Friday, May 8, 2015

Character Identity in Daredevil

I had a small epiphany with Wednesday's post and I thought I'd follow it up in reference to this post by JB over at BX Blackrazor.

Here I want to emphasize that I don't want to make hay on the post; it's a fair overview of the Daredevil series from a character perspective and it is worth reading.  I stayed far away from it when I first saw it, as I hadn't started the show until this week, but I read it all through just after writing my own post on Daredevil.

JB's comments helped cement my epiphany . . . particularly in reference to fan experiences with things like Star Wars or Indiana Jones.  And just for fun, I want to throw in Mr. Plinkett's reviews, since they're relevant to my thinking of late (stumbled across them about two weeks ago).

I've realized why my perspective on these things is not, and never can be, the perspective of most readers.

I am not Luke.  I was never Luke.  When I saw the film in the theatre at 12, at no time and in no way did I remotely identify with the character.  I was not excited at the idea of owning or swinging a light saber, I did not fantasize about owning the Millenium Falcon, I did not fall in love with Princess Leia and absolutely nothing about fighting for the rebel forces against the bad guys appealed to me.

Oh, at 12 I thought the film was pretty cool.  I remember getting furious with the Oscars that year (yes, at 12) because those elite morons were too buttfuck stupid to realize that Star Wars was obviously the best movie released that year!  My older sister and I got into a huge fight about it.

I have since changed my mind.

See, while everyone else - apparently - went on dreaming about the day that they would someday be Luke, I never did.  So as I aged, I didn't retain any of that fantasy.  When I saw the movie again years later, it was as an older, more experienced person, watching the film without ANY personal investment.  I saw it as a film, nothing more.  And since that time (when I was around 17), the film has been awful.

I would rather watch Annie Hall, the film that won that year.  A film I also hate.  The Goodbye Girl should have won.

But see, I don't identify with any of the characters in those films, either.  I don't identify with characters.  That is perhaps because I am hopelessly, psychotically different from everybody.  Not in a good way.  While I may be able to grasp the reader's point of view, it is practically a guarantee it won't be my point of view . . . for a wide variety of reasons.  One being, I get nothing out of pretending to be someone else.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why players who 'pretend' to be specific characters annoy me so much.  Up until recently, my first thought would be that they pretend so fucking badly.  I mean, they are Mark Hamill acting, get it?  Just imagine how bad Star Wars is for me, without being able to identify with Luke's dreams . . . all I have to enjoy is Hamill's acting ability.  Cringe worthy in the extreme.

So, onto JB's post.  Which I don't mean to disparage.  It is fairly clear that JB is the sort who can identify with the characters.  His descriptions of Daredevil and Wilson Fisk are infused with that relationship.  This is not, not I repeat, a bad thing.

But it is extraordinarily telling where it comes to his description of the women in the show:

Rosario Dawson (as Claire Temple) and Deborah Ann Woll (as Karen Page) are good, though I wouldn't call them especial standouts. I mean, Dawson is talented and beautiful and does her "normal" level of work; I find it hard to distinguish Woll terribly from her very memorable role in HBO's True Blood. Both suffer a bit of the O-I'm-A-Damsel-In-Distress-But-Still-Show-Signs-Of-Being-A-Capable-Human-Being syndrome that we see a lot of in the Old Comics Rebooted category of television.

Whereas much of the description of the male characters is affected, above JB writes in cold, flat descriptive terms.  The women do not arouse his receptivity . . . for a simple reason.  Like virtually every appreciator of fictional content (both sexes included!!!!), he's not a member of the opposite gender.  He does not want to be - and therefore he does not identify with their needs, their causes or their trials.

Here is where 99% of the film reviewing content on the web crashes and burns.  It is virtually ALL based on a) what does the reviewer like; and b) what does the reviewer relate to.

We trash Hollywood for producing the same crappy four characters in every film (templates can be found in Gone with the Wind), but then the public goes limp when a character doesn't tag them emotionally.  Filmmakers have no choice.  The characters have to be liked.  Otherwise the viewer will go elsewhere.

