Tag Archives: existentialism

Why Deadpool Is The Perfect Nihilist Hero

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How do you navigate a world where everything is ultimately meaningless? That is a question that self-proclaimed nihilists and “Rick and Morty” fans often struggle with in heated philosophical debates.

I’ve tried contributing to that debate before with my own insights. I’d like to do so again while also tying the discussion one of my favorite superheroes, who just happens to have had a very successful movie this year. For me, that’s as big a win-win I’ll get without also referencing ice cream and bikini models.

I still want to further the nihilism debate, though. To do that, I need to re-frame the initial question I stated. How do you navigate a world where you know you’re just a comic book character and everything you do is subject to endless retcons, marketing gimmicks, and the occasional time traveler?

That’s basically the life Deadpool lives every hour of every day. Unlike the myriad of other iconic superheroes owned by Marvel and governed by their Disney overlords, he knows he’s a comic book character. His tendency to break the fourth wall is the most common manifestation of that knowledge.

It doesn’t seem to bother him, though. It hasn’t stopped him from doing things like joining the Avengers, teaming up with Cable, and marrying a succubus. He still cracks dirty jokes, shoots people and the occasional shape-shifting alien for money, and generally does his own thing outside the traditional superhero archetype.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why Deadpool is such an endearing character. I’ve cited more than a few, but I’d like to submit another for Deadpool fans and philosophy buffs alike.

Deadpool is the PERFECT nihilist hero.

I know “nihilist hero” isn’t really a thing, but given the philosophical underpinnings of nihilism, that really doesn’t matter much. When I say Deadpool is a nihilist hero, I don’t just mean that he’s someone who personifies a concept the same way Captain America personifies American ideals. With Deadpool, I’m referring more to the way we process the often-depressing implications of nihilism.

Those concepts can be pretty difficult to anyone who thinks about them for more than two minutes. At the core of nihilism is the idea that life, the universe, and everything in between has no inherent purpose. Nothing you or anyone else does matters in the grand scheme of things. Whether we’re random clumps of matter or comic book characters, it’s all ultimately pointless.

For many, that’s a scary notion. That’s why it’s only natural that people will cling to ideologies, religions, and simple hobbies to forge some semblance of meaning out of a meaningless universe. It often requires that we not care about the truth and simply accept the possibility of truth, which can be difficult when the universe constantly reminds us how harsh and unfair it can be.

For someone like Rick Sanchez of “Rick and Morty,” there’s no getting around the meaninglessness of it all. His approach and advice in navigating a nihilistic universe often boils down to not thinking about it. While that advice is actually more useful than it sounds, it’s not very heroic.

This is where Deadpool sets himself apart. The fact that Deadpool knows he’s a fictional character establishes that he understands how meaningless his existence truly is. Everything he knows, loves, and holds dear is nothing more than the whim of comic creators who ripped his name and his appearance from an established DC character.

How does anyone deal with that kind of knowledge? Even the smartest, most capable characters in the entire Marvel universe, which includes gods, aliens, and alien gods, don’t have the insight that Deadpool has. It’s the kind of thing that would drive even a powerful mind insane.

However, Deadpool is not insane. He’s crude, vulgar, obnoxious, annoying, self-destructive, immature, and impulsive. He once made 372,844 pancakes for no reason. That’s absurd, but it isn’t insane. You could even argue he’s “super sane” in the sense that he’s more aware than most of how the world works.

That sort of awareness tends to inspire chaos in characters like the Joker or misanthropy in characters like Rick Sanchez. With Deadpool, though, that knowledge inspires something different. Instead of misery or clown makeup, Deadpool embraces this understanding and jokes about it.

He does all that while being a wise-cracking anti-hero who will help the Avengers save the world while also shooting a dishonest pizza guy. That may sound eccentric, but it also reflects the key component that establishes Deadpool as a nihilist hero.

Part of what makes a hero heroic is why they do what they do. Superman is often held up as the gold standard because he does the right thing just because it’s the right thing. He doesn’t need another reason. You could argue that’s the most important reason for any hero.

While Superman’s morality still works in a nihilistic context, I don’t consider him a nihilist hero because he operates under the assumption that his life, his role, and his actions have meaning. Deadpool knows this isn’t true because he knows he’s a fictional character. However, that makes his style of heroism more nuanced.

There are times when Deadpool’s actions are selfish and other times when they’re entirely selfless, often within the same story. In both his movies, he alternates between heroic and not-so-heroic actions fairly easily. There’s no internal conflict. He just does it, doesn’t bother with the particulars, and cracks a dirty joke along the way.

For other heroes, the reason for their heroic actions is often as critical as the actions themselves. To them, there is a larger meaning to their heroic roles. That’s why they’ll often hesitate or agonize over doing something for selfish reasons. That basically happens with Spider-Man every other issue.

