250 – Oppressed Mage Shenanigans

The Mythcreant Podcast

Mages are difficult to oppress, what with how they can teleport and shoot fire out of their hands, but that doesn’t stop authors from trying. Some stories manage to get past the practical barriers of oppressing mages before running into the socio-political ones, but we’re not talking about those stories today. Instead, this podcast is about the hilarity that ensues when stories try to oppress mages that are way too powerful to be oppressed. Strap in, it’ll be quite the ride.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

The Problem With Oppressed Mages 

Carnival Row

How the Oppressed Mages Trope Sabotages House of X

BBC Merlin

X-Men Cartoon


The Gifted

Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age Origins

Empire of Sand

Battlestar Galactica

The Rook


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Generously transcribed by Cindi at YourPodScribe.

Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreant podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle. [Opening Theme]

Chris: This is the Mythcreant podcast. I’m Chris and with me is…

Wes: Wes.

Chris: And…

Oren: Oren.

Chris: …and today we’re having some big problems. There’s somebody who wants to oppress us. And we’re way more powerful than this person, they can’t realistically oppress us, but at the same time, we’re tripping on our own feet trying to make sure that it’s possible ’cause we need problems.

Oren: I specifically use only the worst possible tactics I can imagine to try to give the bad guy a chance, ’cause otherwise we could just crush him with lightning.

Chris: Yeah, I mean this podcast just wouldn’t be exciting, if we just crushed this person so we give them a sporting chance as best we can.

Wes: [Laughter] Gotta draw this out. It’s important. We have 30 minutes, lots to fill.

Chris: So yeah, this time we’re talking about Oppressed Mage shenanigans. And basically the gist here is we’re talking about a lot of the storytelling issues that come out of the Oppressed Mage trope, which to be specific, it’s when a character is oppressed specifically because they have magic. So it’s not you’re oppressed because of your race or gender, and then you also happen to have magic. It’s because it’s when people are mistreated for having powers. And one of the big problems storytelling wise with this trope is that it sets up your protagonist to be more powerful than your antagonist. So it becomes really hard to keep the threat of the story going when that happens. And so stories do really funny things to try to keep the conflict going even though there’s just no realistic way for these people who have no magic abilities to defeat the heroes who do.

Oren: This is what happens when stories fail to clear the first hurdle that I laid out in my Oppressed Mages article where I talked about how the first problem is that it’s hard to oppress Mages because they have magic powers and some stories manage to clear that bar and then they get other ones like they create a situation where it’s at least technically plausible that this could happen, but a lot of stories don’t and that’s what we’re talking about today.

Chris: Who wants to start?

Oren: Well, I feel like we should start with the example that kind of spawned this podcast episode which is Carnival Row.

Wes: The Pixies.

Chris: Yeah. It’s funny because Carnival Row, when you look at it objectively, it probably isn’t as big as it could be because we’re really just talking about the fact that the fairies can fly ‘cause there is other magic in the setting, but it’s been pretty clear that this magic is something that non-fae can do too. Humans can also do the magic, so it’s not like one group is the only group who has these other magic powers and they’re being oppressed for it. It’s really just the fact that fairies can fly, but it’s amazing how bad the show does, trying to show why these fairies are oppressed and underpowered despite being able to fly when nobody else can.

Oren: And it’s also just weird and out of theme where it’s like no other fairies have specific abilities. None of the other magic creatures really have anything particularly useful. But Pixies can fly. And it’s like, why do they get flight and the other fairies get nothing.

Chris: I mean if we spent more time with the centaurs, maybe the fact that they could run faster or carry more or something, it would matter. But those I think are harder special effects. In any case, my favorite moment in Carnival Row where they’re clearly just trying their best but having a really, really hard time is we have this scene where all of the fae have been walled off in this ghetto surrounded by barbed wire, okay well the fairies can just fly over the barbed wire. [Laughter] So trying to sequester them here is not going to be very effective. But then to show you specifically why fairies can’t just fly over the barbed wire, they have a fairie get spooked and try to fly over the barbed wire and get shot down. But she does it in broad daylight right in front of the guards. Why would they do that? They’d wait until it’s nighttime and then they’d sneak away. And you’d have to shoot them before they get away, and that would be very unlikely.

