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I've heard some conflicting information as to why Deadpool breaks the 4th wall, especially regarding whether it's deliberate or not.

One side I've heard:

Deadpool knows that he's in a Marvel comic book and that he doesn't exist in real life, so he breaks the 4th wall constantly because of this.

He knows he's part of a comic written by writers from Marvel, and so he deliberately breaks the 4th wall due to this. The key thing is that he knows that he's completely fictional.

The other side I've heard:

Deadpool doesn't know he's in a comic book. He thinks he's a "comic book hero" due to his insanity, so the "Merc with a Mouth" breaks the 4th wall thinking that's what he should be doing (ironically being that he actually does break the 4th wall)

Thus, everytime he breaks the 4th wall it is only his persona causing him to do so, as opposed to something the writer added in. Thus, it's somewhat paradoxical in that, while he does break the 4th wall, he only does so because he thinks he's actually in a comic book so because of that he attempts to break the 4th wall anyways much to the chagrin of his fellow superheroes.

Basically, my question boils down to, does Deadpool THINK he's breaking the 4th wall, or does Deadpool KNOW he's breaking the 4th wall?

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38  
What's breaking the fourth wall to some is insanity to others. – Axelrod Mar 9 at 17:10
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As a teenager, I went through a short phase where I didn't exactly believe that I was trapped in some comic book or Truman Show style dystopia, but I did believe that it was a possibility worth addressing. So whenever I was on my own or no-one was looking, and either I did something stupid or some suspiciously unlikely twist or drama happened around me, I'd look towards whatever looked like the best angle to film this scene from, and roll my eyes or give a "come on, seriously" expression. I didn't think there was anyone watching, but just in case there was, it seemed worth it... – user568458 Mar 9 at 23:25
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...so I guess you could say what's breaking the fourth wall or insanity to some, is a rational response to a world full of uncertainties and unknowns to others... – user568458 Mar 9 at 23:27
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Deadpool can't just think that he's breaking the wall, because he is. So if he believes that he is, then he knows that he is, because it's true. – DCShannon Mar 10 at 14:08
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@DCShannon: It's a Gettier problem! – Micah Mar 11 at 1:32
up vote 54 down vote accepted

Deadpool intentionally breaks the fourth wall because he's aware that he's fictional. He just doesn't realize what that means until the events of Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe.

In that story, Deadpool is sent to an asylum where Psycho-Man attempts to brainwash him. This fails rather spectacularly as it instead silences his old voices and awakens a new one which starts him on a killing spree.

start

[Major story spoilers follow]

While murdering his way through the entire Marvel cast of heroes and villains it's gradually revealed that he's become fully aware of his fictional nature and believes these to be mercy killings. It's mentioned that he's always seen the reality of his fictional world but never understood it until his run-in with Psycho-Man.

reveal

Xavier attempts to stop Deadpool by accessing his mind whereupon he realises the truth as well, going mad in the process.

mindbreak

It's implied that Deadpool has always seen through the fourth wall but was powerless to do more than the writers let him, until the events of this story where he broke free of their control.

free

Eventually, he makes his way to the Nexus of All Realities where he crosses dimensions/planes/realities to the "real world", where the story comes full circle in the final panel:

Finale of DKTMU

Note: I'm unaware of what is and isn't considered canon when it comes to Marvel. The claims made by The Watcher indicate that this is what happened in one of the many coexisting realities, implying that the revelations made about Deadpools insight into the fourth wall are true in most of them.