That’s not an issue for Deadpool, though. He’ll be selfless and selfish, depending on the situation and his mood. If the world is in danger of being overrun by renegade space gods, he’ll step up and be a hero. If the world is not in danger, though, he’ll gladly take a few mercenary gigs and shoot some people for money.

In both cases, there’s no moral conflict. In the context of nihilism, there shouldn’t be because those details don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether Deadpool saves the world or makes a few quick bucks shooting a pick-pocket carries no significant weight. He does what he does because he chooses to. He even dares to enjoy himself along the way.

In a meaningless universe, you can be a selfless hero. You can be a greedy prick, too. It doesn’t matter either way. The only thing that matters, in the context of nihilism, is that someone chooses it because they want to and not because they think it serves some higher purpose. For someone who knows he’s a comic book character, those are the only choices Deadpool makes.

He’s willing to make jokes about that. He’s even willing to exploit it, as evidenced in the post-credits scene of “Deadpool 2.” I would even argue that entire movie cemented Deadpool as a nihilist hero because what he did rendered a great deal of the plot meaningless in the end. However, it still counted as meaningful to him because he chose to be both heroic and selfish at the same time.

There’s no question that there are characters who are more heroic than Deadpool. There are also plenty of characters who are more selfish than Deadpool, but still call themselves heroes. However, it’s Deadpool’s ability to be both and laugh at the meaninglessness of his existence that makes him the greatest nihilist hero.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Deadpool, nihilism, philosophy, X-men

Rick Sanchez: An Anti-Hero Forged By Boredom?

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Greetings, and wubalubadubdub! If you have no idea what I just said and worry that I’ve suffered some kind of traumatic head injury, then calm down. It’s nothing like that. If you happen to know what that word means, then congratulations. Your life is inherently richer because you’ve watched a show called “Rick and Morty.”

For those of you who think “South Park” is too polite, “Rick and Morty” is right up your alley. It’s crude, lewd, callous, crass, vulgar, obscene, and pretty much every other word you would use to upset a typical PTA meeting. It’s also one of the most hilarious, insightful, smart, and wildly entertaining shows on TV right now. Unless you find shows like “Family Guy” too harsh, a show like “Rick and Morty” will appeal to you.

Why do I bring this show up? I usually don’t do post just to lavishly praise a particular TV show or movie without making a larger point. While I may make exceptions to movies like “Wonder Woman,” I usually try to tie it into a larger discussion. This time is no different. At some point, I was going to use “Rick and Morty” in a discussion. It was only ever a matter of time and topic.

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In this case, the topic is both relevant and revealing. It once again ties into my ongoing exploration of boredom, an inescapable facet of modern life and a potential plague of the future. I cited DC Comics character Vandal Savage as a super-villain who is defined by boredom. He’s even said outright that boredom is what motivates him.

As compelling as Savage’s case might be, Rick Sanchez would probably still roll his eyes and call it stupid. He would also probably find a way to kill Savage, spit on his corpse, and do it all while exceedingly drunk. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s not a hero by even the greatest stretch. He’s also not a villain either, although he has been known to carry himself like a sociopath at times. He is, at his core, an anti-hero.

I’ve talked about anti-heroes before and how they’re neither heroes nor villains. They exist on a different spectrum of sorts, from tragic characters like the Incredible Hulk to truly brutal souls like the Punisher. In respect to this spectrum, Rick Sanchez exists on a nebulous, yet extreme end.

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He rarely goes out of his way to save the world or do good. He also regularly traumatizes his friends, family, and his cohort, Morty Smith. His dimension-hopping, universe-spanning exploits often put everyone around him in danger. He’ll also show little reservation about participating in various acts of debauchery, violence, and general douche-baggery.

There’s no such thing as a typical episode of “Rick and Morty” in the sense that it follows a formula. In a sense, it defines itself by essentially taking the formula of traditional adult animation and shitting all over it.

As a general rule, though, an episode of “Rick and Morty” usually revolves around Rick getting his side-kick/grandson, Morty, caught up in something crazy. Morty, being young and innocent, tries to help him out and do the right thing. More often than not, though, Morty’s idealism gets crushed and/or backfires horribly. Rick, being a genius inventor, usually finds a way to fix everything and he does it while rarely being sober.

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Why he does what he does, getting Morty caught up in his antics in the first place, is what makes him relevant to the discussion about boredom. Throughout the first two seasons of the show, there are various teases about what truly motivates Rick Sanchez. At times, it seems like he really loves his family. At other times, though, he gives the impression that they’re just a means to an end.

At every turn of his antics, regardless of context or motivation, Rick and the plot of nearly every episode tends to trivialize everything. Think of any cherished tradition, be it family, religion, culture, love, or friendship. To Rick Sanchez, it’s all pointless crap. It’s only important because people make stupid excuses to justify it. These are some of his soul-crushing quotes, which he often says in the presence of loved ones, no less.

