So Deadpool is a big deal right now. A brilliant but also probably thoughtless tweet from the social media team behind the movie brought this whole ordeal to my attention. Yes, folks, it’s time to talk about the complex interactions between media and sociopolitical phenomena!!
As a 20-year-old, I would be hard-pressed to give a shit about whether they decide to put out a censored version or not. I sure as hell know that I’m going to see the one with the fuck-word and dick jokes, because yes, an “appropriate” version of this particular film and narrative would totally defeat the point. But I’m worried that other people who hold this view, particularly my peers, may be saying so for the wrong reasons.
SCIENCE: South Park is one of the most popular comedies among political conservatives. Sounds pretty weird, right? But the truth is that South Park is incredibly politically conservative. It just does it in a cool, edgy way. It’s all about being shocking.
“We’re the only ones brave enough to be racist and uphold systemic oppression,” they cry. It’s the same narrative that old men on Fox News have been proudly trumpeting from the rooftops for decades, from within their comfortable apartments where they have plenty of food and a decent standard of living, as they rile up the poor racists into thinking that poor black people are their real enemy.
And it is into this quagmire that Deadpool chooses to leap headfirst. Technically, I’m not here to talk about politics. So, OK, let’s talk about stories, as I am wont to do. Deadpool‘s narrative is ultimately reliant on shock humor and irreverence. That’s the kind of character he is, and that’s fine.
But Deadpool is also an anti-hero. An anti-hero is the guy you’re not supposed to want to be. An anti-hero is the guy who takes it upon himself to kill the enemies, the one who chooses not to forgive, the one who does the right things for the wrong reasons. When confronted with a choice between the easy way and the morally correct way, the anti-hero picks the easy way. A hero exposes Lex Luthor’s crimes and leaves it to the judge to sort him out. An anti-hero just snaps Lex Luthor’s neck.
Speaking of which, I think Man of Steel is a pretty key film in analyzing this phenomenon of anti-heroes because Superman is supposed to be a “hero” character but Zach Snyder really just wants to direct an “anti-hero” movie. I get the feeling that Henry Cavill probably felt like the unfavorite child on the set of Dawn of Justice.
So our society is currently obsessed with anti-heroes. Bad boys who play by their own rules and don’t answer to nobody. That’s why we like Batman more than Superman, despite both of them being equally bland characters. It’s why Iron Man is our favorite Avenger even though Cap is the frontman. And heck, look at that. Iron Man’s standalone movies are done, so now they’re making Cap’s third movie an anti-hero movie.
I think it’s interesting how this reverence for the morally ambiguous rose. It’s probably rooted in real-world problems, because it always is, but I feel like it all started with The Dark Knight. And, at the time, Batman in that context was a pretty kickass hero. He fought the billionaire gangsters that were fucking Gotham over, and in real life we have real billionaires fucking us over, and it felt good to see them getting punished, even if it didn’t solve any problems in real life. That’s what escapist fantasy is all about.
But I worry about the direction that the anti-hero takes. Batman was an anti-hero in The Dark Knight because he had to be because the police system was corrupt. And that’s fine. But it led to this interesting phenomenon where the character we’re rooting for is the one that doesn’t care about the context of his problems. I talked about this in a Batman article once, and John Green did a video on it that was much better than my article. In The Dark Knight Rises the problems arise not from mob bosses or supercriminals but systemic oppression of the lower class. This is a theme that is made EXTREMELY CLEAR by the POOR LITTLE ORPHAN BOY THAT JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT TALKS TO.
So we went from a hero that was irreverent because his circumstances demanded it to a hero who was irreverent because… He’s kind of a dick. And it’s the irreverence that we’ve attached ourselves to, because it makes us seem like the strong guy. Morals are for the weak, like Congress, who can’t get anything done! The only way to get ahead is to be not be hindered by political correctness, and be free to mock the struggles of gays and transgenders, and to call NerdyChineseBoys chinks!
Except no, that’s not how real life works. Those things that you think are strengths are just cancerous growths that you’ve mistaken for extra body parts. You think they’re great now, but it’s only a matter of time before the medical bills come in and you start feeling bad about making fun of cancer. I get to be irreverent because white people drove my people like slaves and then when the railroads were done they told us we had to leave and stop taking all the jobs. And it’s not like you can’t be irreverent!
Just make sure you’re being irreverent to the right people. There’s this unwritten rule of comedy that says “always punch up.” We seem to be in a climate where punching down is admired; Heck, it won a goddamn Oscar.
Don’t let your kids see Deadpool. Deadpool is funny, but you’re not supposed to want to be him. He’s not supposed to inspire anything. Wanting to be Deadpool is how we shoot black kids and then not feel bad about it. Superman is the one who’s supposed to inspire things.