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Daredevil and Disability Politics

This guest post is by Elsa S. Henry of Blind Lady Versus.

Daredevil is a superhero with super powers. Well, in the series he’s a vigilante with superpowers. But nonetheless, those superpowers do not make him less blind. He is still a man without sight, and because of that the way he operates in the world should look differently than a sighted person.

Unfortunately, it seems that the perception of Matt Murdock, and therefore Daredevil, within the context of the Netflix show has been that he does not need his cane because his powers do the work of that negotiation. In this, the television show has failed Daredevil.

As a blind person, I am frequently the subject of queries at gaming cons “so you’re like Daredevil” or “do you sense things like Daredevil does?”, and I had hoped in this new iteration of the hero that I would be able to point to it and say yes.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some pieces that the show gets right, but as a person with low vision the show has let me down. With each episode, Matt Murdock’s blindness becomes less of an issue, and his eyesight becomes something placed in the background rather than an integral character trait. Even the very nature of his blindness, this concept of the “world on fire”, causes his own best friend to ask if he’s really blind.

In this, the show has fallen into the trap that every single stranger on the street falls into. There is a preconceived notion of what blindness looks like in our society – one which a show like Daredevil should be staunchly attempting to beat back with a white cane – but rather than fighting it the show simply allows the tropes to roll it over.

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Murdock wears sunglasses all the time. His best friend makes constant jokes about how easy it is for him to pick up girls – how for example, he gets his “filthy mitts” all over their faces. As I watched the relationships on Netflix’s Daredevil unfold, I realized just how much I disliked the negotiation of disabled/able bodied relationships. There are a lot of assumptions here. One of them is that while Murdock can get women to let him touch their faces – out of sympathy – it “never works out”. For the audience it may seem obvious that it never works out because he has an alter ego who goes and beats up Russians, but the implications from Murdock’s friend Foggy is that no one wants to deal with a blind boyfriend.

Foggy doesn’t trust his best friend – and that suspicion is really harmful because it makes everyone see the “oh but blind people see more than they tell us” thoughts rushing through a character who is supposed to be sympathetic.

But it isn’t just the interactions between Foggy, Karen and Matt which push the show into the territory of problematic.

It is the very nature of Matt Murdock’s relationship to his disabled body which causes a fraught situation within the context of the show.

Matt Murdock neither behaves like a blind person (he does not kiss like a blind person, he does not do parkour like a blind person, and nor does he treat his white cane like a blind person) but he also doesn’t treat his body like a disabled body. A white cane is not just a tool, though it is the most useful tool in my arsenal, but it is also an extension of one’s body.

Matt Murdock tosses his cane in an alleyway more times than I care to think about. He throws away a tool. And with each callous toss of a cane, he dismisses the body part every blind person needs. My cane isn’t a replacement for my eye. It isn’t something to let me “see” like other people – no, it feeds me information about the space that I inhabit. Rocks, tight spaces, stairwells, cracks in the sidewalk, curbs – all these things are things I know about because of the cane that I carry every day. By throwing away the cane, Murdock (and the writers of the show) make a statement. They make the statement that the cane doesn’t matter, that Murdock’s superpowers make everything better. That there is no consequence, no hardship, that is earned through his sight issues.

During flashbacks with Stick I began to feel this even more strongly. Matt Murdock is taught by a fellow blind person that self pity is bad. That he’s not dead, and that’s what he should be thankful for. It’s the tough love version of “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” and it makes a character, who at least uses his cane better than the protagonist, into a total jerkface.

Which is actually okay. Because not every disabled person on the planet is a nice person. And we shouldn’t depict them that way.

My issues with Daredevil are not about the characters themselves, but about the physical depictions of my disability. Like I said at the beginning – when I go to cons, people ask if I’m like Daredevil. And the answer is no. But now? The questions won’t just be if I’m like Daredevil because someone read the comic – the questions will be why I don’t use my cane like Daredevil does (answer: only using one technique is dumb), the questions will be how come I don’t wear sunglasses all the time.

