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Open Access ‘X marks the spot’: Urban dystopia, slum voyeurism and failures of identity in District X

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This article studies the ‘imaginative mapping’ of a real-world neighbourhood in one comic book series: lower Manhattan’s Alphabet City in writer David Hine and artists David Yardin and Lan Medina’s District X (July 2004–January 2006). In contrast to a long-standing claim to ‘realism’ in Marvel’s use of New York City, this article argues that the real Alphabet City – at the time a contested and rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood – is nowhere to be found in District X, replaced by a voyeuristic fabrication, a sensationalistic node of concentration for middle-class fears about urban decline and blight amid prosperity and contemporary discourses about drugs, crime and homelessness that reproduces long-standing cultural representations of the neighbourhood as different and inferior. In doing so, the series polices a boundary of identity, empathy and imagination and tells readers that force in favour of clearing out radical difference in the neighbourhood and making it into a space fit for ‘normal’ people is natural, rational and logical and in the best interest even of those who might be displaced by gentrification, disproportionately incarcerated in the name of ‘law and order’, or put at risk of their lives in dangerous shelters.

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Keywords: Alphabet City; Marvel Comics; blackness; homelessness; identity formation; mutantcy; slums; urban representation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Linnaeus University and the CUNY Graduate Center

Publication date: 2015-06-01

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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