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3  
I would make one point here. Notice the first sentence "because he's aware that he's fictional...". Note: Deadpool is NOT fictional. I don't mean that in some deep philosophical sense: "MASH" is not fictional, it's a real TV show. "Cosmos with Carl Sagan" was not fictional, it's a real TV show. Deadpool is as completely real as the CBS Evening News or Seinfeld or Superman. In contrast the (nonexistent, fictional) TV show which Mary Tyler Moore produces does not exist. (But "Mary Tyler Moore" of course exists - she is a famous TV character.) ... – Joe Blow Mar 10 at 18:43
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... Deadpool knows he is a (real) famous media character. Whereas say Superman has no clue he is a (real) famous media character. It would be quite different if Deadpool was "just made up" (and realised that was the case). Deadpool is actually Deadpool .. like Cosmos or MASH or Superman .. and he knows it. – Joe Blow Mar 10 at 18:44
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"I'LL FIND YOU SOON ENOUGH." Oh snap, RUN! – PyRulez Mar 10 at 20:41
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@JoeBlow: the entity you're referring to when you say, "Deadpool is as completely real as the CBS Evening News" is not an entity of a type to which the sentence "Deadpool knows X" can be true. Similarly, the CBS evening news cannot know something. MASH cannot know something. The letter Q cannot know something. This is the disparity that the authors are playing on. – Steve Jessop Mar 11 at 0:33
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But I'm not sure if that's true, Steve. It's a completely open question if an organism like "Apple" "knows anything". (If you think "John knows something" .. what's the difference between "some humans and desks" (Apple) and "some atoms in a skull" (John).) It's like the chinese room argument, you know... quite a puzzle! – Joe Blow Mar 11 at 1:16

Deadpool is aware that he's a character in comic books, so when he breaks the fourth wall, it's intentional. Here's a few examples...

Deadpool finds out he's in a comic enter image description here

Deadpool acknowledges he's in a comic Deadpool acknowledges he's in a comic

Deadpool makes reference to the people reading the comic Deadpool makes reference to the people reading the comic

Deadpool directly addresses the reader Deadpool directly addresses the reader

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14  
That last comic looks like it was drawn by Dr. McNinja's artist. – Axelrod Mar 9 at 21:14
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To be fair, the recap page is kind of out of scope, isn't it? @Axelrod FYI: It's Deadpool by Posehn & Duggan Volume 1 IIRC – Florian Peschka Mar 10 at 8:11
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Possibly, but I was just showing reference to him acknowledging the fourth wall – WizardKnight Mar 10 at 14:42
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@Axelrod Chris Hastings (Dr. McNinja's comic creator) is/was for some time now working on Deadpool for Marvel. – Mindwin Mar 10 at 20:48
    
@Mindwin That would explain a few things (Like Ben Franklin). Good. Deadpool looks better as a skinny guy, rather than a brick wall. – Axelrod Mar 10 at 23:02

What would be the difference between a Deadpool who, in his insanity, thinks he's part of a comic book, or a Deadpool who, in his insanity, is aware that he's part of a comic book?

Accuracy.

To put it another way, if someone told me they could predict the lottery results, and then they continually and accurately predict the lottery results, they probably can. Deadpool's observations mesh with reality: when he declares that something happened in issue 16, it happened in issue 16.

If Deadpool wasn't aware, if he was just deluded, then he would still be saying the same sorts of things, but the numbers wouldn't mesh. He wouldn't know which direction the fourth wall was in. He would be wrong, not in HIS universe, but in OURs.

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What an outstanding point. – Joe Blow Mar 10 at 18:38
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Interesting story idea: A character in a fiction story addresses an "audience" from time to time, but the character is facing the wrong direction when they do this and are actually imagining a whole different audience from the real audience. Or are they...? – Todd Wilcox Mar 10 at 23:05
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@ToddWilcox Final panel, he turns and winks at the REAL audience? – Trevel Mar 11 at 16:31
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I should add, an alternate explanation would be that Deadpool, in his insanity, INCORRECTLY thinks he's part of a comic book, and WE exist solely as part of his delusion -- but since the notion that we all exist only as a quirk of the subconscious of an murderous mouthy mercenary wasn't part of the original question, I restricted myself to the more pertinent possibilities. – Trevel Mar 11 at 18:54
    
@ToddWilcox breaking the fifth wall? – tox123 Mar 13 at 2:10

It's a postmodern thing.

