Despite Hollywood’s reputation as a factory for leftist propaganda, genuine social progress in mainstream media is still rather painstakingly slow much of the time. While the entertainment industry does typically harbor a lite liberal bent, it also tends to operate on a fairly conservative modus operandi much of the time. Put simply, Hollywood is risk-adverse.
Rarely trafficking in hyper-conservative ideology, it nonetheless perpetually wants to play to Middle America, and perhaps more significantly, to their wallets. To that end, gratuitously pandering to the majority appears to be its default setting. Identity politics are a significant aspect of this, to be sure, but Marvel’s latest hit Deadpool also rather famously languished in development hell for nearly a decade simply due to its restrictive R-rating. Studios were convinced a film featuring the very adult-themed meta super-anti-hero would be a detriment to their bottom line, and indeed, Deadpool likely would have fallen permanent victim to this conventional “wisdom” had its test footage not mysteriously leaked onto the internet and caused fans to metaphorically pound down the doors at FOX.
Now, with a few weeks of hindsight, we all know precisely how this story ends, with current box office returns so inflated they are practically causing cartoon dollar sign ka-chings in the eyes of the studio’s higher-ups. This movie franchise – which was initially perceived to be a risk-laden money pit – has already paid immense dividends, and demonstrated once again that Hollywood actually has an incredibly tenuous grasp on the audiences it claims to want to cater to.
The fact that the R-rating was, on its own, enough of a danger to the film to nearly kill it I suspect made the issue of the character’s unconventional sexuality a virtual non-starter for the first installment. For those who don’t know, Deadpool’s character is unabashedly pansexual in the source-material comics, a fact which the internet will always happily provide more than ample evidence of when provoked.
Of course, this advocacy has sparked the always reliable backlash from the victim-complex laden heteronormativity police, aka the dude-bro geeks of the world, who, like the predictable pests that they are, have emerged from the internet woodwork right on queue to openly denounce the possibility of taking Deadpool’s comic sexuality to the big screen. As with Constantine before him, some of Deadpool’s “fans” are now doing painfully lame reach-arounds (yes pun intended) to try to convince the world that Deadpool’s endless flirting with male characters in his comic runs means nothing, and it would just be gratuitous pandering to the evil social justice warriors of the world to portray Wade Wilson in a ‘serious’ m/m sexual liaison or romantic dynamic, serious always being a relative thing for a character like him.
This straight male cry-babyism has become standard form for this particular demographic by now, so I am not at all surprised by this development, such as it is. But I do want to suggest that the film-makers are in a unique position to override this backlash, and go full-force into an unabashedly queer rendering of Deadpool anyway, and not just because of his comic canon/origins, though that would be reason enough. The unique nature of Deadpool’s premise, and particularly his ability to break the fourth wall, arguably makes him the perfect character to also break through Hollywood’s rainbow glass-ceiling.
Traditional Hollywood heterosexism often demands that if a character is going to be queer, there needs to be a good narrative “reason” for it. Audiences conditioned toward this line of thinking still tend to see casual queerness in a story as an unnecessary distraction. However, bad as this logic is, it’s also an issue Deadpool is uniquely positioned to openly address, because he famously exists in a perpetual meta-state where he is allowed to comment on audience reactions as they happen in real time.
Doing this kind of audience-read is a big part of Deadpool’s beat. When his average movie-goer invariably pauses to ask themselves why his character “needs” to be queer, Deadpool can stop the flow of the film to directly grapple with the question. He can explicitly acknowledge people’s confusion, surprise, discomfort, mental dissonance, and then inform them that that’s just their heteronormative conditioning at work.
In other words, Deadpool’s queerness can be narratively ‘justified’ as an opportunity to talk about how messed up it is that queer characters have to justify their queerness to audiences in the first place. The meta itself gets to be meta here, and the joke comes completely full-circle.
Because meta is Deadpool’s whole shtick, issuing overt commentary on the tropes, texts, and genres of which he is a part is already solidly in his wheelhouse. Deadpool can ease audiences into his sexuality by directly commenting on how (sadly) groundbreaking it is, and then throwing people’s probable discomfort with it directly back in their faces. That’s what he does, that’s what he is supposed to do. That’s what makes him subversive, and it’s also exactly what makes him him. The joke isn’t on his queerness, the joke is on you for being surprised that he’s queer, for being uncomfortable with it, and for needing extra justification for it in the first place.
Deadpool’s earnest pansexuality can be a jumping-off point for humor that takes aim at the petty gatekeeping of homophobic geek dude-bros, the exhaustingly stable heteronormativity of the larger Hollywood superhero genre, the crassness of media queerbaiting, and the continuing gag-inducing use of gay-panic as humor in much of our mainstream entertainment. These are things that deserve and indeed are begging for the snarky commentary and outright mockery of the Merc with a Mouth. It would be utterly consonant with his character’s canonical legacy to subvert and poke in-your-face fun at these lingering strands of cultural baggage, which Hollywood is still in the very slow process of trying to unload.
Deadpool has debuted at a moment when our culture is undergoing a monumental shift where queerness and LGBTQ politics are concerned. And because he has already proved that he can defy the odds of an R-rating to become one of Marvel’s most popular and profitable properties, he can also stand as a testament to the suits at FOX that perhaps other Hollywood truisms aren’t as unmovable as they seem, either – the injunction on queer protagonist superheroes being one of them.
Deadpool’s capacity to be meta about his own queerness is the thing that makes it possible for him to be queer, to be undeniably queer, to be unabashedly queer, to be queer with gusto and glee, to recreate that famous Spiderman/Mary Jane upside-down kiss with another dude in the rain, and tell anyone who doesn’t like it that they can fuck right off, because he doesn’t issue refunds to cry-baby homophobes, and for goodness sake, it’s 20whatever already.
Deadpool is supposed to be a little ahead of the curve, precisely so he can look back and tell you you’re still behind it, and to hurry your slow ass up. I sincerely hope his producers take that philosophy to heart and don’t let the studio’s risk-adverse conservatism stop Deadpool from waving his queer flag proudly. The character himself would never stand for such nonsense, and they should not either.