I am not Deadpool – or am I?

So, I read Ryan Reynold’s GQ interview and my brain was piqued by the following quote:

“… I think one of the reasons that Deadpool has gained a lot of momentum isn’t just that it’s funny or isn’t just that it’s rated R. The meta aspect is very important. So I think Deadpool’s coming along at the right time, because it’s also speaking to that generation and that group of people that have seen them all, seen all these comic-book films and enjoyed them all to varying degrees of success. But I think it’s speaking to them as though the guy in that red suit is one of them, to some degree.”

NYCC-2014-DeadpoolGroup

NYCC 2014 Deadpool Group

I’m going to get a lot of push back on this – but, I am not Deadpool.

I wouldn’t want to be anything like him – or Frank Castle or Lobo or Spawn or any of six dozen other comic book ‘heroes’ or ‘anti-heroes’ that dominate the shelves these days.

That said, I do appreciate the stories that are told with these characters and the de-construction of the superhero archetype and the snark and “meta” aspects and all that’s become the accepted and desired defacto character type that comic fans and film fans want. I appreciate them through the lens of having grown up with comics, matured along with them – reading them when they were ‘kiddie’ books and later when they became mainstream and finally accepted as a legit art form or storytelling medium.

I appreciate the adult aspects of these characters — but I don’t accept them.

I think they have a negative impact, no matter how subtle. Just as I believe that slasher films, torture porn and splatter flicks have a negative impact. Regardless on whether or not you want to debate the merits of those types of entertainment, my own gut feeling is to turn away from them in disgust… not in denial of them, but simply because I feel they do more harm than good. And I’ve said this before, it’s hypocritical of me to take that stance, considering I hold in high esteem other characters in the medium who are just as violent as these anti-hero types: Captain America, Daredevil, Blade, etc. All of them are cut from the same cloth – that of the ‘justice must be served’ type. And that perhaps is crux of why I wrestle with the issue of violence in entertainment and in our society. Because I love these characters – part of me aspires to be them. And so if I am like my fellow geeks and nerds, and they aspire in some fashion to be like their heroes – what does it say about us?

Would I rather be Steve Rogers or Nelson Mandela? Matt Murdock or Henry David Thoreau?

What concerns me is the glut of this type of entertainment that floods the marketplace. The fascination with blood and violence is something no generation will escape – it’s been a part of our culture, society and entertainment stretching back through ancient history, to the time when we emerged from our caves and began living in gatherings of tribes.

We have a dark hunger for vengeance, retribution and power over the life and death of a rival, enemy or innocent.

And a few days ago in Oregon, yet again, we have another mass shooting at a school campus. Is Deadpool – or characters like him – responsible? No.

Or are they? I read David Niose’s post and agree with it wholeheartedly – and his statement that our nation’s gun culture isn’t a result of violent entertainment or video games or comic books, but rather a reflection of it.

Deadpool and other ultra-violent characters have always been part and parcel of our entertainment. Film and printed media have always had some element that glorifies blood and violence – it’s a money maker – and so it’s mass produced.

We as a species are enthralled with death and violence. We as a modern society like to think we are more civilized because we don’t have bloody arenas or “battles to the death” any more – kind of.  From MMA to Rugby, we still howl for real blood as opposed to accepting these activities as ‘just a game’.  Maybe Chess would be the number one draw if at some point the players would punch each other every time they captured a piece. I’m not a sports fan, and so can’t speak to the excitement or blood lust that fills an Eagles fan when his/her team performs or under-performs… though I do see a lot of their thoughts on my Facebook wall on game days.   Elegant Violence indeed.

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

We exist in a shared reality where every life form on our planet engages in a life-or-death struggle every single day.  One life consumes another is the norm… so naturally we reflect that in our entertainment.

In the grand tradition of Roman Gladiatorial combats and live execution of criminals and traitors, the Grand Guignol of  Paris created horrific and bloody theatrical experiences for the audience – showing them scenes of madness, torture, rape and murder. Some of the performances were so life-like that audience members passed out or had to be escorted from the theater.

