Kick-Ass: A Study in Cultural Phenomenon

Kick-Ass is a great many things. Equal parts humor, some parts melodrama, and plenty of the American dream thrown in together and what do you get? You get a frantic exercise in media consciousness in the 21st century.

At its heart, Kick-Ass claims to be an underdog story. It’s got all the elements of the makings of a superhero; love, loss, betrayal, but most importantly, it’s got plenty of victimization. Sure, there’s the protagonist Dave Lizewski, but there are plenty of other examples, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Dave is the perfect candidate for superherodom for a variety of reasons, but noticeably, because he knows what it feels to be stripped of his masculinity (both in the physical world and the rumor of his homosexuality) in a man’s world. All these factors come together to create the alter-ego of Kick-Ass, but what does that mean exactly? As his friends point out, there are no discernable superpowers and he doesn’t even go through a training montage to prepare for his battle against evil.

Yes, it’s sad but true that Kick-Ass serves purely as an idea and never truly represents a physical threat to evil-doers anywhere. I mean, look at the beatings that he constantly takes and when confronted by something truly dangerous? Either Hit Girl and Big Daddy come in or he runs from it.

But that’s not the point, because Kick-Ass stands as a representation of good versus evil. He doesn’t have to do anything other than dress up in a costume and get himself hurt in the name of all things good. Still, Dave Lizewski didn’t get this power alone. Where did it come from?

Yup, that’s right, the internet. This doesn’t just happen overnight though… well, actually, it kind of does, but that’s crucial to the development too. Kick-Ass gets his start as a YouTube phenomenon and nothing more. However, like all great pieces of American pop culture, he transcends the ideological and becomes something physical, something tangible that people can ask for guidance or some sort of guidance.

Then again, he never does completely transcend the ideological, because he never really becomes that good at what he does. Still, it’s the idea that he is somehow accessible to the people which makes him a man of the people. However, it is fame, garnered through the YouTube sensation, that cripples him in a sense. His ego becomes inflated and his focus on doing any real good is warped into public appearances and the ideas behind his actions, rather than his somewhat unimpressive actions.

Things are made more interesting when Red Mist comes on to the scene, effectively as fraudulent as Kick-Ass but a result of calculated PR and menace. Note that there is no real difference between the two, but once again, it is the ideological. This, however, is an idea that can’t really be conveyed through cell phone videos or websites, so Red Mist is taken at face value.

As the power struggle between good and evil continues, evil is the only palpable force in the real world. Sure, Kick-Ass does his thing sometimes, but once again, it is rarely on his own and frequently underwhelming. All of his power is derived from that clip that made its way to YouTube rather than anything real. The evil in the world? That’s real. Still, this is an idea that is never given much credit throughout the course of the film as it goes from mocking the superhero genre with harsh reality to becoming yet another article in the superhero canon. This isn’t to dismiss Kick-Ass as unimportant or even uninteresting, because it certainly is both on a surface level, but much like its titular hero, it never transcends the ideological world into something real.

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