DEADPOOL AND ‘THE DONALD’ Defecate into America’s Cultural Soul

Written by Steve Pauwels on March 10, 2016

For the first time in four weekends, Deadpool didn’t take the #1 slot at America’s box office. The 20th Century Fox release, eponymously titled after its mutant, super-powered-assassin protagonist, nonetheless continued to — pardon the pun — kill it in ticket sales: It raked in nearly $17 million for a so-far worldwide cume of $678 million;  the highest-grossing film of 2016, second highest-grossing R-rated offering of all time. Undeniably, that spells blockbuster success for yet another big-screen Marvel Comics adaptation.

What is decidedly — and I’d insist, regrettably — different about this Deadpool vehicle? It’s that aforementioned movie rating: a well-earned “R” from what I’ve been repeatedly told. Apparently, the “Merc with a mouth”, as this costumed anti-hero is popularly known, could just as aptly be dubbed “the foul-mouthed Merc”. 

As film critic Amy Diaz put it in her review: ” So much swearing. The swearing in this movie is load-bearing, it is so dense and thick.” National Review‘s Russ Douthat is less poetic, just as blunt: “It’s savage, profane, darkly comic and subversive … a hard ‘R’ for sex and violence — and kinky sex.” 

One young fellow I interact with — a modern horror-film enthusiast who, safe to guess, has rarely if ever cracked a Bible or darkened the door of a church building — loved Deadpool; but confided to me, chuckling mischievously, it was “soooo inappropriate.” Another movie-goer I know, this one an elderly fellow who’s very much involved in Christian things, wandered into a screening of the flick expecting a run-of-the-mill, diverting but tasteful cinematic thrill-ride. He emerged a bit dazed. Unfamiliar with this particular crimson-and-black-clad, sword-wielding Marvel Universe resident, he certainly hadn’t been  expecting the “bare breasts and curse words and smart-aleck monologuing” (Douthat) larded throughout the film. 

And already, “The Merc’s” startling profits are catalyzing chatter about a possible new trend in the heretofore generally family-friendly genre of comic-book cinema. The next entrants in the Wolverine or X-Men franchises, or the planned X-Force projects — could they shuck the PG-13 “albatross” and aim at dramatically coarser, more “adult” subject matter and tone? Thickly muscled, masked uber-men in spandex? Who knows the dank depths to which Tinsel Town big-shots could drag that kind of material … 

And so, we have another cultural frontier threatened with deepening crassness and corruption. 

Speaking of which: the uber-man lately dominating the nation’s political landscape, front-runner in the tussle for the Republican presidential nomination, is doing his anti-heroic best to coarsen the race for the White House — while the rest of society observes and is tarnished in the process. Donald Trump’s crude verbiage, pubescent-level name-calling, relentless sneering and all-around behavioral squalidness is quickly becoming proverbial. “As vulgar as Donald Trump” might soon establish itself a routine, country-wide expression.

Days ago, he plumbed new levels of baseness by assuring sixteen million Fox News’ debate viewers that his penis size was more than adequate. “I guarantee you, there’s no problem,” this potential Oval Office occupant leered. One commentator later referenced the “R-rated segments” of the candidates’ back-and-forth — meaning Trump’s genital-themed, and utterly superfluous, quip. The network’s Chris Stirewalt remarked the New York billionaire’s phallic wisecrack served as “an analogy for this whole cycle” — by which I assume he meant: sleazy, degrading, uncomfortable; with Trump’s antics nearly always in the forefront. 

Mind you, it was Marco Rubio’s mocking dig about The Donald’s “small hands”, hinting at a deficiency in his manhood, which sparked this particular contretemps. But Trump, naturally, couldn’t let it drop there. He had to see the Florida Senator’s unfortunate taunt and raise it’s explicitness — lest, perchance, any of the multitudes miss the low-brow point. And clearly, Rubio’s disappointing decision to go the “Don Rickles” route against the real estate magnate was initially inspired by Trump’s own non-stop, day-in-and-out, grossly unprofessional boorishness. Recall, it’s the manner in which he’s reliably been operating, almost literally, since stepping into the contest; obviously, it’s contagious.

Seems like wherever Trump goes, contamination follows. Imagine the sullying wonders he’d work over four — or eight(!) – years inhabiting planet earth’s most potent office

Over just the past two days I’ve had to endure prominent “conservatives”, specifically my hero and radio behemoth Rush Limbaugh and Fox News’ Sean Hannity — interviewing columnist Larry Elder — scoffing at the notion that Trump’s trash-hole is even a problem. Mr. Elder, whom I normally consider one of today’s consistently sharpest thinkers, nattered on maddeningly about how few people complained when, at some point years ago, Barack Obama was heard cursing out the media. Beaming and giggling, Hannity added “they all talk that way”; and he’s “heard it for years”. (Perhaps these three were unconsciously mimicking the Big Kahuna himself who, during Tuesday evening’s weird press conference, acidly belittled NBC News’ Peter Alexander for asking him how parents should explain to their children his stump-speech expletives.)

Pardon me, but:  a) I hadn’t been aware Barack Obama was the standard-setter for our expectations of principled, Constitutionalist, small-government, liberty-cherishing, God-and-Country-loving leaders. The goal is to get away from BHO, correct? Not to replicate him?; and  b) a political official slipping up and uncorking a ribald expression in private conversation or muttering a profanity behind closed doors hardly compares to a candidate for high office who doggedly, purposefully, unapologetically indulges the same into a live microphone, among the most consequential settings, addressing the gravest topics, for all the world to hear. Over and over and over again.

This is the Donald-Trump effect on public discourse — increasingly, and amusedly, christened by not a few opinion-makers as “middle-finger politics”. Lovely, isn’t it? We don’t get enough obscene gestures in traffic — let’s carry over their spirit into the shaping of government. And it’s expandingly being popularized by a seventy-year-old businessman who’s never quite managed to get this arms around minimalist civil behavior; and who’s presently auditioning for the mantle of Chief American. Should he snag the brass ring, Trump, unavoidably, will be representing the United States on behalf of every other American before six-and-one-half billion human beings who live elsewhere, but who still irresistibly notice what happens in this Republic.

Hammered by Trump’s cartoonish self-confidence, his never-flagging bombast, one can’t help concluding he genuinely fancies himself a superior person —  maybe even a bit of a superhero? (Deal-Making Man!) If he had to select someone else to esteem, however, some other super-powered chap to serve as his idol? I’m betting the mega-rich entrepreneur would go for a certain snarky, toilet-tongued killer who goes by the moniker “Deadpool”. Not that Trump would physically slaughter people as does the latter. Then again, Jesus said if you traffic in words which only function to destroy others, that looks a lot like murder in God’s eyes (Matthew 5:21-22).

So, we have a fictional comic-book character; and a character of another stripe, who’s also a real and important player in the day’s happenings. Whatever their differences, as their respective stars continue rising, the Merc with the Mouth and the Ruler of Trump Empire could also end up having more in common than many a voter wants to admit. 

Share if you think Donald Trump and Deadpool have some unfortunate qualities in common.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.