Deadpool's Crassness and Cynicism is Exactly What Millennials Need
When I was in fifth grade, I found a book in the library that contained the f-word. I complained to my teacher, saying that we shouldn’t have those kinds of books in our school because they were inappropriate.
Two years later, I was reading Stephen King’s IT and winning “pages read” contests. I waffled for years about whether or not reading “mature” things when I was younger had somehow corrupted me, or damaged my spiritual life. I even – amazingly – had a bit of a crisis over reading Harry Potter and disliking myself for liking it so much because OCCULT.
I often think back to what 18-year-old Dianna would have been shocked by that 30-year-old Dianna is laughing about. I remember the first time I swore and the immediate feelings of shame that demonstrated it wasn’t a normal state for me – even though it was a perfectly legitimate situation that demanded a good old fashioned f-bomb. I also remember my deep, concerted efforts to keep myself “pure” and keep my mind free of things that would “defile” my soul. I never once stopped to think about what constituted “defilement” in the first place – it was just assumed that sexual thoughts were bad, that things like swearing and open discussion of bodies and their functions was not only gross but “low-class.” And “classy” was continually used as shorthand for what we should be reaching for – I’m half convinced that my mid-20s obsession with Audrey Hepburn comes from that desire for “classiness” as conflated with “purity.”
But now, I guess I could consider my mind fully defiled. I watch movies not based on their cleanliness and squeaky clean presentation, but for their artistic value and what they add to the conversation about humanity and what really affects us. If getting “dirty” in that way means I’ve separated myself from God, then … so be it. Why worship a God who won’t deal in the human muck and rubble anyway?
That’s a long, circuitous way around to saying something simple and obvious: I watched Deadpool this weekend and it’s the first superhero movie that’s genuinely delighted me in a long time.
Deadpool is the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (for non-USians, R = 18+). Deadpool contains jokes about anal sex, jokes about periods, jokes about violence, jokes about unicorns and masturbation, and jokes about drinking. Focus on the Family’s Plugged In movie review notes about 75 f-bombs, 40 s-words, and that “Jesus’ name is thrice abused.”
And the entire review contains a massive exercise in missing the point. The beauty of Deadpool is its crudeness, its desire to create a character who has a deeply cynical worldview and who actually undergoes some change – not to become less cynical, but to actually accept himself. His candor in approaching his life is a refreshing change from the plodding Serious Business of the seemingly unending stream of superhero films we’re subject to every summer. The dramatic is balanced with the ridiculous and it altogether lampshades and sends up the common tropes of the hero narrative, even mocking vociferously the Do-Gooder attitudes of the other X-Men.
To use a completely overused meme, Deadpool is the superhero movie we deserve.
When you’re in school for as long as I have, you learn to accept and roll with the Super Serious literature that is about Big Ideas and Big Things in the world. You learn to read and maybe even like the work about Life in General and ideas that deserve capitalization and whole articles and books dedicated to how important they are. But the stuff that is serious and takes itself seriously gets, well…boring. The discussions raised by these works are no doubt important, but between watching The Revenant again or Deadpool, I’m picking Deadpool.
We’ve unfortunately confused real serious subjects with maintaining a grave mood or a gloomy atmosphere. This is something Deadpool resists with every fiber of his mangled being. Some call it his cynicism. I call it a survival mechanism.
Let’s face it: living in a world as bloody and broken and shitty as ours can be a depressing task. Everyone develops various coping mechanisms for dealing with it – many, for example, turn to crisp, clean, black and white evangelicalism to find ways to change the world into a palatable manner. And some turn cynical, realizing that this is where we are and we're just as screwed up as everyone else: "I'm just a bad guy who fucks up worse guys."
That’s where Deadpool lives, and that’s ultimately a place we have to understand. Deadpool’s cynicism perhaps speaks most clearly to people of my generation, of my age, where we actually have less social mobility than our parents, where buying a house is nearly impossible in the face of a hostile market and rising student debt, where robots are killing children around the world and where the clothes on our backs were probably assembled by these same children. Deadpool speaks to us as disillusioned millennials and makes us laugh in the midst of some really terrible shit.
Focus on the Family calls this irresponsible. Secular critics call it too cynical for its own good. I look at it as the ultimate superhero movie for millennials, the one that captures a “fuck you” attitude toward the world of pain and hurt and irresolution and hands us a way to grasp at some kind of happy in the middle of it all. It looks at our fear of everything and takes our hand and says, “We know a lot of it is bullshit, but there’s a chance for something good, even if unorthodox, even if it comes at a cost."
Deadpool is the movie built for millennials, and that should scare a lot of people who think we have no hope.