I am forever going elsewhere, however, since I don't want to be any of these people.  Daredevil is a whiny infantile brat with a schizophrenic condition that lets him hospitalize people (often in ways that would leave them cripples for life) while chirping about his virtue (I don't kill people), immediately turning into a self-righteous prig the moment his friends act without his approval.  Wilson Fisk is a pandering, weak-minded bully who turns into an infantile tantrum-having freak when he has to kowtow to people he has chosen to co-exist with, while somehow possessing all this ridiculous loyalty and respect from murderers and habitual criminals who are used to defying both reason and justice.  Karen Page is a sprightly, cheerful collection of human sticks that would break in a stiff wind, who nevertheless rushes around the city in a sort of blind fearlessness mixed with SJW outrage that makes me wonder how she managed to get through high school in New York without acquiring a single facial scar.  The only character I think I could have a beer with would be Foggy . . . but then I'd be so annoyed by his repeated joke of not saying what he actually believes that I would eventually be driven to giving him a facial scar.  So yeah, maybe a beer once every other season.

I certainly don't identify with any of these characters.  I don't fantasize about having incredible combat prowess that would let me bitchsmack 18 guys and yet walk away.  My enjoyment is found in how the scene plays out effectively, in how the combat is staged, in how long someone has to hold the stupid ball in order to prevent the good guys from winning or how many scripts containing the next four future scenes are hidden by the actors under desks or behind conveniently placed lap-top screens.

On that level, the show is choking pretty bad.  I got to Ep 9 and that ludicrous fight in the warehouse, followed by the ludicrous dive out the window and the ludicrous travelled distance between the warehouse and the Daredevil's roof and I'm taking a break before learning how much more ludicrously bad the show is going to get.

Yeah, I know.  Not a D&D post.  At least, not mostly.  I'll just reiterate this point:

It takes a really, really good writer to impress me.  It is incredibly hard for that writer to impress me for more than a few hours, especially if that writer is being forced to produce new material in a very short time.

I am not surrounded by players who are really, really good writers.  And given the fortnightly presentation of my game, even a really, really good writer is going to choke on character development really, really quickly.

So don't.  Just don't.  People have to learn to recognize their limitations.


JB said...

Ugh. Actually, the reason I didn't post much about these two actors (Dawson and Woll) was because I couldn't say much that wouldn't be a comparison with what they've done before. The characters I wrote about were either A) interesting for their interpretation of the comic characters, and/or B) interesting (to me) because I haven't seen 'em in anything. Or they were Scott Glenn (though I gave him less wordage than Dawson and Woll). There were other major characters that showed up in those first few episodes that I didn't feel like mentioning (both male and female: Mrs. Cardenas, "Battlin'" Jack Murdoch, Wesley (Fisk's assistant), Vanessa). I just didn't have anything noteworthy to say about them.

My choice of emphasis wasn't due to identification with particular characters...I don't think I identify with any of these individuals myself (though, as I wrote, there are recognizable traits about the title character). When I say "Fisk is awesome," I mean he's an engaging vision to watch. When I say "I admire Daredevil for his ability to endure," that's what I mean. I don't think of myself as particularly heroic...though I can aspire to being so.

See, I was somewhere between 3 and 5 years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater...several times. And I never identified with farm boy Luke or smuggler Han either (neither of which registers with a child). I just enjoy watching an engaging story (or one with plenty of distracting special FX that suck my attention). Laser swords and blasters and spaceship fights. Well-paced escapism that I'm happy to re-watch.

There are films I've enjoyed immensely that aren't in the A and B "99%." Say, something like There Will Be Blood or Dallas Buyers Club. Films that depress the fuck out of me about people very culturally removed from myself (by time or place). Of course, it's good for me to stretch my brain by watching them (and I can appreciate and enjoy them as the good cinema they are)...kind of like it's good for my personal development to live in a place like Paraguay. Stretches my mental horizons. And playing RPG characters different from myself is good for that, too.

Can we admire and aspire to emulate things we don't identify with? Regarding "courageous heroism" of the cinematic variety, I mean. There are exhibits of it in films that don't involve blowing up Death Stars and bitch-slapping ninjas.

[BTW, I agree that the ninja fight you reference was absolutely the low point of the series]

And these are both male and female characters I'm talking about. I can't identify with Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo because I'm not a bisexual Mexican artist from the early 20th century (for example), but I can appreciate and admire what she (heroically) endured, as well as the actor's interpretation of the character. I can wish I had her talent, her sense of humor, her strength of will, her passion for her beliefs. But I know I'm not "built" like her (and I'm not just talking biologically), just as I'm not "built" like Daredevil.