Oren: They also did this earlier in one of the flashback sequences where they show the war and this is a pre airplanes society. These guys are late Victorian era tech as far as we can tell, they don’t really have airplanes. However, the other side does have air ships. So we have a sequence where the other side’s airships are flying in and some of the Pixs fly out to try to fight them. And of course in real life, air ships are ponderous and unmaneuverable and really awkward and they’re very vulnerable, which is one of the reasons why we stopped using them. But these Pixs instead of going far away and then flying above them and then landing on top or dropping bombs or whatever, they fly directly at the underside where the machine guns are. Why are they doing it? I don’t understand why they’re doing that. They should just be able to completely win this fight with no trouble at all. But instead they’re like, Nope gonna really run right into the guns, I guess.

Wes: It’s a death or glory society I guess.

Chris: Yeah. And of course there’s also the idea that flying would be banned in the city and that none of these rich people who have fairy servants would want them to use their flying to carry messages or do smuggling or what have you is just ridiculous.

Oren: Or just the army. The advantage that flying scouts would give you just in terms of information is ridiculous. Not even considering bombing, ’cause that’s originally what airplanes were used for was scouting. That was incredibly valuable. That was why we developed fighter planes in the first place, which was to shoot down the scouts because they were so useful. Guys, why are you all ignoring this resource that’s right here? It’s really obvious.

Wes: If at the very least they would just make the best couriers. It’s like, Oh, we can deliver packages. What was that really cute animated movie with the young witch who…

Oren: Kiki’s Delivery Service…

Wes: She’s like, well I’m a witch and I guess I know how to fly a broom. So here’s my trade. And they’re, great, you are really good at this.

Oren: The reason this happens is that we give our characters special powers because we want them to be cool. We like special powers; we want our characters to use those powers. But then we want them to be marginalized for having those powers. And that’s why this problem is so hard for writers to get past. Because if their powers were actually weak enough that they weren’t useful, then they would be boring and no one would want them. This is why you don’t see a lot of characters whose power is to make a marble the color blue.

Wes: I would still take it. I mean sure.

Oren: That’s still potentially useful but we don’t see characters with powers that weak very often outside of deliberate comedy or spoofs specifically because that would mess up the fantasy. We wouldn’t want that.

Wes: Isn’t it interesting too how often flight seems to be the one; it’s the magic or the power that is given, but then just kind of is just immediately written out. It’s either, Oh everybody can fly or you can fly, but here are all the reasons why you won’t. It’s a power that I think all of us would want to have. So it hits on wish fulfillment, but then for whatever reason it’s just never good enough and that’s bothersome. Oren, didn’t you have a post recently about mutants and stuff like that with flight in X-Men and stuff like that?

Oren: Oh yeah. Well okay so that was weird. That’s for a post that’s coming up. It should already be out by the time you’re listening to this. But yeah, there’s an episode in the comic House of X, mild spoilers, they put together a team to take down a bad space station and for some reason they bring the guy whose only power is flight. [Group laughter] This is an enclosed space station. I don’t know what you think he’s going to bring to this fight. I mean maybe he’s just really good with a gun. I don’t know. But there were more useful mutants they could have brought.

Chris: I think flight just takes a little bit more thought to carry out in a story because unlike zapping somebody with lightening bolts, it’s obvious how you would use that in a conflict. But flight is a transportation ability. And I think it takes more thought to figure out how you would leverage flight to be an advantage. And then when it is an obvious advantage, like overcoming barriers and getting in places, it makes it too easy just like teleportation does. So I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s often negated so frequently. Certainly in the new Dark Crystal show they have an issue with flight clearly making things too easy for the conflicts they wanted these characters to have.

Oren: It also just depends on what kind of conflict you have going. Like in a lot of superhero stories, the main kind of fighting is always going to be superheroes punching each other. That’s what we actually want to watch. And so if that’s the case, if your main fighting is going to be melee and once you give one character flight you kind of have to start giving all of them flight. Otherwise how are they going to reach that guy? That one person can fly. We want to have melee fights so we have to be able to get up to him too. And then like in a lower tech environment where there is no flight and everyone’s a little bit more fragile, then suddenly flight goes from an annoyance you have to overcome to incredibly overpowered.

Chris: So I have another story that has lots of shenanigans in it. BBC Merlin.

Wes: That’s the one where Merlin’s trying to keep his magic on the down low right?

