Because I’ve signed up for Mikki Kendall‘s Comics Writing Workshop at Wiscon (moment for squee-fest and happy-dance!! I believe this is the first year something like this has been offered) I came across this article, Writer Mikki Kendall Talks Dynamite’s Swords of Sorrow, which led me to Race and Romance in Daredevil Season 2 at Women Write about Comics. It got me to thinking about my own criticisms and disappointments with the show and in pop culture media in general.
While I have criticisms (both cultural and writing centered) of the story, I have enjoyed the Daredevil TV show: well produced, good styling, set and wardrobe; interesting cinematography; complex and intriguing story line. But the writing in the 2nd season felt more scattered (possibly because it was–we did follow three major characters: Daredevil/Murdoch, Elektra, and the Punisher). More noticeable this season, too, was Matt’s disregard for other people–he forces others to clean-up his messes despite their clear discomfort regarding his requests, thus placing those people in harmful and dangerous situations. I don’t know if this is intentional on the writers’ behalf, but Matt came off as a spoiled child thinking he’s acting like an adult. (The character that felt most like a hero was Foggy.) Matt’s callous disregard for the consequences of his own actions and for other’s feelings and needs is a point CLARA MAE makes about Murdoch’s treatment of two of his romantic interests, the two WoC–Claire and Elektra. Ignoring another person’s discomfort and safety is abusive behavior. This paragraph really hit home:
Karen is taken on dates and is formally courted by Matt. Claire and Elektra are the women he’s with only under the cover of darkness, where he’s rougher, less considerate, and embodies more masculine aggression. I can’t emphasize enough what kind of message this sends about what the writers and Matt think of women of color, and how harmful it is for WoC to see themselves as the girls who a white man will come to at night, but never take out during the light of day. We know that stories have a marked effect on self esteem, and the less a WoC sees herself portrayed positively in media, the less likely she is to feel like the society she’s in values her as a human being.
What we see around us, we absorb into our psyche. We internalize everything. It’s how we learn and function as a species. So the stories we consume as well as the stories we tell ourselves shape our beliefs and what we feel is right and what we feel is possible. If I remember correctly, at a Wiscon panel, Daniel José Older said that happy endings are subversive. And in this excellent interview with Tor.com, Race, Publishing, and H.P. Lovecraft: A Conversation With Daniel José Older and Victor LaValle, I can actually quote him: “I believe in the revolutionary power of happy endings. Especially when you’re dealing with marginalized people… we need to see that there’s hope.”
Apparently even active female characters must be made more… appealing(?, because why else are the writers undermining her active role) by diminishing her agency and being her own competent character. Karen is filmed/styled as the damsel in distress. I’d like to know why her actions need to be glossed up/over with daintiness and a helpless sheen when she’s the one who killed ruthless Wesley, forged forward in her investigations despite real threats (that killed Ben Ulrich), and in general is not cowering or distressed, but active and getting things done. All this while still doing “feminine” things like taking care of the boys and not getting as beat up as the other romantic interests (who are WoC (who are either under-sexualized or over-sexualized…and how sexuality is related to femininity!)), or killed like Ben. As Clara Mae puts it so well, “I’m not at all arguing that violence should befall Karen, but the treatment of Karen stands in stark contrast with the treatment of Elektra and Claire. If Karen is the princess, protected from the brunt of Hell’s Kitchen by the men around her, then Elektra and Claire are the warriors on the front line.” The history of cultural depictions of women of color as not needing/worthy of protection is long. Related is the sexualization of women–either hyper or under sexualized depending on ethnicity, age (lets not forget age!), and whatever it is men were wanting to justify or fantasize about.
I’d like to see all the female characters given as much rounding and complexity, as much humanity and personality, as Karen is given–attractive (well, this is a difficult “idea” isn’t it? Attractive to whom and why? Usually to the male gaze) and worthy as well as active, inquisitive, resilient, and fallible and human, too. There’s some excellent articles out there on why the strong, black woman stereotype is damaging and not the positive praise it might at first glance seem to be (similarly, the “angry, black woman” and other such stereotypes: article by Sofia Samatar on the hyper visibility & invisibility of academics of color, this article by Stacey Patton at Dame Magazine, and “Amandla Stenberg And The Sad Reality Of The ‘Angry Black Girl’ Stereotype” at the Huffington Post).
“But in a society that finds little to praise in black women, other groups’ appreciation for perceived black female strength can feel like a reductive appreciation.”
In Tamara Winfrey Harris’s article linked to above, educator and social-justice advocate Deborah Latham-White is quoted: “I am unwilling to be the mule for the nation.” I cannot put it more eloquently or more succinctly than that.
To those who point out that the comic is different than the TV show–adaptations are their own entity and it is this entity/medium/iteration that is being critiqued. TV has a history and tropes and stereotypes all its own (related to the comics, of course, because it’s created by people in the same broader cultural context). Many consumers of the Daredevil TV show are unfamiliar with the comics, thus the story they are getting is the TV version, so if something different happened in the comic, that’s in the comic, not in the show.
(Clearly this is not meant to be an exhaustive post, nor is it a definitive post. These are discussions that have been on-going and better written than I’ve come up with. But it’s a discussion that is important and vital. Nothing new here, but hopefully a good reminder and stepping stone along the way.)
So, yeah, I’m very much looking forward to Mikki Kendall’s workshop and dipping my writing toes into the world of comics. I’ve got some ideas bouncing about my head I’d like to see out and about in our world. Here’s hoping they make their way to you all one way or another.
In other news, I received edits for “Backlash of the Rapunzel Incident” from Mad Scientist Review. Things are looking good, people! Very excited about this piece finding a good home.
my Wiscon schedule,
maybe some photos of Spring!