Disclaimer: This article only represents my personal opinion and in no way reflects the opinions or feelings here at Age of The Nerd.
Tonight marks the premiere of Fox’s new X-Men TV-series ‘The Gifted’ and, despite being an X-Men fan, I am in no way compelled to watch. What reason was it that prevented me from enjoying this particular comic book TV show? Was it that Fox’s X-Men timeline/movie universe is impossible to decipher? Was it that the trailers weren’t appealing enough? Well, perhaps in part, these factors turned me away, but they’re not the main culprit.
What soured me on ‘The Gifted’ was the distasteful marketing presented at San Diego Comic Con. Simply put, Fox created a marketing campaign mimicking propaganda similar to that used by Nazi Germany imagery to advertise The Gifted.
You can come to your own conclusion on wether or not this claim is true, but I am here to give my take, as someone of Jewish heritage, on what I experienced at SDCC 2017.
The Gifted’s SDCC marketing started out innocent enough, giant building-sized PSA-styled ads to “get tested for the X-gene.” These ads featured pictures of happy families and slogans like “The X-gene can’t be seen, do your part, get tested,” or “It’s not a crime to have the X-gene, but it is a crime to hide it.” The latter one is in somewhat poor taste, but theses signs were still a cheeky, and admittedly funny, way to get you to watch the show. Were these “PSA’s” on their own, it would have been fine. They were, unfortunately, only the beginning.
Paired with these giant signs (displayed on the side of the Hilton Bayfront Hotel buildings) were advertisements on the trains and cable cars of San Diego. Theses trains had the words “Mutant Transport” written on them, directly evoking imagery of the trains that took Jews to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
The “X-gene screening” interactive experience, located outside the convention center, only worsened this imagery. After entering their email address, participants would enter one of four glass chambers. The chambers would light up as alarms went off before fog machines fed smoke into them. Meaning a gas was fed into the chambers, further pushing the dark imagery. Perhaps this was not the intent of the designers of this experience, but that doesn’t help matters. The fact is that there were “gas chambers” representing a show adapted from a comic meant to show the horrors of intolerance. In a word, counterintuitive.
The final step in The Gifted’s marketing was the last nail in the coffin. After the “gas chambers,” participants got in line to receive promotional DNA background test from MyHeritage. Again, this marketing is actually kind of smart, and would be innocent on its own, but as the last step in a long line of offensive imagery, it is given dark context. How many Holocaust victims were sent to camps because heritage background checks revealed they had Jewish ancestors?
Within the context of The Gifted, “mutant transport,” holding cells and X-gene screenings are fine, they tell the story and portray the themes of intolerance and racism by evoking real world examples of them. But in real life, these elements can be offensive and frightening. How many Jewish or LGBT con-goers got on trains that said “Mutant Transport” before getting “gassed” at the “X-gene screening”? X-Men comics tell stories of love, acceptance and the oppressed reclaiming power that society has taken from them and Comic Con has strived to be a place of welcoming and acceptance. Marketing like this sullies the aspirations of both endeavors.
After experiencing the marketing, I can’t say I was scared, my life definitely wasn’t in danger, but I was concerned. I was concerned that a show adapting X-Men comics — a comic created by Jewish creators meant to stand as a racial allegory — didn’t understand the meaning of mutants. If this is how they handled their marketing, how would the show handle the themes of the X-Men?
These marketing choices loomed in my head throughout my time at SDCC. I couldn’t stop talking about it, which is why I had hoped to find some discussion of this marketing after the convention had ended, something to show I wasn’t the only one who connected the dots, something to agree with. As far as I could tell, there was only one article, this piece by Brett Schenker which only discussed the train advertisements.
But there was nothing more, no discussion on the marketing beyond conversations I had with others. So, I decided to write down my own thoughts in hopes of starting a discussion. Perhaps ‘The Gifted’ handles the themes of racism and oppressions in a responsible and compelling way, and under that notion, maybe it deserves a chance. But, I was turned away by the SDCC marketing, and I’m not sure they can get me back.
In all fairness, Marketing teams, especially those for conventions, are more often than not a team of people separate from the creative department of a show, movie, etc., I think it’s to safe to say however insensitive the marketing may have been, it could have easily been unintentional. This one particular marketing campaign isn’t really fair way to judge an entire tv show…or is it?
Do what you will with this information and my perspective — agree, disagree, ignore it completely — but I hope it brings forth some kind of discussion, something that I felt lacking during and after SDCC. Please let us know your thoughts!
Also be sure to check out our interviews with the cast of ‘The Gifted’ from SDCC 2017 on our Youtube Channel AoTN Video!