Chris: Right. [Group laughter]. So in this one, Merlin is a young man who is super, super powerful. We don’t really know what he can and can’t do. It’s super plot convenient, but it feels like he can do just about anything. So to try to keep this under wrap, they have this king who is Arthur’s father Uther, and he’s the magic genocide King. He wants to kill everyone who has magic, really bad mass murderer.

Wes: Like you do.

Oren: Yeah. He just hates magic.

Wes: Yup.

Chris: But in the plot, he has to stay King for reasons. At one point they say Arthur is just not ready to rule yet. But he’s definitely a better ruler than his father. Merlin’s primary conflict is trying to keep his magic secret so that the king he’s serving by protecting his son won’t kill him. So when he uses magic on Uther and Arthur’s behalf, he has to do it secretly so they don’t know that he’s using magic to help them so that they don’t murder him.

Oren: This isn’t even about how powerful Merlin is. It’s really weird for them in some episodes to show us these tragic shots of murdered Mage children and then be, yeah, but Uther’s a little rough around the edges, but yeah, you get to know him. I mean, who among us hasn’t started off like a Holocaust once in a while? You know, that’s just a really weird dynamic they have.

Chris: So basically all the antagonists are powerful magic users who want to kill Uther because he is committing mass murder and Merlin has to fight them.

Wes: Oh no.

Chris: So in this it uses this method to turn other magic workers into antagonists, so he’s still a powerful antagonist, but Merlin is constantly protecting somebody who really should just die ’cause he’s the bad guy. He’s actually the objective bad guy in this situation.

Oren: He’s also just a bad King. I just want to put that out there. He’s also a horrible ruler and is not smart and makes terrible choices that have nothing to do with magic. So the idea that we need to protect him because Arthur’s not ready to be king? Arthur’s a better King when he’s asleep than Uther is. It’s ridiculous [Group laughter] that they expect us to believe that.

Wes: Yeah.

Chris: It’s great. And supposedly the reason why Uther hates magic workers is he went to a Mage because his son was gonna die and the Mage told him, yeah, I can cast a magic so that your son will live, but somebody else is gonna die as a result ’cause that’s going to be the balancing factor of the consequence of this magic. And he was like, yeah, go for it. And then that person happened to be his wife and Arthur’s mother. And then he was like, no. And then he was so angry, he decided to, to kill all the Mages even though he’d signed up for that.

Wes: Right.

Oren: This is kind of like how rulers in the modern day will sometimes burn all airplanes because like a loved one died in an airplane crash. Oh wait, no, no, they don’t do that. Never mind. That’s a, that’s a boo boo on me.

Chris: Wes do you have one you want to talk about?

Wes: Well we brought up X-Men earlier and Oren’s got some posts that talk on that one too. But I woke up the other day with a nineties cartoon theme song stuck in my head, which was great. I remember this maybe five, six years ago. I YouTube’d the entirety of that series. It got weird. I had no idea. What happened eventually ’cause you only saw it with Saturday morning cartoons and you saw the same episodes over and over again. But no, it basically ends with Xavier falling in love and moving to outer space. And that was…

Oren: Yeah, why not? Get out of here Xavier.

Wes: ‘Cause why not? Oren feel free to jump in here. The X-Men are constantly being faced with…I guess if you have magic power then there’s no way you’re going to use aggressive technology. Even though the X-Men, especially in that cartoon, are well funded and have stealth jets and all kinds of tech, but God forbid they pick up a rifle or build their own sentinels.

Oren: That’s the thing that really weirds me out in House of X, which is the comic that I critiqued in my post. The best explanation this comic can offer for how the bad guys, in this case they’re called Orchis, but they’re all basically the same, can possibly hurt the X-Men is they’re going to make an army of killer robots and yo, why don’t the X-Men make one? They’ve even got a guy whose power is that he makes machines real good.

Wes: Yeah. Forge.

Oren: That’s his power. And I don’t really know if he’s actually an X man, but he does help them build their resurrection machine. So I think he would help if they asked. How could they possibly be threatened at this point? Oh my gosh, the X-Men do that a lot. There’s a TV show called The Gifted. It’s an X-Men spinoff because technically the X-Men are a group of mutants, but it’s in the same world and it has the same problems of we’re gonna get you, you mutants. And the mutants are very studiously not using their powers in an intelligent way. My favorite is just the way that in these shows you have these asshole anti mutant bigots who like come up to mutants on the street and give them a hard time and there’s like a 90% chance that mutant could just kill you with a thought. And I just don’t think bigots are that brave. I mean my experience with bigots is that they’re pretty cowardly and they like to only attack the marginalized when they have the advantage. And I think this is giving them more credit than they deserve. The idea that they’d be like, yeah, that guy has I lasers, I’m gonna go give him a hard time. No, I don’t think they would.

