As the latest episode hits cinemas, die-hard fan Jamie Cutteridge...
Deadpool is sweary, rude, sexually-saturated and incredibly violent. Young people are going to love it. To be honest, I did too. That’s the problem.
The film tells the story of Wade Wilson, a do-gooding mercenary who falls in love with an escort before contracting terminal cancer. In a desperate attempt to stay alive, he takes up an offer to take part in an experimental treatment program which results in him…
Actually, the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s an X-Men film. Someone ends up with super powers and there is a villain who needs to be defeated. If you’ve seen, well, any superhero movie, you’re in vaguely familiar territory. The only twists on the format are the film’s hilarious script and light touch of the material (think X-rated Guardians of the Galaxy) as well as Deadpool’s continued breaking of the fourth wall (something birthed in the film’s comic book roots) and the fact that the titular character’s quest is centred less on global safety than the desire to literally fix his own face, get back his woman and exact revenge on… again, it doesn’t really matter.
There’s no one aspect of the film’s violence, sex or language that is particularly egregious. We’ve seen this level of violence in The Raid, the language in In Bruges and the sexual content is no more explicit or graphic than Christmas-favourite Love Actually or puppet-fest Team America. However, the combination of all three leads to a pretty overwhelming feeling; that kind of dirty, sweaty feeling when it gets to about 1pm and you still haven’t showered. The feeling that something is just not quite right.
There’s no neat ending here. Engaging with culture, as Christians and as youth workers, is messy
Or at least, that’s what I felt I should have felt like. And it was there. Somewhere. But I also enjoyed the heck out of the film. It was genuinely a laugh a minute. The film is going to be huge; young people are going to go nuts for it. And, because it’s a comic book film, loads of youth workers are going to see it and love it. But, it feels like that wouldn’t have been the case even 15 years ago when we spent more time worrying about the effect Harry Potter was having on our children. The troublesome aspect with Deadpool is how untroubled I felt, because looking at the film objectively, there was enough in there to set off my Christian content filter. But, it stayed remarkably placid as I chuckled away. My laughs felt guilt-free.
So are our collective standards slipping? Or are we just focusing on things that really matter? I write this as someone who’s written a piece for our sister publication Premier Christianity saying that we should all chill out about swearing, but it feels like my, and possibly our collective radar for this kind of stuff is a little bit off. I recently had a conversation with someone about watching Game of Thrones and genuinely used the sentence, ‘You should have stuck with it; there are nowhere near as many boobs in season two.’ Let’s deconstruct that: what I’m really saying is, ‘you should have persevered with all the sexual content in the first ten episodes of Game of Thrones, as the plot remains just as rich in the next collection, but there are fewer lady parts.’ The Deadpool version of this might be, ‘Sure, it’s overly-sexualised and rude, but the script is so tight that it genuinely justifies our viewing habits from a critical and artistic angle.’
What does it even mean for Christians to engage with culture anymore? Ten years ago, we all claimed to watch Big Brother in order to engage with what young people were talking about (our version of preaching with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other), and while we could justify watching that, have we used that as an excuse to not self-censor our viewing habits?
The one thing that’s certain is that there’s no hard and fast line. It sounds like the start of a terribly post-modern slippery slope, but there’s definitely some areas of culture that are more damaging for some than others. If you struggle with porn, don’t watch Game of Thrones (especially season one!), if you swear to a troublesome extent, avoid Deadpool. But there’s definite tension in play: Game of Thrones paints a genuinely fascinating picture of a craven, godless society. Kanye West’s profanity-filled latest album contains genuine gospel truth and an appearance from Kirk Franklin. And Deadpool? Deadpool is really, really funny. And God created laughter. And I laughed a lot.
So there’s no neat ending here. Engaging with culture, as Christians and as youth workers, is messy. It’s tricky. And, if I’m honest, it probably involves making at least one more tough decision about what we should/shouldn’t engage with than I’m currently making. There’s two things at play here: we need to be honest with ourselves about the culture we consume, and we need to equip young people to make really smart decisions about what their eyes and ears take in. And, as we know, we can’t challenge young people on that with full integrity if we’re not being honest with our own viewing habits. I guess the reality is that somewhere, in those grey areas, there is a line. And it’s really difficult to find and probably involves some cultural sacrifices. But I’m going to start by praying a bit more for some wisdom and clarity about where God’s line lay; seeking his wisdom rather than leaning on my own, post-modern, ‘culturally relevant’ understanding.