The story itself is an intellectual construct. The writers have one of the characters in the construct become aware of the bounds of the construct, but it's funny because Deadpool of course doesn't exist, so he is incapable of realising anything.

The writers then have Deadpool break through the bounds of the construct, implying that the reality they are creating is, in a sense, as valid as any other reality, including the one which we inhabit.

The ultimate implication is that our existence is a construct, and that the reality we perceive is one that is created, either by us, or for us. It's designed to twist our notions of what is real, which of course makes us laugh because it's amusing to blur the lines of reality.

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+1, because i see the Matrix reference here :-) – ABcDexter Mar 10 at 7:28
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Quite right. Note though ... "because Deadpool of course doesn't exist..." That's a very difficult concept. Consider "The president of the United States." (I don't mean "Bill Clinton" or other humans, I mean "The president of the United States.") Of course, that thing obviously does not "exist" in any meaningful way. It's just some words. Of course, that thing obviously does "exist" in meaningful ways. We don't even know if, say, "integers" exist. "Deadpool" has had far, far more influence on the planet (for example) than myself. The question of existence if subtle. – Joe Blow Mar 10 at 18:37
    
@JoeBlow You're being a bit pedantic :) Most people understand the difference between "exist" as in "this exists as a sentient entity capable of knowing or believing things" vs "this is something that exists as a concept". Bill Clinton and Deadpool's writers are sentient and capable of being aware of things; Deadpool and the role of POTUS aren't aware of anything because they are not sentient. Deadpool also doesn't exist as a real person. This is what everyone means when they say Deadpool is "fictional" or that he "doesn't exist". It's just that we take shortcuts with our wording! – Andres F. Mar 11 at 4:43
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@JoeBlow "Consider 'The president of the United States.' (I don't mean 'Bill Clinton'...)" Er, we need to talk. You've been sleeping for fifteen years. Maybe twenty. Don't worry. It'll be OK. – David Richerby Mar 11 at 6:00
    
Actually @joeblow makes an important point. 'President' is a term that we have invented. It's a collective narrative, so it exists only in so far as the stories we tell ourselves about the world exist. – superluminary Mar 11 at 7:20

As Deadpool is indeed playing the role of a hero in a comic book, the two options you propose are both sides of a same coin.

In the comic, Deadpool constantly violates the 4th wall rule because he's aware of being a character in a fictional work.

This resource has been used by authors for centuries in almost any art form where a 4th wall is involved (primarily theatre, tv, cinema, comic and books, but you can also find examples in painting, photography, sculpture or even music in certain operas, etc...)

So... he do it. And he does it because he knows (or believes) that he's a fictional character.

The fact is that he ACTUALLY is a fictional character. So even if an author wants to play the card that he's mad and believing something that's false you, as an spectator, are being fooled, as the thing that the author is trying to hide from you is ACTUALLY happening.

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Is there a source that shows that Deadpool actually knows he's fictional? Or is it that he believes that, since he believes he is a comic book character, then he thinks he's fictional (even though he's still fictional) – ayylmao Mar 9 at 17:24
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The key is that doesn't matters if he knows or just believes that he's fictional, because he IS fictional. If he knows it's ok, and if he believes it, you're being cheated by the author, as he actually is fictional. – Bardo Mar 9 at 17:31
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"The fact is that he ACTUALLY is a fictional character." Says who... him? Can we believe a fictional character when he says he's fictional? Sounds suspiciously what a real character pretending to be fictional would do... – corsiKa Mar 9 at 20:46
    
Says who? Me, I have a comic book depicting him, I know he's fictional in real life, that's what I'm talking about. – Bardo Mar 10 at 10:56
    
this does not actually answer the question of the distinction between the two in the OP. – Joe Blow Mar 10 at 18:37

"He knows he doesn't exist" is an interesting statement since it is a direct contradiction to Descartes' cogito ergo sum. One cannot know anything without thinking. If he doesn't exist then he doesn't think or know anything, says Descartes. "Shut the f**k up, yes I do think, and anyway you're just some dead a-hole", says Deadpool.