Wes: Oh, no, it’s so bad. I mean, it makes you wonder thinking about the cartoon; you have these main X-Men like Cyclops and Wolverine. Their powers are incredibly violent powers. And so the answer is they have to destroy robots because it’s a Saturday morning cartoon kind of situation. But we want to watch the heroes triumph against sentinels and things like that. But robot on robot action is still pretty cool. I mean that could possibly open them up for other conflict. But, and I don’t know, Oren, it’s like what you said about flight and Marvel movies and stuff is it all comes down to melee and you want your heroes punching things and even Cyclops ends up punching stuff all the time too. Just take your visor off.

Oren: So just laser them. No, we’re done with lasers. His laser is a once per encounter ability and now he’s got to punch things.

Wes: Yep.

Oren: One of my favorites happens at the end of Dragon Age 2 and oh man, the marginalization magic combo in Dragon Age is super weird because one of the ways that they try to justify how Mages could be oppressed is that they give the Templars who are the main anti Mage group, magic powers too, there’s a different kind of magic power and I’m sitting here being like, well why aren’t the Templars oppressed for having the magic powers? And then the answer to that is, oh well actually Mages are super dangerous and can turn into blood monsters at the drop of a hat. So you’re telling me that in this story where you are clearly invoking tropes of actual oppressed people, you’re saying that the oppressors are right or at the very least they have a point.

In Origins if you choose the Mage quest line from the beginning, hey, congratulations, it’s time to move past apprentice status, we’re gonna force you to go into the fade and face a demon, which you know, there’s a really good chance it’s going to possess you and then we’re going to kill you. Come on.

That’s the way they explain why the mage Mages are oppressed, but the Templars aren’t because Mage magic is actually legitimately dangerous. Once you do that, you’ve completely changed the game and you’re not really talking about anything that is applicable to modern, real life oppression. But they still want to use the same parallels. But I was thinking about at the end of Dragon Age 2, there’s the section where you have this big final battle between the Templars and the Mages and the Mages are holed up in this castle and the Templars are attacking it. And they’ve told us in the story that the Templars are resistant to magic and we don’t know how resistant that is in in real terms. Like in game terms, we know that they can resist this much damage per attack. But in narrative terms, we don’t know if this is supposed to be a universe where if you throw a fireball at a Templar the Templar or will die or not.

So it’s not clear how resistant to magic they’re actually supposed to be in the fiction. But regardless, you have this whole castle full of Mages and for some reason they make the Mages fight in hand to hand combat against the Templars. And meanwhile, my party, which is made up of big beefy warriors, they have us stuffed inside in the last room. And I could be out there holding the gates and then all the Mages could shoot fireballs from afar which is what they’re good at. But no. No, the Mages are going to hand to hand the Templars with their little Mage staffs.

Oh my God, why are you doing this? Is it because you realize that showing a bunch of Templars walking through a rain of fireballs would be not believable? Is that why you’re doing this or was that just too hard to animate? I don’t know which one it is but that one was particularly frustrating because that’s a video game. The whole point of a video game, the whole reason that video games make good narrative platforms is that you feel involved but that means that video games are also way more vulnerable to “I would never do that” which is a problem any story can run into but it’s worse in video games because in video games you are encouraging me to think of the character as myself. I am supposed to avatar myself in there, well the avatar I’m piloting would not sit safe in the throne room, while there was a battle going on outside. That’s not a thing I would do and it’s really frustrating.

Wes: I have leveled up, I have skills. Let me at it.

Oren: Do you know how good a warrior I am? I have so many sword points. It’s ridiculous. Another one that I really like is at the end of a novel called Empire of Sand, which does a pretty good job until the very end because in this case until the very end, it’s not actually about oppressed Mages as such, it’s about an ethnic conflict and the oppressed minority just happens to have access to magic and the oppressor has a way of controlling them and that works out. I like that. That works pretty well. But towards the end, the main character for reasons I don’t understand gets approached by a representative of the spirits and is, Hey, so the bad guy was controlling the dreams of the gods to make everything go great for his empire. But he’s dead now. So we’re offering you that power, instead. You could control the will of the gods and just make the world awesome and a utopia. And she’s like, No, I’m not gonna. We need the bad things to also happen. Otherwise the good things are meaningless. Wait, really? Are you saying that all of the abuse you suffered until this point in the book was necessary? And then she thinks all of the abuse I suffered until this point was necessary. Well good job for straw manning yourself. I guess.

