I’ve been spending more time that I’d care to admit watching Daredevil, a new Netflix series chronicling the rise of a blind costumed hero in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, and I have a few quick thoughts that I will inflict on you despite the fact that, as far as I know, you’ve committed no crime.
I share the conventional wisdom that Daredevil is quite good. The cast, led by the English actor Charlie Cox, perhaps best known for his role as an Irish assassin on Boardwalk Empire, as the titular costumed crime-fighter, is top-notch. One of my favorite actors, Rosario Dawson, plays an important supporting role as a nurse with terrible judgment (here’s a thought — let’s not dig masked vigilantes out of the trash and stitch them up), and she’s a delight to watch. Having read the Daredevil comic as a youth, I’m impressed by how faithful the series is to its source material, and indeed how it surpasses it in some important respects. And though Daredevil is spectacularly violent, it is friendly to Catholicism, a fact that will cheer Ross Douthat and a number of other NR contributors.
But I’m sorry to report that the central plot of Daredevil, in a nutshell, is that a bald criminal mastermind (the Kingpin) has joined forces with a rainbow coalition of ethnic mafiosi to . . . gentrify Hell’s Kitchen. That’s right. Leaving aside the fact the Kingpin puts all bald men in a harshly negative light, I fear that Daredevil gives us a not entirely balanced portrait of the case for density and development in transit-friendly urban neighborhoods. The Kingpin’s sinister plot is to redevelop Hell’s Kitchen’s many dilapidated low- and mid-rise mutli-family apartment buildings so that the neighborhood can accommodate a larger, more affluent population. The heroes of the series are, among other things, fighting to preserve rent control, and the series leaves you with the very heavy-handed and at times explicit message that the struggles of the vanishing middle class are caused by thieving billionaires who see themselves as above the law. I understand that not everyone is crazy about gentrification. That’s fair enough. Hell’s Kitchen is, however, a neighborhood very convenient to the many businesses headquartered in Midtown, and it’s only natural that high-income professionals who want short commutes to work would be keen to live there. Is it so wrong that a developer might come along and say, hey, this neighborhood could use some more apartments! If anything, building more apartments might make it easier for less-affluent renters to remain in the neighborhood, as increasing supply tends to lower rents, all else being equal. Daredevil never really gives the case for development its due. Quite the opposite — the Kingpin uses terrorist violence to rid the neighborhood of rent-controlled tenants, and it appears that he finances his real estate ventures with his cut of the proceeds from various human trafficking and narcotics-peddling operations. Meanwhile, rent-controlled tenants are represented by a sweet-natured elderly Guatemalan immigrant. Some might call this stacking the deck.
I await a future Netflix series called Evil NIMBYs, in which a pro-development protagonist fights a gang of feral, knife-wielding homeowners who fight new market-rate housing developments when they’re not kidnapping area puppies for purposes of ritual sacrifice. Until then, consider me mildly peeved.