I’ve been really into the street level superheroes: Daredevil, Black Canary, Green Arrow, etc. Watching the television shows built around them has me thinking a lot about violence as a storytelling device, how it permeates pop culture, when it’s an effective storytelling device, and when it’s not.
Violence is so very different on the page. Seeing a scene in a Charlaine Harris novel brought to life on True Blood could make a bloody moment unbearable for me to watch. Unnecessary gore can detract, particularly when it arises out of context. The street level heroes are working the same way, especially Netflix’s take on Daredevil.
The fight choreography is brilliant, definitely a driving point for why I kept watching. The excessive violence was the counter: it made it hard to stick with the series. The question I kept asking myself, as my writer brain kicked in (like it always does, pesky obsession), is whether or not the violence is essential to the story?
In some cases, I’d say no, but for Daredevil, I squeaked out a yes, even as I recoiled from the gore. Daredevil’s world is a violent one. He deals with street level crime and high level corruption. His villains range from stereotypical thugs to suited racketeers willing to get their hands dirty or worse, flip from calm to murderous, which makes them terrifying. The series infused each character with violence, with one or two noted exceptions, and where it touched a “good guy” that character is changed by their actions. Even romantic scenes keep you on the edge, awaiting the terror.
So much violence in fiction washes away the consequences, the physical and emotional impacts it leaves on the characters. Daredevil did an excellent job of letting the wounds linger, both in the form of bandages and stitches, but also in the characters’ psyches. Inflicting violence is portrayed as being as weighty as suffering it.