I don’t know why this was even offered to her ’cause it’s not necessary, but it was obvious that she had to turn it down because otherwise she’d be too powerful for the next book to happen. So instead she’s, no, I don’t want to. And then her reasons don’t make sense.

Chris: That is really frustrating when a protagonist is offered power they could clearly use for good, but then that power would make the plot not work, and so they get rid of it. It reminds me of the Battlestar Galactica. Let’s just send all of our ships into the sun.

Oren: Yeah. And that one’s even weirder because it’s not like they had a sequel they needed them to not have ships for.

Chris: They were just way to into this weird origin story. Maybe this is the story of earth or something who knows, I don’t.

Oren: No, it’s not man. There’s no way to make that credible and throwing their ships into the sun doesn’t help.

Chris: Another show that we’ve watched recently is called The Rook. It’s based on an urban fantasy book and the show itself certainly struggled with adaptation because the main character has got amnesia and so she spends a lot of time in her head trying to disguise the fact that she has amnesia and stuff like that. That doesn’t work very well translated to screen. It does have some cool things in it, mainly the character Gestalt who is a hive mind of four people, which is pretty cool. But the idea in The Rook is that people with super powers are for some reason secret, which is really unclear as to why they’re secret.

Oren: Or how.

Chris: It’s got a masquerade without an explanation. And that they’re either controlled by the government or they’re controlled by human trafficking syndicates that constantly kidnap them and sell them to the highest bidder for millions of dollars. But it’s really hard to explain exactly how they managed to make this human trafficking work. So for instance, the main character can explode a bunch of people when she feels threatened. In fact, as the story opens immediately after somebody tried to kidnap her she exploded a bunch of people, she exploded all of them. So when they capture her later and sell her off, it’s really like they have a way to temporarily suppress her powers. But it’s really unclear how anybody is ever going to use her powers for their own benefit when as soon as they give her her powers back, she will just explode people.

Oren: There are some of them who I could see how you could coerce this person into being useful for you. Like the person who has amnesia, power, you could give this guy that I don’t want to remember things, amnesia, or I’ll shoot you. Okay, fair. He can only give you amnesia by touching you. So as long as you make it so he can’t touch you, you could in theory order him around, but what are you going to have the main character do with her power? I want you to kill this guy I brought to you in a room that’s completely insulated so you can’t shock me. Look, why didn’t you just kill him yourself? You could even, if you wanted him to be electrocuted, you could just do that. It’s not actually that hard to electrocute someone. And then this, the same issue with the lady’s boss who also gets sold. She has some kind of weird sonic pulse power and what are you going to do with that? How are you going to force her to use that in a way that doesn’t let her turn it on you? It seems like it would be way more trouble than it was worth.

Chris: Mhm. Yeah. My original idea is if they were going to use this guy who has the power to give people amnesia to amnesia all of their new kidnapped victims, because then they would be easier to manipulate and control. But that’s just one guy. There’s no sign that there’s anybody else who ever can or have done that and they only got their hands on him recently. So that’s clearly not the method they’re using.

Oren: Right. And also they keep going with the sales after he’s escaped. So clearly they’re not concerned.

Chris: We don’t know. The main character is not sold, of course. Spoilers.

Oren: Spoilers.

Chris: So we don’t see, but we’re going with the assumption that somehow they can make these people with ridiculous powers do what they want, compel them to use those powers.

Oren: Okay. So we’re almost out of time, but I have one more example I’d like to bring up, which is sort of a different kind of example. Because this is beyond just like trying to have the mutants do silly things to explain how people can oppress them. It’s more trying to use magic to give your character like fake spinach, which is sort of similar and I’ve seen this happen in a lot of stories, but in particular it happens with Moira in House of X. Moira’s power is very interesting. When she dies, she basically loops back in time to when she was born, but with all of her memories intact.

Wes: Groundhog Day, but like her whole life. Okay.