I’m not a scholar who studies violence in society, or a psychologist who seeks to understand the effect of violent images on the human brain. All I have is my limited understanding and perception of these things as I understand them… and so my opinion on them only really applies to me. If I were living in a less civilized time, I’m sure I would already be dead – as I don’t have it in me to respond in a violent manner to a threat or attack.

I’m not afraid of death. I know and understand that it is inevitable. And that’s really what’s at the heart of violence in entertainment – the haunting understanding that our time upon this planet is limited and brief.

Each of us as human beings deals with death in a variety of ways – a lot of people ignore it or deny it – billions of dollars are spent to keep oneself young, or cosmetically appearing younger than we are, on drugs and pills to keep the body alive. We want to prevent death from ever coming at all – they would kill for immortality.

And then there are others are so fascinated by death, who are so drawn to it they think of it as a living entity. They don’t necessarily want to die, as much as they want to be Death or at least be one with death – a living undeath. Cultures across the globe have rituals and art and all manner of depictions of the Spectre that will come to claim us all in the end.

Why? Perhaps because were are so aware of our own mortality. We know we will one day, no longer be among the living – and so we try to face this inevitable consequence and the fear it generates through our myriad forms of entertainment. We revel in others who meet their ends at the hands of a psycho killer because, we are not them. We have escaped the killer, the mad man, the maniac.

As someone who has spent a great deal of his life in entertainment (in one aspect or another – from theater to film to video games and writing fiction), all the blood and gore and violence in our entertainment media can be parsed or filtered by my understanding that it is fiction. It’s not real. It’s meant to titillate or frighten. It’s created to alleviate the dull routines of work, sleep, paying bills and doing housework or homework and to excite and engage.

What we do with it beyond that is something each of us owns and is responsible for – to leave it as simply fiction or to act upon what we see and hear and read.

The statistics regarding the mass shootings in this country are horrifying – and when you read or hear that the latest perpetrator of this type of murder had fourteen guns in his ‘arsenal’ it should give you pause and it should make you take a long hard look at the argument that ‘more guns’ is the answer – or that the gun is a defensive weapon.

The gun IS NOT a defensive weapon. No weapon – by definition – is defensive. A shield is defensive. A wall is defensive.

A sword or a gun or cannon or a tank is designed to be offensive, to attack. Period. They are made to be used – to do unto others before they do to you.

And that I think is what really troubles me about Deadpool and his ilk in comics and film. He is a walking arsenal of violence and death. But then again, how is he different that any SWAT team member or Blackwater Security member?

Yes, fiction and entertainment is a reflection of what is real in society – we have gun violence and mass shootings because guns are sold as the answer.

They are the answer to fear. The answer to injustice. The answer to wrongs and the answer to the threat of a stranger. They permeate our culture and you cannot look at a movie poster or watch a TV show or read a comic book where a gun is not thrust into your face.

And that I think is the real harm – that we see this as normal. As acceptable. As no big deal. Observe a room full of people watching a movie or TV show where a gun battle is taking place. Note what you see.

I wonder how dies that affect them on a subconscious level, what affect does it have on their psyche? Are they desensitized? Or do they just understand its “play” or “fiction” or “not real”.

In the Deadpool trailer, the character – after causing mass destruction and mayhem on a freeway … holds up his hands and says “You’re wondering why the red suit? It’s so the bad guys can’t see me bleed.”

It’s meant to be a funny line. It’s part of that whole meta in-joke among comic book fans and movie fans – a comment on society’s thirst to see blood. As though we are meant to think “how cute!”

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

And then the very next scene is a ballet of guns, bullets, blood and gore. (and yes, the caption should frighten you)

I am not Deadpool. I refuse to accept guns as the answer.

We are better than that. We should be better than that.

And that is perhaps the necessity of Deadpool. To remind us, not to be him, or anything like him. At least that’s my hope.

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