“What people call love is just a chemical reaction that compels people to breed.”

“Listen, I’m not the nicest guy in the universe, because I’m the smartest, and being nice is something stupid people do to hedge their bets.”

“Don’t break an arm jerking yourself off.”

This is where the boredom aspect comes in. In addition to being a high-functioning drunk who has a very crass view of the world, he’s extremely smart. He’s a genius who is at or above the likes of Vandal Savage.

He creates portals to other dimensions with the same ease of changing the channel on a TV. He creates inter-stellar spaceships in a garage, complete with a super-intelligent AI that will obey orders in disturbingly literal ways. He’s so smart that he actually outsmarted an entire army of alternate-reality versions of himself. It’s even more messed up than it sounds.

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Keep in mind, he does all of this while often being intoxicated. He almost always has a metal flask of hard liquor in his pocket. He’ll gladly gorge on harder drugs, even if it inspires his own dance. The fact he can do so much of this while being such a drunk is a testament to the sheer breadth of his genius.

Like Vandal Savage, though, genius does come at a cost. Having such a high intelligence means you tend to get bored easily and are constantly in need of new challenges. Rick Sanchez is so smart that there’s pretty much nothing he can’t do.

With his gadgets, he could become the world’s richest man. With his understanding of reality, he could win every Nobel Prize and get every major university to name a building after him. He could do all of this without breaking a sweat, but therein lies the problem.

Rick could do all these things, but it wouldn’t be a challenge. It would be too easy and provide a fleeting distraction at best. It would also get bureaucratic and tedious too, which only bores Rick even more. It’s why he can outsmart the devil himself, get bored, and burn down a building all in the same episode. I swear there’s no part of that last sentence that’s made up.

In trivializing anything and everything that other people hold dear, Rick Sanchez often brings up boredom. He even looks bored, as well as drunk, when talking about it. Whenever Morty asks him about some terrible, traumatic, morally reprehensible issue, be it doing business with a hitman or the purge, his response is always dispassionate and crass.

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Like Vandal Savage, Rick is often frustrated by how easy things come. He’s so smart, even while drunk, that nobody can really challenge him. No matter what he does, his gadgets and his utter lack of regard for ethical considerations ensure he wins easily. He rarely experiences the thrill of overcoming a challenge, which is part of why he’s so dispassionate and crass.

Unlike Vandal Savage, though, Rick’s exploits also have him traveling across the universe and into different dimensions. This does more than highlight just how smart and resourceful Rick is. It effectively affirms just how trivial his actions and existence is in the grand scheme of things.

In one particular episode, his exploits with Morty lead to the complete and utter destruction of the world. Rick’s solution is as crass as it is anti-heroic. He just takes Morty to another universe where they both died and take their place. He even digs his own grave. He does all of this and then goes back to drinking beer and watching TV while Morty is horrifically traumatized.

In a sense, this understanding that nothing he does matters makes the boredom even worse. It means that even if Rick finds something meaningful to do, it really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because there are literally infinite universes where the same thing was done in any number of ways. Whether he succeeds or fails doesn’t matter. Nothing he does matters.

Despite all this, Rick doesn’t become a full-fledged villain like Vandal Savage. He probably could conquer the world if he wanted. He already defeated an intergalactic empire of insect humanoids with relative ease. Again, not a word of that last sentence is made up. Unlike Savage, though, he doesn’t do that. He’d get bored with that too and understand that it doesn’t matter in the long run.

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That doesn’t stop him from protecting Morty and the rest of his family. When they’re in trouble, he usually goes out of his way to help them. At times, he seems to do it out of sheer boredom, but he still does it. It’s not very heroic, but it’s not at all villainous.

It would be a stretch to say that Rick Sanchez is entirely driven by crippling boredom. The show is somewhat erratic in the things that drive rick. The first episode of the third season indicated that Rick is almost entirely driven by his love of a discontinued promotional dipping sauce from the late 90s. I swear I’m not making any of that up. I know I keep saying that, but it really is worth saying.

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On paper, Rick Sanchez and Vandal Savage don’t have much in common. However, one trait they do share is that they are distinctly human. They have human weaknesses and human drives. They are very much at the mercy of human limits, both mentally and physically. That’s why boredom effects them so profoundly.

That’s also why they are both cautionary tales about the power of boredom. Rick Sanchez, through both boredom and extreme nihilism, is plagued and frustrated by boredom. It keeps him from using his genius to achieve a meaningful good. It also keeps him drunk, miserable, and constantly in trouble with killer insect people.

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While Rick Sanchez is by no means a role model, he still manages to do a lot with his brilliance and he can do it while drunk. He may be a callous, dispassionate anti-hero, but he gets the job done and he does it in a way that’s wonderfully entertaining. For that, he deserves respect, although he’d probably say respect is an idiot thing.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Jack Fisher's Insights