Oren: Yeah. She’s like Groundhog Day person. That’s a power that is objectively awesome. That power is rad. It has no downside. And yet they have the section where Moira tries to convince us that she felt that she was cursed with this horrible burden and the justification they give is that I just couldn’t be with my husband the second time because I already knew all of his flaws and they disgusted me. I think that might actually be a problem with you.

Wes: Change your taste.

Oren: But let’s assume for a minute that you’re right and that you can’t date the same person a second time. Date somebody else. There are other people you could date.

Chris: I mean if that’s how she felt about him, maybe she should have divorced him before she died.

Oren: Maybe the idea is supposed to be that she’s, I loved him and now I can’t be with the man I love, but the explanation they give for it really just sounds like you should just not be with him because you don’t like him very much.

Wes: Yeah.

Oren: Which would totally make sense if you lived your whole life and then died and then met your significant other when they’re 20 and you’re the mental equivalent of 70, yeah, I could see how maybe that relationship wouldn’t work the second time because you’re a very different person than you were the first time you met them. But that’s not a curse. You didn’t lose anything. You just have the opportunity to go and have a different life that nobody else would get.

Chris: It’s like it’s that or dying. So…

Wes: That is silly. That is silly.

Oren: It was really hilarious. And the funny thing is that even later they managed to come up with something that could maybe convince me, would make her think that this was a bad thing, which is that she retains the memories of her death. So if she dies really horribly, she just has to remember that forever. That doesn’t happen until after she’s decided this is a curse back when her deaths were peaceful, in her sleep. And by this point she has decided it’s not a curse. It’s awesome cause she’s got mutant pride.

Wes: Is she also cursed with perfect memory? Can’t she just forget some stuff over time? It’s a lot of lifetimes.

Oren: Extremely unclear if she has perfect recall or not. But there’s one thing I have perfect recall of which is that it is time to end this podcast. Boom. Segue. So those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson who is a professor of political theory in star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, , who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll see you next week.

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Chris: This has been the Mythcreant podcast. Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself, by Jonathan Coulton.

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  1. Dvärghundspossen

    Re the bigots in the X-men universe… I’ve been in some WEIRD online discussions on this topic.

    Now, LOTS of people have pointed out that the bigots really have a point in that universe. Some mutants are outright hostile and might attack you, and as a squishy regular human you’re pretty screwed if that happens. Some mutants currently on team good has really flip-flopped over the years. Some mutants hurt or even kill people by mistake, because their powers go out of control. And even if you, say, lived next door to a consistently good and in control but powerful mutant, it’s NORMAL to be freaked out!
    Suppose you live next door to a telepath, and he promises not to peek on your thoughts. Ok… would you like to live in an apartment where there’s a glass wall between your bathroom and your neighbour’s place so he can watch you shower or take a dump if he likes? Would you like an internet connection that allows your neighbour to see everything you do online on his own computer, and access your bank account and take all your money if he feels like it? Would you be fine with this, as long as your neighbour was a good guy and promised not to abuse this power? We can even imagine that it’s not his fault that you both ended up in these weird-ass apartments. That’s a reason not to hate him, but you’d still feel super uncomfortable. Or suppose there’s a nuclear device next door that could go off. Are you fine with this, if the guy in charge of it tells you that he’s nice, and pinkie swears not to blow up the neighbourhood?

    I’ve seen people argue that this is legit comparable to racism against black people in the real world, because racists THINK that black people are really dangerous, and I’m like… ??????? What do you even SAY to a person, who sees no difference between fear of real dangers and fear that’s merely born out of prejudice? Who seem to think that there’s no interesting difference between false beliefs and true and well-grounded beliefs? IDK.

    I also remember, at one point, reading a comic with either the X-men or the Doom Patrol… can’t remember which one right now… where they had this antagonist who was objectively terrible, a really hate-spewing bigot, but I still ended up almost rooting for him because he came off as so CRAZY FEARLESS in his open taunting of super-powered beings capable of squashing him like a bug any time, that he was kind of awesome. Which is clearly not the reaction the writers were going for.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I’ve lost count of how many times people the idea of Blood Libel’s with actual threats and danger. The term “Blood Libel” referring to the Medical Christian fear that Jews needed Christian blood to make their bread.

      The idea that Black people are stronger and more resistant to pain is a Blood Libel. The idea that trans-women will attack cis-girls in bathrooms is Blood Libel.

