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.
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?