“Have You Tried Not Being a Mutant?”

DC10846lgI posted an older story from Radiolab a few days ago, on trying to trace the history of the High Five, and so, since it’s the weekend, maybe you have 15 minutes to listen to another of their stories, this one from December 2011 — it’s worth it, I think.

It’s on international tax law (which is more exciting than you might think) and what happens when you import something classified as a “doll” (toys that represent people) versus a “toy” (not representing people). It gets interesting, though, when we see what happens when a toy manufacturer realizes the tax advantage to classifying their X-Men action figures as toys (i.e., non-human), despite the comic’s own plot involving the mutants’ fight for their right to be understood as human.

I first listened to this story after a student in one of my classes told me about it, using it as an example of how strategic agents use classification systems to attain their own goals. So glad she brought it to my attention — it’s a great e.g.

Looking at the implications of how we now rename governments as “regimes” once they fall out of our favor would be another good example — of how the way we classify signifies something about our interests and not about the identity of the object being named — but we’ll keep it a bit light for now and stick with dolls/toys, coz it’s the weekend.

4 Replies to ““Have You Tried Not Being a Mutant?””

  1. So, if a human has “head, eyes, mouth, two arms, two legs”, at one point do individuals with disabilities no longer count as “human”? Granted I never see any kind of toy (doll or otherwise) that represent this population, toys do reflect and affect larger opinion. At what point (again) will this population be removed from the “human” category?

  2. Interesting point–though the term “disability,” with the prefix signifying a lack, would likely be identified as implicitly pointing to/legitimizing the idealized notion of human presupposed by the tax law, thereby including those who, for one reason or another, lack any of the generalized features of “human.” But the general absence of dolls representing people who do not fit this idealized definition (let alone the fairly recent appearance of dolls that represent something other than white people) is something worth mulling over, to be sure. Out of interest, see this news story:


    1. I guess classifications help us to better simplify our society. The toys vs. dolls article simply tells me that we classify based off of societal norms at a specific time. However, the term “human” used in describing dolls, I feel is used very vaguely today. Is a doll that has human qualities based on let’s say a fiction movie, a doll or a toy? How is the regime different than the government? I guess it is based off of how the term/object is viewed and used currently.

  3. Kwesi–I think that is exactly what they do, “simplify our society”; in fact, I’d go even further: they make it possible to conceive of and move around within some imaginable/actable/seemingly simple thing called “society,” since classification systems provide a way of distinguishing then from now, us from them, here from there, proper/improper, etc., etc. So this is where someone like me falls in line with Emile Durkheim, for he observed that it is not like society pre-exists the ideals (or, in our case, the simplifications) that are then thought to represent it but, instead, society in continually conjured and re-conjured into existence inasmuch as the ideal or the simplification is represented.

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