June 27, 2011 CM Punk shocks the wrestling world with what would become known as his ‘Pipebomb’ promo. Sitting on the stage, Punk vented at length about his frustrations with the business, those in charge, and those who receive the spotlight. The promo was impactful for two reasons, it blurred the line between script and reality, and, it gave a microphone to the kind of complaints some of the fan base had made online and in private for many years. There were some, however, who weren’t shocked to hear Punk’s complaints: the intended recipients. Those in charge. Those who the Internet Wrestling Community so often rallied against. Why? Because they were the one’s who sent Punk out and told him to speak his mind. They gave him the microphone, the airtime, and subsequent replays. Regardless, the rallying cry was heard. The fans got behind Punk, he ‘got over’ and ratings increased (I’m sure merchandise sales did as well) as people tuned into to see what this wrestling revolutionary would do next. Of course this all just fed back into the product run by the same people Punk and his fans were decrying. The WWE got rich off the dissent. In many ways they created the revolution (or if not created, harnessed), used it, and profited, handsomely. It’s the perfect plan really, create a system that pleases your supporters – identify the pockets rebellious antagonism, and then give them an outlet within the very system they decry – this way, whether they love you or hate you, they pay you.
This brings us to Marvel’s Deadpool. I am not a marvel aficionado. I have seen most of the movies, and have a little bit of knowledge about how the universe fits (perhaps, don’t test me), but an announcement of the next wave of films doesn’t make or break my year. That said I am aware that there is a growing sense of discontentment within some of the marvel/comic book fan base over the homogeneity of the movies. This seems to focus in on the fact that despite the depiction of the characters in the comics, they all undergo a PG-13 makeover before hitting the big screen. Superhero movies were/are family movies, whether people liked it or not – and they were making embarrassing amounts of money in spite of whatever complaints the day ones might have had. Yet, this group of fans, hungry for four letter words and splatters of blood, continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the PG trend. And so, a groundswell developed. The voices were heard, and much like Punk’s pipebomb they were given a platform in the first Deadpool trailer. From there momentum only grew until we have what we have; Deadpool full of swearing, sex, and amputation, opens at a cool $135Million. A figure that surpasses most of the other solo-hero Marvel movies. This has been the cause of much glee. Deadpool has walked all over a whole host of the PG heroes that its fans (and the movie itself) deride so relentlessly. Through merciless mockery, aggrandized violence, fourth wall shenanigans, and round the year sex scenes, Deadpool, the rebel and revolutionary, triumphed over the old PG, stuck in the mud, stuffy suit regime.
Except for the fact that he didn’t.
Because Deadpool is the regime’s henchman. Their product. Just like CM Punk and the WWE, Deadpool is an insider whose ‘revolution’ will only further establish and embolden the machine that he and his ardent supporters direct their angst. Marvel have stumbled upon their own perfect structure – they hit the superhero wave hard and have been making hand over fist with film after film, sequel after sequel (not to mention a couple of reboots and a whole lot of crossovers), and just as people might be mumbling their dissent and voicing their misgivings a little louder than before, Marvel inject a revolutionary, anti-hero figure into the mix and make tycoon money by singing along to the very tune their detractors were humming. It would be as if a of Wall Street mogul sold We are the 99% shirts at an Occupy Wall St protest. Were Deadpool shot on an iPhone and released for free online it might have felt more authentic, might have actually been the revolution this cinematic mode needed, but at this point it is just another authorised revolution and because of that, it is hardly likely to change a thing… except the bottom line.
For those of us involved in advocacy, protest, and civil disobedience (I am hardly putting myself forward as a expert, leader, or even significant player) we should hold these two examples close. They show the desire of systems of power to internalise dissent and disagreement, giving time and preference to the forms they authorise.
Let’s look at the #LetThemStay refugee issue. The government will let us do all the candlelight vigils we want (especially if we get the permits), and I’m not knocking the vigils, they are great, they get press (sometimes), and unite people by providing a space for grief, anguish, and anger. But there is an extent to which the authorised protest only strengthens the system – because it can be controlled, and there is a chance that for some people, simply possessing the ability to protest will convince them that ‘the system isn’t all that bad, and we probably don’t need to go much further, after all, didn’t the system try and meet us halfway?’ The Let Them Stay campaign involving groups such as Love Makes a Way, Get Up, GreenPeace, and others is gaining its momentum and power because of actions that are out of the system – that truly disturb and disrupt the institutions of power. Doctors and Nurses refusing to turn a refugee baby over to immigration, citing their duty to keep to child out of harm… this is not authorised. People suspending themselves off overpasses, or balancing between boats to hang protest signs, these are not authorised. Churches offering Sanctuary, these are not authorised. This kind of protest is a true protest- not simply a way to salve voices of dissent. It is in stark contrast to the legitimised and imbedded outlets, which only serve to strengthen the system in question.
The Deadpools and CM Punks of the world have their day, create a splash, and then are gone… the systems that created them, promoted them, and graciously granted them the space and time are still there. An Avenger isn’t going to leave an orgy early to go and decapitate a villain; John Cena is going to win more world titles. But when doctors and clergy risk arrest, perhaps things will change. The authorised revolution is no revolution at all; a true prophet cannot be on the payroll of a king.