The Benign Neglect
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
In a January 1970 memo, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) wrote an infamous memo to President Richard M. Nixon that coined the concept of the “benign neglect.” The idea was that the progress of ethnic minorities, especially that of black Americans, was being impeded by “racial rhetoric.” That nonexistent juxtaposition was an indication of why Moynihan believed that the Great Society antipoverty programs were a failure. In his view, those programs were too concerned with acknowledging and addressing racial rhetoric but lacked the ability to address the necessity of integration to American racial programs. That flawed approach was noted by critics as being an unfortunate parallel to the laissez-faire concept of economics as it hinged upon the idea that not only was the federal government’s intervention on the behalf to its black citizenry ineffective, but that it was detrimental. In essence, it solidified the idea that social programs were harming the black community, which was disproportionately affected by poverty and lack of opportunity. Moynihan argued that disproportionately was in fact increased by social programs that created attitudes of dependency amongst the impoverished black community. It’s not a particularly unique argument as it forms the bedrock of the current Republican Party agenda, but it has its roots in a discriminatory foundation that combines racism and the criminalization of poverty to specifically target an oppressed population. It seeks to, whether individuals realize it or not, remove the culpability of the oppressors and thusly proclaim that there was no discrimination in the first place. It seeks to blame the oppressed for their oppression by making their voices more difficult to be heard.
In the context of its blunt usage in Luke Cage, one of Cottonmouth’s henchmen reads it out loud as a potential solution on how to deal with the now infamous Luke Cage. His application of Moynihan’s theory is to let Luke Cage have his own part of Harlem while Cottonmouth has his own. He naturally dies about three seconds after making that suggestion, but it speaks to the idea of the application of power and more critically, the appearance of it. Cottonmouth’s finances were dealt a critical blow with all of the raids that Luke was able to carry out and his money being held with the police wasn’t doing him any favors. He could recoup around forty percent of his losses by selling his club because of the prime real estate it was built on, but that was something he simply wasn’t willing to do. Harlem’s Paradise, Cottonmouth insisted, was his pride, joy, and reputation. He simply wouldn’t give that up, especially at a time when his financial reputation has taken the greatest hit. While selling the club would make the most sense at that specific juncture, Cottonmouth’s pride would simply not allow for even the perception of weakness to take hold but perhaps his idea of what his weakness is in the first place might itself be incorrect. To rectify his financial situation, he goes ahead and starts harassing the people of Harlem and shaking them down to recoup his losses. He has his minions blame the shakedowns on Luke, who has by this juncture garnered quite the reputation for his improbable strength. The “Luke Cage stupidity tax” works to a certain degree, but one doesn’t have to be able to think about this issue in a highly detailed fashion to note that as a long-term strategy, it’s quite lacking.
What isn’t lacking is the welcome presence of Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, which nevertheless brings up an interesting point for the Marvel television universe going forward. Iron Fist will wrap up the introduction for the Defenders team, but at a certain juncture, it’s going to be difficult for these shows to function independently. If you’ve seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones, then you’ll know who Claire is but otherwise perhaps that character may not ring an immediate bell. An immediate consequence is that Dawson’s Claire is a much more magnetic presence on camera than Luke, whose relative quietness may be befitting the character but it doesn’t always translate to a magnetic dynamic on screen. A part of it is in part because Luke’s relationships don’t change substantially but Claire brings out a warmth in him that isn’t largely seen, even if it does arrive for a moment. Speaking of dynamism, Luke’s best moment yet arrives not when he’s fighting, but when he’s speaking at Pop’s funeral. Cottonmouth’s speech was well-received, even if it was difficult to stomach the idea of the man who was indirectly responsible for Pop’s death giving a eulogy at his funeral. It was more friendly than one expects from Cottonmouth. He warns against allowing foreigner interlopers and strangers from taking advantage of Harlem, ignoring the irony displayed in his sentiment. Luke’s address is more geared towards the heart, towards an understanding that it wasn’t necessary to take care of Harlem as a city but that it was instead more important to take care of the people that comprise Harlem. That was what Pop, after all, understood to be the most vital thing in life: the ability to care for another, even if it meant standing up to a bully that called themselves a friend.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Seating arrangement á la chessboard
+“I am the gun.”
-Misty finding Reva’s photograph seemed to a little too neat
Episode Title: Just to Get a Rep
Written by: Jason Horwitch
Directed by: Marc Jobst
Image Courtesy: Capeless Crusader
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