- Russell Blackford
- Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).
Friday, July 15, 2011
What's so creepy about an age gap? Trying to understand...
Not they say because of the large age gap between the two characters. But that's clearly a large part of what's bugging people.
I want to focus on this in a minute, but let me talk about a couple of other things first. Some people absolutely love the relationship that Marvel Comics presents between superheroine Rogue and semi-reformed archvillain Magneto. I expect that Dragon*Con this year will have some Rogneto cosplay going on, and there's plenty of Rogneto shipping on the internet.
Others express dislike for it based on the history of the characters - in villain mode, when they've been enemies, Magneto has done some pretty bad things to Rogue. We could have long debates about the rights and wrongs of that. I just want to say that I'm not really interested in yet another debate about how realistic the relationship is, or how much Rogue is being written out of character when she goes back to him after their failed romance in the Savage Land which was shown in the early 1990s and must have been about five years ago, in-world. That's all interesting but there are places to debate it other than this thread.
I'm actually more interested in the fact that some people go, "Eww, he's so much older!" Why do people do that? What's the problem about relationships with a big age gap?
The photo above on the left, of course, is not of a Rogneto scene, but of Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng. I'm willing to bet that many of my readers have an unfavourable visceral response to this couple, and that it's partly to do with the very apparent age difference that we can all see ... and not just because of a dislike for Murdoch's approach to journalism or politics.
But what, exactly, is the problem? Is it the sheer incongruity of an unattractive old man appearing with a beautiful young woman? Is it the thought that Murdoch has treated his previous wives badly? Is it the thought that what has attracted Deng to him is his money - and that this is somehow an unfair thing for a man to use in the social competition to attract desirable women? But if the latter, how is it more fair to use, say, your good looks, which are largely the result of the genetic lottery and your early upbringing ... neither of which you've earned or deserved in any way?
If we follow the continuity, he is about 40, physically speaking, as a result of a rejuvenation as part of his back story. His hair is naturally silver (much as the hair of his daughter, Polaris, is naturally green, and Rogue's own hair has that natural silver streak). Unlike my hair, for example, Erik's hasn't gone white with age. Even artists who depict his face on the older side, to convey his authority and experience, make him handsome and athletic.
In short, the couple just above on the right don't much resemble Murdoch and Deng ... yet some folks have the same response to them. It can't be something as simple as the incongruity of an ugly man and a beautiful woman: this is a very fine-looking, if exotic, couple. Nor is it that Rogue is attracted to Erik by his money (even if he does still have large amounts of gold robbed from the Nazis hidden away somewhere). She seems to be attracted to him in a raw sexual way, and by his fanatical devotion to a noble cause - or perhaps, in part, she gets off on his power (surely that can't be the problem!).
Is it thought wrong that people with formative experiences in different decades should be mutually attracted? If so, why? And anyway, wouldn't it be a trivial issue here, where both have had extraordinary experiences that are very different from normal people their own respective ages? The kinds of things they've experienced in their various supervillaining and superheroing missions should give them plenty to talk about.
I can't immediately see how any of the things that we might normally find distasteful about relationships with large age gaps apply here, but the age-gap thing still bugs some people.
It can't be that there is something pedophilic involved. When they first fell for each other in the classic Savage Land story, Rogue was being presented as about 19 or 20 (and Magneto as physically in his early 30s), and on that occasion the relationship wasn't even consummated. Magneto backed out of it when he chose to kill Zaladane and physically leave Rogue by flying away to one of his other bases. Rogue is now being presented, I'd guess, as in her mid-20s. So she's quite old enough to understand the character of the sexual act, thank you very much - as she was even in the Savage Land story - and to have made an informed decision when she took Erik to bed back in X-Men Legacy #249.
So, I'm getting the feeling that there is something going on here whereby the age gap itself is considered a problem by some people. My question is about what the problem actually is when you strip away the particular things that might apply to Murdoch and Deng but don't seem relevant to the fantasy story of Magneto and Rogue. Or is this a case of rule utilitarianism in action? Do we come up with a rule that works in many real-life situations, and then we apply it to the full range of situations even where the utility-harming factors justifying the rule are not actually present, as in the fantasy example of two comic-book characters?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to chase after your daughter. And although I don't find Magneto and Rogue creepy, I do (I admit) find Murdoch and Deng a bit creepy. So perhaps for me it's mainly the ugly man/beautiful woman thing going on. I'm not trying to justify this response, just trying to work out what my problem is.
Does it matter whether the Doctor (who is over 900 years old) physically presents as an older man (Jon Pertwee, say) or, as has been the case with recent series, as a man who is physically in his twenties or thirties like David Tennant (who has actually just turned 40, but looks quite a bit younger)?
I'm confused about all this and would like to know how people (including me!) think about it.