Antiheroes are people who refuse to be defined as “good” or “bad,” and they're rapidly growing in popularity, especially in teen culture. From Deadpool to Rick Grimes to Walter White, antiheroes live and thrive in the ambiguous gray, blurring the lines between right and wrong. Yet we connect with and relate to them on an instinctual level. Why? Because they accurately reflect our flawed humanity.
As the next generations’ role models, antiheroes like Deadpool are doing a lot more than entertaining us; they’re also influencing how we think and perceive the world. So let’s talk about how can we help our teens be wise and discerning when it comes to their heroes, super or not.
What exactly is an antihero?
An antihero is a protagonist who lacks most of the positive traits associated with a stereotypical hero. They’re known for their rejection of traditional hero archetypes and for living in a sort of moral “gray area.” Antiheroes are imperfect, usually act out of self-interest, and have complicated histories and emotions.
Life isn’t ideal, often leaving us in difficult circumstances where it seems that there’s no straightforward, 100% right choice. For example, if a man’s family is starving, should he steal a loaf of bread to feed them if that’s his last chance to save them? It’s a difficult moral quandary, and certainly, a case can be made for either side. As Christians, we’d probably spend a good deal of time agonizing over which is the right thing to do, which option brings the most glory to God. But antiheroes just straight-up steal the bread. And they don’t just steal it; they make a show of it, criticizing everyone for not giving them the bread in the first place.
It can sometimes be refreshing for students to see heroes subvert unjust authority like that. Sometimes when tax dollars get wasted and we lose our jobs without good reason, or when we disagree with a new law, we wish there were some kind of hero to stand up to the injustice. But of course, vigilante justice is not even close to ideal. With no checks and balances, and one maverick guy doing things his way, evil and injustice are confronted by more evil and more injustice.
The star of his own top-grossing blockbuster, Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool, aka the Mercenary with a Mouth) is the epitome of irreverent antiheroes. His sexual promiscuity, foul language, and extreme displays of violence push the limits of what’s even allowed to be shown in a theater. But his humor and generally approachable nature has made him one of the most popular comic-book characters (antihero or otherwise) of all time.
Why teens relate with him
The films R ratings haven’t deterred teens from watching. In fact, many of them love Deadpool more than heroes like Superman, the Flash, or Wonder Woman. So why is that? Mainly because he’s much more relatable:
- Like them, Deadpool hasn’t always had an easy life.
- He doesn’t have an untouchable level of perfection (he’s not a “goody-two-shoes”).
- He has a sense of humor!
- He just wants to enjoy his life, but things don’t really seem to go his way.
- He isn’t afraid to rebel against things he perceives as wrong or unfair.
Clearly, teens are rejecting the squeaky clean superheroes of yesteryear, and that’s not necessarily bad. They want someone who they don’t feel judged by, but at the same time stands up against injustice and fights for good. The problem comes when the only examples they have of this also don’t care what they have to do in the process, therefore sacrificing their integrity and, arguably, counteracting all the good they’ve done.
So can antiheroes teach us anything good?
Definitely! In fact, the Bible is full of antiheroes who bumbled their way through life, made lots of mistakes, yet were part of God’s ultimate plan of redemption. Despite their humanity, God used them to bring change to their communities and to change the course of history. (Just one quick example: King David.) They (and other recent antiheroes like Frodo from The Lord of the Rings) show us that even though we’re flawed, weak, and incapable, our community and outside influences (e.g. Samwise and Gandalf) can help us achieve our God-given missions. In addition, an acknowledgment of our good-but-cursed nature and the potential we have in Christ to overcome it can be very encouraging to students wrapped up in their failures and “imperfections.”
Ultimately, we want our kids to seek Christ as the source of their encouragement because He’s the ultimate underdog story. He was cast out and crucified by those who should've supported Him, yet never took things into his own hands, instead trusting God and waiting for His sovereign plan to come to fruition. And it’s because of His sacrifice we now have the opportunity for redemption and the ability to stand up for good and fight for the underdog without sacrificing our integrity in the process.