      A mutant who can blow up your house by sneezing is an actual threat. We don’t have a good model for this in real life because most people fall within a very narrow range of abilities, so there aren’t really any humans who are that far above others. But the best comparison is probably to the ultra rich. They have a disproportionate amount of power, and they can hurt the rest of us without even trying.

      And I’ve also been in a situation where I was cheering for the “bigot” because they’re obviously the extreme underdog.

      • Dinwar

        We actually do have a pretty good analog to this: hazardous materials. It’s not that hard to accumulate enough hazardous material to be dangerous–they sell industrial quantities of some really nasty stuff all the time (because it’s tremendously useful), and even radioactive material isn’t that hard to come by (there was the kid that built the reactor in his back yard).

        We accept a certain amount of hazardous materials in our lives. We have toxic chemicals that we clean with, bullets, knives, electricity, pressure washers, etc. Generally, we accept them in quantities that put the folks in the house at risk. A coffee can full of black powder exploding will make my life miserable, but probably won’t affect my neighbors much. Obviously minors and other dependents affect this equation, but I’m trying to keep this to a reasonable length. This is the equivalent to the less-powerful mutants. Rogue, Wolverine, even Nighcrawler fall under this heading to my mind: their powers can affect people, but not at terribly broad scales. Wolverine’s power is that he heals really fast; that’s hardly a threat to me outside some other threat! (Obviously we can debate this, I’m merely trying to illustrate what I’m talking about.)

        Once the material puts the neighbors at risk, legal restrictions start coming into play. If I filled my shed with black powder, the police would justifiably want to know why, and what safety precautions I’m taking. Some materials, such as high explosives, certain industrial chemicals, and radioactive materials, are intrinsically unsafe and require either special permission or are outright banned. This is the equivalent of the more-powerful mutants. Storm, for example: her power, if left unchecked, could destroy a region’s ecology pretty easily. Psy powers would also fall under this heading, because of the “ick” factor–not necessarily dangerous, but a clear violation of people if done without their permission, on the order of a camera in a changing room or a telescope aimed at the neighbor’s bedroom. Then again, smart speakers are popular despite numerous and well-documented security flaws, so what do I know?

        The discrimination against mutants in the X-Men universe is extreme, but only because it’s applied universally–mutants are considered as a whole, not as individuals. The only mitigating factor is that the mutants can’t NOT be mutants, so it’s not a crime, just a risk. Xavier’s school would be a good way to get around this, if Xavier wasn’t harboring fugitives and supporting a terrorist organization.

    • LeeEsq

      This is the exact problem. We are dealing with Walking Talking Physical Gods here. It’s perfectly natural for people to fear them because even mutants or mages with fairly minor powers can make life hell for ordinary people. Humans are lucky that there are so many good mutants/mages in the standard superhero/fantasy universe. I think that superpowers plus a bog standard human mind is going to produce people who prone to amorality at best more times then not, because even good people get high on power, ordinary people are acting in their self-interest.

  2. Innes

    The novel that I feel has the biggest problem with this is Children of Blood and Bone, which has a couple significant scenes in which the antagonist explains how mages horribly killed his whole family and mages are depreciated being horribly destructive (at least I remember them being significant, this book has some weird pacing and tone problems too). And like while that backstory doesn’t justify anything the antagonists did even a little, it does really undermine the author’s deliberate point that both sides-ism is harmful. It leaves the protagonist feeling weirdly kind of evil or at the very least naive in thinking that mages, once restored, wont hurt anyone else.

    Also I read that book and a bunch of others because they were featured on Mythcreants! It would be cool to see a rec list of books you just really enjoyed.

    • Innes

      Also Dragon Age is the one game I will somehow remain defensive of. It’s my mage garbage and I love it.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Just to be clear I also love Dragon Age! I like lots of stories even when they use bad tropes.

        • Innes

          I was actually playing dragon age origins as I listened to this podcast, so it surprised me! I like to think that part of the reason the oppressed mages are so bad in the franchise is the fact that all the social justice-y themes are really badly implemented.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Children of Blood and Bone is an interesting example because unlike many stories, it actually manages to clear the practicality hurdle. It has created a scenario where it is technically plausible for mages to be oppressed by non-mages: by taking away the mage’s power, but leaving them with a clearly distinguishable mark.

      Of course, this leaves the book with another problem of explaining why there was all this hatred of mages *before* they lost their power. It completely fails that step.

