So I’ve been watching a ton of that newish Netflix series, Marvel’s Daredevil. And given that it’s finals week, I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t the most opportune time to get hooked on a show. Either way, as I’ve been watching—with the thought looming in the back of mind telling me that I should probably be writing a blog post instead—I’ve begun to notice how it might be possible to draw a few connections between some of the issues the show obliquely confronts with those of Butler’s fiction.
For starters, the show centers around Matthew Murdoch aka Daredevil, who is blind, and whose “disability” is an integral part of what constitutes Murdoch as a subject. I think, additionally, the show does a pretty good job of destabilizing the social construction of his blindness as a disability, regardless of the fact that, lest we forget, Murdoch is indeed a “superhero.” For instance, the way in which Matt navigates and understands the world, with extremely heightened olfactory, haptic, gustative, and aural senses, is emphasized so as to allow the audience to discern how often we conflate “seeing” with “knowing”—something we inherited from Descartes and the Enlightenment and something that does not ring true for Matt and those without sight. It evens seems as though Matt’s ability to sense and understand his environment in such a polyvalent way not only makes me acknowledge how ocularcentric my own way of organizing the world is but also gives the sense that, just as how the Oankali regard human cancer as a “talent” in Lilith’s Brood, Matt’s epistemic method is neither a disability nor an impairment but an ability rendered in a different way.
In addition, scholar Megan Obourn in her article on Lilith’s Brood discusses how critical disability theory intends to expose the ways in which humans (and nonhumans) are interconnected and dependent on each other in ways that aren’t always made socially visible and don’t carry negative stigmas, so that those linkages that are stigmatized against those who read as “disabled” may be rendered as less of a drain on society and against our championed individualism or mythic autonomy. I see this idea made explicit in Daredevil, in the many cases in which Matt is reliant on his friend Foggy for certain things that require the visual as well as the opposite. (There is also another scene that carries similar connotations, in which a woman describes the necessary interdependence of members of the community of people who live in poor rent-controlled tenant housing in Hell’s Kitchen. She says, I believe, “we take care of each other here. We have to.”)
In another iteration of things concerning “crip theory” as well as the subtle violence of language that many students have been attending to throughout the semester, often there are times when Matt’s “disability” exposes itself in the narrative as something other characters must navigate through. For instance, there is a scene in which Murdoch (at his day job as a lawyer) is in conversation with another character who at one point offhandedly remarks to Murdoch about how (and this is a paraphrase) the masked-man either terrorizing or saving the city “is like what you see in the movies.” Matt then responds sympathetically, “I don’t go to the movies often,” revealing to both his conversation partner as well as to the audience how easily one can slip into conversation a figure of speech, cultural reference or idiom that is overdetermined by the visual, as well as more broadly, the dominance of the metaphor of the visual itself. More generally though, while there are other components of the show that warrant critical discussion that may in fact be problematic, including the show’s commitment to a black and white code of morality, the racialized discourse surrounding the vigilante and extralegal “justice” exerted by Daredevil, as well as its use of gratuitous violence often geared towards disposable female bodies, the season is not quite over for me yet, so it remains to be seen whether any of these issues will be resolved internally. Still, I surprise myself in saying that I never thought that Octavia Butler would help me enjoy and engage with a Marvel superhero as much as she has.