University of Cincinnati
Navigation bar
Profile: Rebecca Borah
Date: July 10, 2000

A University of Cincinnati assistant professor is taking an academic interest in the summer blockbuster movie frenzy, particularly with all of the hoopla surrounding the upcoming movie X-Men. Rebecca Borah was following the adventures of Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine and Nightcrawler long before they made it to the big screen.

Barbara Barkley

Borah, an assistant language arts professor and pop culture expert in UC's University College, took an interest in the comic book series in the '80s, but the X-Men were first created in the 1960s. "The predominant audience for comic books tends to be males 12-20 years old, but people outside the culture started getting interested in the mid-80s when the Batman movies were expanding the audience," explains Borah. "The X- Men movie is dealing with some of the best themes out of the book. The heroes are mutants...they're different..they don't fit in. People are prejudiced against them, yet they try to help the people who hate them. The X-Men appeal to teenagers, minorities, gays and women who relate to the X-Men on that level and have made the X-Men the cash cow in the Marvel comic book lineup." Borah adds there are currently 10 X-books grossing around $30 million a year.

Borah became an enthusiastic fan when a friend pointed out that the women's powers were more overwhelming than those of the men, so women held strong leadership roles in the series. The characters usually begin to develop powers around the time they reach adolescence powers that are beyond their control. "Cyclops can't control the optic glass in his eyes, so he could destroy the people he loves. Wolverine can't control his temper. Storm was worshiped as a goddess in Africa but at the same time, she's claustrophobic because she lost her parents when the family was buried in an earthquake," continues Borah.

The characters turn to Charles Xavier, who runs a school for "gifted" students and tracks down young people exhibiting mutant powers and works to spread the message of compassion. "In the book this is a little more obvious when this happens with Rogue because Rogue has worked with the brotherhood of evil mutants. She has hurt friends of the X-Men, but yet they're willing to help her."

Meanwhile, Borah says the publicity campaign and comic book character Senator Kelly's Mutantwatch Web site is blurring the line between fiction and reality, in some instances linking to actual academic web sites that are not part of the publicity campaign. Web surfers can register friends' names and report them as being mutants. The publicity push was explored by Borah's Composition II students during the spring quarter.

"We were examining issues of freedom of speech and racism. Jonathan Alexander (also an assistant language arts professor), and I took our students into the Mutantwatch site, but didn't tell them what it was. As people started figuring out this was connected to the movie, we examined some real hate sites and discovered how the rhetoric was very similar," says Borah. "It raises some issues here. Is this ad campaign tapping into the so-called lunatic fringe in some cases and lunatic ignorance in others?"

Borah says she'll be interested in seeing whether the media blitz pays off as the X-Men compete against the other hits in the big summer movie season.