Isn't that recognizing our limitations? Isn't playing RPGs an admission of our limitations...that we can't be dragon slaying heroes or heroes-with-a-code-against-killing in real life?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I won't discount your personal interpretation, JB. Quite reasonably, none of the above actually does apply to you or your perception. But your choice of adjectives and descriptives: "likeable" "rooting for him" "magnetic" "fun to watch" "perfect choice" "the man is great" . . . it all smacks of a subtext that conveniently vanishes where the women are concerned.

What about the doctor's willingness to risk her career and freedom? That doesn't measure up to Urich's "richness"? Why is Foggy "quirky" but Page is "distressed"? She fights back; she tries; she's brave. Why are these viewed as undistinguishable? Why does Dawson's work require quotes around the word 'normal.'

You don't explain. And because you don't explain, it all suggests exactly what I've written above.

Sincere apologies for mistaking your intent.

At any rate, if none of this applies to you, it sure applies to everyone who has busted my balls about Star Wars these past 38 years.

Ray Doraisamy said...

There is a moment when I'm surprised that there aren't more popular reviewers that focus on cinematography, choreography, writing, music, and other aspects of film production.

There is an aspect of popular romance that relies on personal identification, but is that all?

Don't they also reinforce stories about our beliefs that we tell ourselves?

Punching, as I'm sure any writer has discovered, is a lot easier to engage audiences with than change brought on by decades of work spent implementing systems that reduce wrongs.

I haven't finished the series. That scene in the second episode is what sold me. I'm disappointed to hear it loses that luster.

I must say, the fun of D&D for me (and quite a few of the players I've encountered) wasn't really in stepping into the shoes of a dragon slaying hero.

It is the joy of being able to do whatever the fuck you want in a fully knowable world.

I am a hardcore lover of comics. I still read at least one or two super-hero series a month. That doesn't change the fact that regular super-heroes are immutable.

Who can really identify with someone who never changes?

Alexis Smolensk said...


Apparently, everyone but us.

You are talking about a community that flipped out six ways from Sunday because their precious 1940s-created Superman killed the bad guy at the end of last year's film.

FrDave said...

When it comes to entertainment like TV, movies, and plays there are many things going on at the same time besides writing. Acting, direction, plot, costumes, sets, special effects, just to name a few others.

Every person places emphasis on different elements when it comes to what is good. Star Wars, for example, ushered in the modern era of placing emphasis on special effects. From that perspective (both historically and within the context of cinema in the mid 70's) it is an outstanding movie.

However, there are people like myself (and possibly you) who prefer our entertainment to concentrate on excellence elsewhere. I tend to be a plot guy. I can suspend my disbelief for cheap special effects, bad costumes and even passable acting if the plot is well attended to. Thus, 70's era Dr. Who has a greater pull on me as I grow older than does Star Wars.

I will grant that the truly great productions are those that do every aspect well and these are truly few and far between; however, it is possible to enjoy something that might rate only as a B-level production as long as that one element that I (or anyone) loves.

BTW I gave up on Daredevil after only a few episodes because the plot just doesn't hold any water.

Jeremiah Scott said...

It seems to me there is a difference between identifying with a character and romanticizing a character. I identify with characters all the time: when characters have unrequited love, a bad day, a personal triumph. These are all things I can identify with. Of course, its necessary that the actor convey the experience in an identifiable way. But I don't think that's the same as dreaming about being a Jedi Knight. All my life I have dreamed about a lot of things. But they've always been my dreams; influenced, perhaps, by story characters--but still my own. I don't know what category that puts me in, but it seems like an important distinction.

While I appreciate cinema craft, poor craft is not always a deal breaker for me. I have LOVED some very poorly shot films. I watch mostly for the writing. And--though I have found our tastes diverge here and there--like you, I find I am not easily impressed.

I have really enjoyed these posts. I have a tangential discussion going with my party, and it's nice to read something that really makes me think. Most of my party's responses to my conversation are just broken-record defenses of their flavor-of-the-week excuse for merchandising (most recently, The Avengers): "It's just fun," "Stop thinking so much about it," (and, my favorite) "Well, according to the box office, they must be doing something right!"

Keep it up.