Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Freedom, Deadpool, and Middle-Class Sociopaths

While I believe that life, and more importantly, life everlasting, is the most important Human concern, freedom is a defining quality that separates mere biological life from the spirit-life of Humanity. I am defining this in both positive (i.e. freedom for...) and in negative (i.e. freedom from...). Speakers can rally people by conjuring the idea of freedom, if it's a vague or contradictory notion. Whether it's in the world of politics, religion, social practice, or pop-culture, freedom is the great attractive lure.

It's this last realm that concerns me. In previous times I've written about the allure of Don Draper, but also recently I began rewatching Breaking Bad and saw the anti-superhero movie Deadpool. What all of these movies have in common is that they are tapping on middle-class America's insatiable lust for freedom. All three characters, while wildly different, represent awkward sociopaths. They represent a fundamental break with the pressure-system of society. They bend, break, play with, mock, or be absolutely silly with (especially Deadpool) all social conventions. They are not bound to obey, they represent a kind of transcending over all these norms. They attempt to go beyond the antithesis that grunge represented. They aren't trying to change the world, they are "sold-out", but they are living for themselves.

It seems that this current flush of anti-hero characters and prevalence of attractive, "good guy", sociopaths and psychotics is a kind of modern Carnival. Most people watch these shows/films as a kind of cathartic experience. For the brief moment, the viewer is suspended from his socio-moral entrappings and feels the sheer enjoyment of being alive. Social values are inverted, relativized, and mocked. In someways, this is a sort of social stress valve. If people release all of their frustrations and inhibitions in mocking the entire system, the catharsis releases enough friction so people can return to the daily grind.

So, in this way, these movies and shows are both subversive but helpful to the establishment. But I say this as someone who has watched most of Mad Men, all of Breaking Bad, and thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool. But if we're serious about working towards freedom, people of my age and socio-cultural placement ought to consider why these types are so attractive? Why would people fall in love with these characters?

Quite simply because, as I've already danced around, middle class Americans crave a release from the expectations of our social structures. It's not that these characters don't engage in them, but they, seemingly, are released from the pressure to obey them. The fear of failure, shame, and guilt are erased and left-behind. This is the great attraction of Nihilism: be released and forge your own path, even if it means nothing. While not as demented and murderous, Camus' emphasis on the Sisyphusean struggle of life being its own reward is on point. This is the nerve of Humanity: to be free to be one's self as one truly is supposed to be. Deadpool, as psychotic as he is, is still a story of love and revenge, a restoration of how things ought to be. Breaking Bad is a man reasserting his creative genius after becoming an awkward, humiliated, emasculated goof.

According to the Apostolic witness, Christ is the great promise of freedom. He is the liberator. The whole Bible is spattered with references to freedom, liberation and justice (which involves breaking bonds of oppression). If Christians are to present a compelling message, they must speak of a freedom that is greater than the freedom of the Nihilist. It cannot become a morality tale, It cannot be only an appeal to the life-after. It cannot be the construction and maintenance of a social-order.

If Christ is Liberator, we ought to be faithful to that.

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