The Spectacle of The Woman in White and Deadpool

As mentioned in the previous post, in class the other day we discussed the idea of the spectacle and looking at something that cannot return the gaze. This happens several times in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, particularly with the character of Walter Hartright. In the novel when Walter meets Marian, he has time to observe her before she sees him. During this scene he spends time noting how attractive her physique is, but when she turns around and returns the gaze he declares that she is ugly. Part of Walter’s judgment of Marian’s ugliness could be the fact that she is returning his gaze which is both frightening and unsettling to him. We discussed in class that perhaps if Marian did not return Walter’s gaze, he would have fallen for her.

This discomfort in having the gaze returned reminded me of a comic book that has currently become extremely popular. This comic is Deadpool, and features a snarky mercenary who is constantly breaking the fourth wall. I find it interesting that one of the first comic book characters to regularly break the fourth wall is an extremely rude and immoral antihero.  It makes me wonder if the writers felt this discomfort about breaking the fourth wall and wrote him as an antihero, because it is hard to imagine an extremely likeable and honorable character breaking the fourth wall.

I also find it interesting that with this discomfort, this comic book is becoming so popular. There is some entertainment value in being made uncomfortable, but I wonder if there is more to this issue that is making this comic so loved by fans. Certainly there are other positives to the Deadpool series, but people today have really latched on to this series that has been running since the 90’s. It just leads me to wonder what aspect of today’s culture leads to this extreme enjoyment of the common rules of the spectacle being broken. Perhaps it has something to do with our culture’s acknowledgement that looking at something that cannot look back at you is wrong, and perhaps it is just the enjoyment of being made uncomfortable. No matter what the reason Deadpool’s recent rise to popularity is an interesting study on the idea of the spectacle.

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