The questions will be about whether or not I’m really blind – and those questions are already the ones I get from strangers on a regular basis. These are the ramifications of Daredevil, they are many and sundry -and they all link back to the disabled body, the construction of the cane, and the fact that if a hero who shares my disability can’t be seen as blind – then how can ordinary little me?

Want more of Blind Lady Versus? Follow Elsa S. Henry on Facebook and Feminist Sonar

 

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6 Comments »

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I am not Blind, but I have other Dis/abilities and use assistive devices and was initially very excited to watch the show…and then nope’d out partway through. I actually had a whole argument with a friend of mine because I was like, “He has all of these things people think are bonuses you get from having a disability, plus he has the perfect secret identity apparently, but you don’t actually see any of the crap that goes with living with a disability.”

    I mean, I know Foggy makes comments about him and women and dating, but honestly I was expecting a certain higher level of microaggressions just from my own day-to-day stuff (at least from the Evil Supervillains right because obviously the “good guys” have zero prejudices whatsoever). Like, hello, if I am using a walker because today I am feeling wobbly and dizzy and tired and like I might faint, it actually is none of your business what my walker is for. Nor am I “too young for that walker,” and please for the love of all that is holy don’t touch it. Also, just because on a particular day I’m not using a walker doesn’t mean I’m “cured”. It just means I’m either a) feeling better today; b) misjudged how much energy I had and will pay for it tomorrow; c) left it at home because dealing with not enough energy is easier than dealing with all the bullshit comments about the walker.

    I feel like the way Daredevil portrays disability is like…ok, you lose something! And then you’re super mad! And then you realize you have actually gained something (i.e. inspiration porn) only in this case it’s a superpower! Also you get to touch womens’ faces all you want! And any other shortcomings in place (not being able to read the written word or text messages or see color) can all be overcome with assistive technology which is magic!

    I mean, hey, they did do a good job with accessible tech in the show? But like, sometimes those devices are expensive. Sometimes insurance won’t cover them. And sometimes you just can’t replace that particular ability you had, and that just sucks, and when people talk about how “strong” or “brave” you are it does actually make you want to go a little Daredevil/Stick on them.

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    • I’m so glad this post spoke to your experiences! Elsa was our guest writer, and she doesn’t have the connection to this page to get notifications when comments are made, but I know she would be glad to hear from you. It is frustrating that Daredevil missed such a larger opportunity to speak more honestly about being blind and having a disability.

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  2. When Foggy says that it never works out with Matt and women, I took it to mean that Matt is a total player, not that it’s implied that women have an issue with him being blind. I didn’t get that at all.

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  3. I’m a bit perplexed by some of this. He isn’t a “normal” blind person so why would he act like one? I totally get why a blind person would not treat their cane the way he does, but he doesn’t need it (except as camouflage) so why would he have the same relationship with it as a normal blind person?

    Re: Foggy and the endless parade of women… I actually went back and re-watched relevant parts to see if I could pick up on what you were. It didn’t come across that way to me at all. I got the feeling that Foggy is a bit jealous of Matt’s success with women, and that he thinks it “never works out” because Matt has bad taste in women. However, I agree the face touching thing was super weird. That jumped out at me immediately the first time as out of place and just odd.

    I honestly can’t imagine a Matt Murdock depiction without him wearing glasses most of the time. That’s part of how the character has been portrayed from the get go. Just like the Daredevil suit has to end up being red with little horns. Doesn’t mean it makes sense, but it’s part of the “look” of the character.

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  4. I am so glad to hear someone commenting on the cane thing. A lot of people are giggling about it while simultaneously saying “Hey look at all this representation!” which has made my skin crawl. I was so excited that we were getting a disabled superhero show, but I’m not sure they had a blind writer (or any disabled person) on staff or consultation. It certainly didn’t seem like it.

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  5. Well, they actually address this. He actually says that he does not need the cane. He sees the world on fire. He cannot however read, see color. He cannot read text messages or use a smart phone. You just have to look close to the details. Acting blind is his cover.

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