      The main issue I had with B&B’s portrayal is when the characters themselves start to wonder if maybe it would be bad to restore the mages’ power. I found this incredibly contrived, and a weak attempt to shove some conflict into an otherwise really boring third act.

      • Rose Embolism

        I think the problems with the backstory in “Children of Blood and Bone” is nothing compared to the scene of “We have the ability to give our people magic back and allow them to defend against the pursuing army! But lets throw a party first and make it into a big ritual in a few days! Gosh, the evil army attacked us. Who could have foreseen this?”

        Seriously, the second half of that book had too much Plot Required Stupidity.

      • Innes

        I read the last three quarters of the book in one day which is a really bad way to approach that book in particular because of the tone switches, but I remember reading it and wondering why the author seemed to be going out of her way to make the antagonists more relatable and to justify their fear of the mages (especially in the prison break scenes). I actually expected the prince to reconcile and that the ending would be they’d defeat the king together and regulate the mages powers.

  3. Tony

    I realised a while ago that Carrie by Stephen King is the story of what would more plausibly happen when a girl who’s being oppressed for other reasons (her outcast status at school, her abusive mom at home) finds out that she’s a mage. It doesn’t end well for her tormentors.

  4. Leon

    There was a mutant* called The Hurricane.
    He would easily defeat any cop who wanted to try to oppress him.
    But the authorities blamed him for a murder because they were afraid of what people like him might represent for majority of population. And though he was easily superior to any body who would try to arrest him he had to go with them to prison because the authorities had superior weapons and numbers and if he vanished they would probably arrest people he loved for aiding and abetting.

    *mutant is a term we use n my country for people who are clearly next level.

  5. LeeEsq

    I think that oppressed mages are attractive proposition for writers and audiences because “we the oppressed are really powerful” is a fantasy that has been entertained by disadvantaged groups at one time or another. The main reason though is that most science fiction/fantasy writers and fans are nerds. These tropes started when being a nerd wasn’t cool and bullying was a thing. So if you are down and out teenager in a period roughly from 1945 to 2000, an oppressed mage fantasy was really attractive. The human bigots are the popular kids, bullies, football players, etc. and the oppressed mages are the nerds. Seemingly bullied but really very attractive and powerful people.

  6. Tali Brandish-Rouse

    The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud gets mages right, although it’s a learned skill rather than an inborn talent. It basically becomes a ruling class of magicians who then take apprentices from among the “underclass” and train them up, and the education they get kind of conditions them to the colonial system (’cause the British Empire is still a thing, because alternate history). The whole magic system relies on summoning and enslaving spirits too, so the whole system of magic is literally built on oppression. It’s really worth a read, and I’d love to see what the folks at Mythcreants think of it.

    • Leon

      I have a story on hold (while i write another one), where they have a similar magic system but it resembles a primative version of Shinto (no cultural appropriation here, the idea came from Hamlet and Scooby-Doo). You might see a person chilling out, having a conversation with the skill of their 5xgreat grandma and such old spirits can make things happen – oh, and there’s no reason to enslave anyone.

      Anyway. The question; in The Bartimaeus Sequence; What stops a mage from dominating all others by appealing to the lowest common denominator to gain favour with the most dead folk?

      • Leon

        … since the power comes from the dead, what stops the dead from banding together and destroying their enslavers (or choosing a champion to do it for them).

        • Charlotte

          In Bartimaeus, spirits aren’t the dead–they’re entities from another plane of existence (djinn, for example). Magicians basically bind in a lot of rules like “don’t murder me” and “obey all my commands” into the summoning spells they use, and it take a certain amount of power to summon them successfully–but, as you say, a lot of the series is infighting between the magicians using the spirits as their weapons or proxies.

  7. Star of Hope

    Yeah, Uther just sucks. He is just pissy that his Wife died and started to genocide all mages, which shouldn’t even work, considering how much power he has not to oppose them. The witch from Episode 1 should have finished him off. Also the continuing rationale from Merlin to not kiill him because “Killing bad” is hypocritical and later rendered useless, when finally Uther kicked the bucket and then returned as a ghost to hunt his son for being better than him.

    Why is there any need to make Genocidal villians look sympathetic? Just kill them.

  8. Famfrit

    Fan of the website, loved the episode. The groundhog day loop superpower sounds like actual hell. When they says “It has no downsides” I just thought “Wow, you and I had very different childhoods.”

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