A large part of the point of the whole routine is to subvert the notion that any fictional character, including those in Marvel's works, exists, or has knowledge or beliefs, or speaks, or takes actions. Deadpool (the work rather than the character) challenges the convenient notion of referring to in-fiction or in-canon information as "facts", because it intentionally confuses the issue of what things we're talking about when we make these statements of fact. If reading a Marvel comic actually is observing the Marvel universe, then what absurdities emerge when we consider how that universe could interact with this one?

So personally I think the only sensible short answer to "does Deadpool THINK he's breaking the 4th wall, or does Deadpool KNOW he's breaking the 4th wall?" is "well, exactly".

That is one of the things you're supposed to think about, and there is not a clear-cut answer because another of the things you're supposed to think about is the invalidity of the assumption that there can be clear-cut in-fiction answers to questions about fictional characters. Sorry fans (says Marvel), there is no such place as the Marvel Universe. You can make true statements about works of fiction set in the Marvel Universe (or any ficton, such as MCU) but strictly speaking you cannot make true statements about the fictional "entities themselves" even though that is exactly the shorthand we use when talking about fiction -- "is this true in canon?" etc.

On the surface of it, the difference between "belief" and "knowledge" depends on exactly what you construe the word "knowledge" to mean, and the field of philosophy that attempts to define knowledge is called epistemology. It is not easy. There's a classical definition that knowledge is a "true, justified, belief". This has some problems and is not generally considered by philosophers to be an adequate definition, but will probably suffice as a necessary but not sufficient condition. So, is Deadpool's belief that he is fictional both "justified" and "true"?

It's certainly true "up here" in the real world. Deadpool is a fictional character. But up here in the real world Deadpool doesn't exist as a person, and doesn't "believe" anything. So that true statement is not a belief held by Deadpool. Down there in the ficton he holds beliefs, but it's not clear whether or not it's true down there in the ficton that he doesn't exist. All of our usual instincts scream that he does exist in the ficton, and therefore in the ficton his belief that he doesn't exist is incorrect. But the writers make it so plausible. Then, the comic intentionally nests fictons in order to further confuse the issue. So probably it isn't "knowledge" since it fails the "truth" criterion except when you mix and match two different contexts (reality and the Marvel ficton), between which statements like "Deadpool can think" and "Deadpool is a person" have different truth values, and between which the statement "Deadpool exists" mean different things.

As a side note, interesting consequences of treating "existence" as a property of a hypothetical entity, alongside other properties we might ascribe to hypothetical entities, were first explored in the Western tradition by Saint Anselm when he presented in 1078 the "ontological argument" for the existence of God. This is not a novel quandary ;-)

As for whether it passes the "justified" criterion: you can look for clues in the fiction as to whether (a) he is insane, and breaks the fourth wall in a "random" direction, but the "cameraman" intentionally places the "camera" in just the right place to make him accidentally correct, or (b) he has followed a reasonable logical process to conclude that he's fictional based on observations he makes. But to do this is to miss the message that this whole process of reasoning within the ficton is intentionally subverted by the work you're reading. Deadpool and the "world" he appears to inhabit behave as the authors cause them to behave, and the authors make this more obvious than usual. The ficton does not necessarily have to behave according to logical consequences of "facts" like "Deadpool is delusional" or "Deadpool is not delusional".

Seriously, the whole point is to bake your noodle, there is not supposed to be a correct answer. The reason "Deadpool breaks the fourth wall" is that artists, following the instructions of writers, draw self-referential pictures that depict a man making statements about the pictures. The reason these pictures are interesting has to do with how we experience fiction.

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