The Paradox of Daredevil, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Another reader, Njahla Stanley, keeps the conversation going:

“Cartoonish violence”—violence, the kind seen in Daredevil and beyond it, is cartoonish. It is outlandish and surreal and yet we live in a reality of decapitation, suicide vests, acid attacks, mutilation. Daredevil's violence isn’t shocking in what it depicts. It’s shocking because it is on full view in a serialized television show, where the audience is treated to violence from its conception to final slump or scream or breath. We are not consuming it in its aftermath.

To say Daredevil somehow glorifies violence to the point of creating torture porn and is reticent about sex (in Sophie Gilbert’s article), and that the show is in the same league as other superhero comic books (referring to reader comments about comic book immaturity) suggests naïveté about the source material.

Daredevil isn’t a comic book for children. Neither is Jessica Jones. They may inhabit the same realm as Spiderman and the Hulk, but they are closer to the ground, where blood does squirt from wounds instead of being conspicuously absent when Avengers must avenge by having outrageous battles in the middle of highly-populated cities.  

And while people, including Gilbert, decry the preponderance of violence over human intimacy in Daredevil, I’d rather see Daredevil get the snot beat out of him and rise than see Matt Murdock fumble around for chemistry with Karen. [Example embedded above.] That’s even more painful to watch, especially when the other highlight of season 1 (D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk being the other) was the utterly sizzling chemistry between Nightnurse and Daredevil. [Example here]

Does that mean Daredevil is a good show? No, not at all. If they added nuance to the relationships Matt and Daredevil enjoy, it might be compelling, but Marvel tends to make their villains and anti-heroes much more intriguing and, funnily, well-balanced than their heroes. If Daredevil wishes to, as Gilbert says, “emulate prestige dramas,” then I wonder what prestige drama is it using as a base? Game of Thrones? Because that would be an interesting premise, as Thrones deals heavily in graphic violence, across the spectrum. What makes a prestige drama then? Drilling holes into appendages and sexual encounters that play as shampoo ads don’t seem to make the cut, but the preference for sexual violence over sexual intimacy and burning a child at the stake and lingering on her screams are the stuff of gold standard?

The paradox, I think, exists between what the show depicts and how it is received by audiences and critics or, what we won’t stand for in our daily lives and what we will stand for, and even praise, in our escapes.

These comments are really interesting, and I’m grateful to be getting such substantive responses from readers in general. I don’t think anyone would argue Game of Thrones should be the standard for how sex is shown on television (I also don’t know how many people would argue it’s a prestige drama). But this reader makes an interesting point about standards. Part of why I wanted to explore the hypocrisy of Daredevil’s (and by extension, Marvel’s) no-nudity clause versus its willingness to depict graphic, gory torture is because I think it speaks to a larger trend in culture. Up until 2013, it was easier for women to buy a gun than it was for them to purchase Plan B. Violence permeates American entertainment, but the majority of states in the U.S. still don’t mandate that sex education be provided to teens.

To be clear, I don’t think Daredevil needs more graphic sex scenes, as I’ve stated. I just think the disconnect is interesting. As for acknowledging the source material, this is definitely something I’d love to explore more, but my primary subject is Daredevil as a television show. I imagine the majority of people watching it won’t be familiar with the comics, and I think it’s valid to review it as a standalone work of art while acknowledging where it came from.

One more reader sounds off:

While I agree that Matt’s chemistry with Karen is almost non-existent (the Karen/Foggy subplot from season one was much more interesting), I disagree that this season of Daredevil isn’t sexy at all. The flashback scene where Elektra feeds a bit of cheese on a knife to Matt, while he’s laying on the kitchen counter, was one of the sexier things I’ve seen on television in awhile. (Also not subtle, the knife placement in the foreground).

And, at least for this straight female viewer, I appreciate how often Matt is shirtless and in his tiny black boxer briefs. In the comics, Matt has traditionally been one of the hunkier superheroes, and I think the show and Charlie Cox have both been pretty good at emphasizing that, especially compared to the rest of the MCU properties.

With the exception of Jessica Jones, I think the Marvel universe is in general, a pretty sexless universe. I might be mistaken, but I don’t think any of the movies have any sex scenes at all—even chaste romantic ones, despite having quite a few couples. Iron Man’s Pepper and Tony obviously love each other, but they’ve never tumbled into bed on-screen. Captain America’s Steve and Peggy had a deep romantic connection, but never got to be together. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to force a Lincoln/Daisy romance down our throats, but the chemistry there is as exciting as watching paint dry. Agent Carter finally got her man, but it wasn’t until the last minute of the season two finale. The Thor movies are about as sexy as the MCU gets, thanks to Chris Hemsworth’s romance novel-cover looks, but they’re hardly the focus.

So, when I compare Daredevil to his larger shared universe, I find it refreshingly sexy, especially Matt’s relationship with Elektra this season. Jessica Jones remains the high-point, of course, but I do think Matt brings more sexuality to the table than Gilbert’s article indicates.