WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR NETFLIX’S “DAREDEVIL.”
This election cycle has been a trainwreck, and the presidential debates, which began just more than a week ago on Sept. 29, haven’t been any better. Called “maybe the worst presidential debate in American history” by NPR’s Domenico Montanaro and “a chaotic disaster” by CNN’s Eric Bradner and Kevin Liptak, it seemed to represent almost everything wrong with the modern American political system.
Candidates spoke over, instead of to, each other, and lobbed insults at their opponent — and in one case, their opponent’s family — instead of discussing meaningful policies. Overall, it seemed as if they were more concerned with beating their opponent rather than helping citizens or discussing their visions for America.
This approach by the candidates is not surprising, because portions of both candidates’ bases have said they are not voting “for” them but against the other guy. Still, it hurt to watch — and not just because of moderator Chris Wallace’s complete inability to actually moderate. It seemed to bely something deeper, some rot eating at the core of American politics.
In light of this, it’s no surprise that more and more Americans are losing faith in the country’s political system. Trust in the government is at a near-record low, with as many as 59 percent of Americans saying they can’t trust the honesty of elections.
People are beginning to go outside of the political system to meet their needs. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said “a riot is the language of the unheard,” and I’d like to argue that the recent wave of protests are no different.
Beyond the very real concerns about police brutality and racial injustice lies a thought that we, the common people, are not heard by our representatives. And with no guaranteed ability to vote them out, as well as no trust in their ability to do their jobs, we are left with no choice but to take to the streets.
Of course, not everyone is in agreement with me on this issue. The “law and order” rhetoric coming from the political right, including President Donald Trump, is enough in itself to suggest that many Americans don’t think of the riots as a response to an unfair system. Rather, they see them as a violation of the law, and — by extension — of common decency, even morality.
However, contained within that argument is a belief that law equates to morality. Essentially, the protests are wrong not because they’re protesting something bad, but because the type of loud, disruptive and sometimes violent protests going on today are against the law.
As the child of a large family of attorneys, as well as a student of politics and philosophy myself, this is a notion I’ve come across far too often. And, as a self-professed film and comics buff, it’s also one I’ve seen elegantly taken on in many productions, but perhaps nowhere better than Netflix’s “Daredevil.”
Though I’ve been quite harsh to “Daredevil” in the past, including in this very publication, it remains one of my favorite shows. The series, which follows Matt Murdock, a devout defense attorney by day and violent vigilante by night, doesn’t present its protagonist’s double life as a contradiction, but rather as a logical conclusion. Having seen the legal system with all of its flaws, he feels he has no choice but to go outside of it for true justice.
Though he often ties his two lives together — whether it’s using his Daredevil identity to stop a juror in one of his trials from getting bribed or delivering criminals to the police who would otherwise have the resources to evade capture indefinitely — he’s always clear on one simple fact: Matt Murdock the attorney isn’t enough.
He needs Daredevil to go to places the law can’t reach, because what’s legal isn’t necessarily what’s moral. The law can be exploited, evaded or, for those with enough power, changed. Sometimes, for the right thing to be done, one must go outside the law and the system, even if what is done there is not generally what is accepted or expected.
Though the utility of recent protests has been widely questioned, it is important not to let law and order rhetoric convince us that the very act of protesting is bad once it goes outside what the law allows. Often, that is the exact point: to defy the law, to defy the common expectations, to show that the system is wrong and one must go outside of them to do what is right.
In a society where people are unheard by those in power, the only thing left to do is to defy that power — regardless of how the act of doing so violates societal norms.