Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Visualizing Violence

It is often said that the world is becoming more violent and that media is an instigating factor in this. Critics point to a purported increase in violence in movies, television and video games as a means of glorifying violent conduct, frequently with little regard to the aftermath that such violence begets. The virtues of these arguments are another matter, however it is true that many forms of media portray violence – notably assault – without regard to the impacts it leaves on its victims. The Netflix series Daredevil, based on the Marvel comic series, and particularly the recently released series 2, demonstrate the power of portraying the aftereffects of violence through physical manifestation.

To begin with, throughout prior seasons the show has demonstrated the aftermath of the punishing combat Daredevil engages in by allowing his alter ego, attorney Matthew Murdock, to sport bruises and scars that last several days or longer. Murdock is able to pass these visible signs of assault and violence off as the result of his blindness – walking into objects, falling, and other sources of injury that would be odd to those around him if he were not blind. Those who know his secret identity are more concerned, however in general the character is able to conceal his wounds in a way that society used to deem appropriate for abuse victims – claims of nearly impossible continuous mishaps. Few are willing to seem indelicate enough to question whether his wounds are the result of something more. And when his legal assistant, Karen, asks Foggy, his dedicated friend and law partner who knows Murdock’s true identity, questions about the increasing severity of Murdick’s injuries, Foggy believes it more appropriate to claim that Murdock has a drinking problem. Again, this is a socially sensitive topic behind which few are willing to seek more information.

Season 2 goes further into the manifestations of violence through the storyline of military hero Frank Castle, who takes on the identity of the Punisher after his family was gunned down before his eyes during a picnic in New York City’s Central Park. The Punisher then goes on a rampage, killing members of the multiple organized crime rings that were responsible for the gunplay that killed the Castle family. A complex relationship develops between the Punisher and Daredevil, who share different outlooks on the value of criminal life, however it is ultimately Daredevil who helps to save the Punisher from being tortured to death by members of an organized crime family he had decimated. Knowing that the Punisher needs trained medical intervention to save his life, Daredevil calls a friend on the police force, who arrests the highly sought after Punisher and brings him to a hospital.

From this point on, a complex storyline develops as the Punisher is targeted for vengeance-fueled prosecution by a corrupt and fearful District Attorney who is able to bring a highly suspect justice system under her sway. Unbeknownst to the Punisher, his law firm is that of Murdock and Nelson, allowing Murdock to help defend the man who knows him best as Daredevil. When his new attorneys arrive to see the Punisher there is no attempt to hide the impact of the blows and torture that he received at the hands of the gang that wanted to kill him or the officers under the control of the District Attorney. His face is discoloured, disfigured and both eyes are clearly blackened by punches. These manifestations of the violence inflicted on him do not disappear stylishly over a matter of hours or days but remain as a vivid testimony to the physical impacts of violence.

At trial a week later, the Punisher’s physical wounds have progressed along a natural healing timeline, some turning yellowish in color, some fading to different shades of purple, but all visible for the public and the jury to see. Indeed, as he is giving testimony, his nose still appears slightly out of place – the result, it is presumed, of a break. During the trial, there are many references to the mental impact that seeing his family killed had on Frank Castle to turn him into a vigilante, however there is no discussion of the wounds he has more recently sustained – perhaps there is little need to since they so obviously speak for themselves.

While in prison, the Punisher is presented with the opportunity to kill several men associated with the death of his family and who are also in the way of another inmate’s rise to kingpin of the prison world. He takes this opportunity and finds that it was a set-up that was meant to result in his own death as well. To save himself and continue his quest for the truth, the Punisher successfully defeats a wing of prisoners who were set upon him. He emerges from this encounter alive but severely bruised and battered. The result is an escape at the behest of the new kingpin, who had not anticipated the Punisher’s survival. When he emerges from prison he is in disguise in terms of attire but not in terms of abuse – indeed, his face looks worse than it did during his hospitalization.

During his subsequent interactions with people, the Punisher hides his wounds and his face from those he seeks to protect – the innocents in society who are represented as good, hard working, honest people. This is not only to avoid detection and re-arrest but also, it seems, to shield them from the violence that his wounds manifest. However, when he encounters those who are criminal, the Punisher does not attempt to hide his identity or his wounds, seemingly using them as a psychological weapon. The exception to this is when he helps Daredevil from the shadows and then reveals himself quickly, but this is perhaps not a surprise given the complexity of their relationship.

This season’s installation of Daredevil provides contrasting windows on the ways in which violence is visualized through media and demonstrates that there are instances in which the true gravity of violence – assault – is directly represented rather than glorified as something that disappears the next morning.

On one hand, the ways in which violence against Daredevil manifest themselves are covered under the shield of disability and, when that fails, under the shield of addiction. In this scenario, the wounds and scars are the result of something deeper within the person bearing them and tend to be regarded as private matters. When they are discussed it is in a delicate and almost timid fashion that seems more of a last resort of concern. The ease with which the wounds and scars are explained by Murdock provides such a natural cover for his activities that he does not seem bothered by them.

On the other hand, the ways in which violence against the Punisher manifest themselves are overt and do not enjoy the same societally constructed shield. While perhaps there is a willingness to recognize the private violence that he suffered due to the death of his family, the Punisher’s wounds and scars are visible for the world to see and manifest the violence done to him. These wounds and scars do not go away simply or with makeup, but instead mark him as having been assaulted with great violence. Those who see them cannot hide them behind the veil of disability, but rather are confronted face to face with the reality of assault and the dangers of it. The same can be said for audiences, who see these impacts front and center and who also come to see how blows delivered in an assault have a lasting impact on the victim even when the victim is a powerful person. In this way, the series manifests the reality of violence for audiences to see and allows audiences a view into the ways in which violence is visualized and regarded by society.

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