 
            So now let me praise the X-Men franchise for "One small step for a (small) man; one small step also for all us small people": Dinklage's height is irrelevant for plot, character, or theme, and, without fuss, the film works around it.

            The height business is important.

            Back in the 1950s or early 1960s, a Chicago newspaper — probably the Tribune — had an article about people who'd make fine candidates for President of the United States but who wouldn't ever be nominated. I forgot who the woman was, but I remember that Ralph Bunche was mentioned: a highly competent US diplomat and winner of the 1950 Nobel Peace prize, but African-American. Also mentioned was the Hon. Paul Douglas: medal-winning World War II Marine and a notable senator from the State of Illinois, but, alas, a certified intellectual with a master's and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia and a record of open and notorious service in various university Economics Departments, including the faculty of the University of Chicago.

            Here one should mention progress, and this one will: Barack Obama was not only nominated for but twice elected President of the United States even though a he's "two-fer" by the old newspaper article, and more: Barack Obama is an African-American and a Harvard and U of Chicago intellectual, with the middle name of Hussein.

            One large step for people of color, intellectual achievement, and blended ethnicities.

            But if we were to rewrite that Tribune article (or maybe pre-Murdoch Sun-Times), what might we do with Robert S. Reich? Robert Reich is a former Secretary of Labor, a product of the Ivy League and Oxford U, currently a professor at UCal Berkeley, an award-winning filmmaker, and a respected political commentator. He's also divorced, (as was Ronald Reagan), Jewish, and — relevant here — was unsuitable for military service in Vietnam because he was under five feet tall: 4' 11" (1.49 m).

            Even if he converted to, say, Presbyterian and neoConservate, could Robert Reich be elected US president? Maybe, but I suspect Whoopi Goldberg at 5' 5" (1.65 m.) would stand a marginally better chance though a divorced dyslexic ….

            Still, film roles and election to the US presidency aren't immediate concerns for many people. Things get complicated with the exceptionally tall, and for women, but let's talk about the ways in which short American men may be, well, looked down upon and/or, fail to, ahem, measure up. Adjusting for other statistically significant parameters, short American males have problems with dating, maybe with mating, and certainly with life-time income. And as more female college graduates move into good jobs and more equitable home lives, it will be an interesting question how much income disparity for women depends on height.

            So I praise the makers of X-Men for giving us a villain who happens to be short — but who does great voice work as an actor, is one of the least genetically unusual people in the series of films, and is really, really cool.

No comments:

Post a Comment