California Literary Review

Violence, the Media, and Trying to Process The Dark Knight Rises Shootings

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July 20th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

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How do you process a tragedy like the one that unfolded last night in Aurora, Colorado? Well, at this early time, you don’t. We here at The Fourth Wall won’t pretend to come to any major philosophical revelations as regards the shocking tragedy, but we’ll join the rest of the world in grieving and struggling to analyze what exactly happened.

Photo of Aurora, CO theater after shootings

Outside the theater in Aurora, CO. Photo copyright The Blaze.

Julia:
Reports are still surfacing, but what we know is this: 24-year-old Ph.D. student James Holmes allegedly planned and executed a horrific mass shooting during the first half hour of a midnight screening of this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises. Twelve people are confirmed dead, and fifty injured.

Suspect James Holmes

Suspect James Holmes, 24. From here.

Holmes entered the theater wearing a gas mask and dropped tear gas canisters near the front of the theater before opening fire with an automatic weapon. He appears to have planned the shooting to coincide with a scene in the film that features heavy gunfire – so many audience members initially thought the suspect was part of a publicity stunt. “Mass Chaos” reigned. Holmes was apprehended alive and didn’t put up a fight – which probably means he’s got something to say. His apartment is apparently heavily booby-trapped with flammable devices. And it’s hard to escape comparing the image of the suspect in his gas mask to the way the trailers depict Bane, the mask-clad villain in The Dark Knight Rises.

I could continue to bombard you with links, as anyone near the internet is being bombarded by new information every minute. But updates will surface as the day goes by. The question is, will we be able to process the events any better once the suspect’s motive is released? Will we feel calmer about it when the director makes a statement? Warner Brothers admits it is “deeply saddened” by the tragedy – none of which contributes to the discussions that are already flaring up across the country and the world.

The shooting took place during an extremely violent film. As a society, we gleefully anticipate the realistic and heart-pounding aspects of Nolan’s films, and rightly so. The Dark Knight is arguably one of the best films of the last decade. But we are absolutely appalled and horrified by the real-life violence that took place early this morning – and how else should we feel? This is a terrible tragedy. It’s deeply difficult to disentangle art from life. Social psychologists and conservative pundits often rail against gore and violence in movies and video games because, they claim, merely viewing these things pushes people to violent acts in real life.

As someone who studied film, whose favorite genre is horror, this topic is extremely difficult to parse. Kevin Williamson touched on it in Scream when he wrote the character of Billy Loomis, a murderous, horror-obsessed teen who snipes, “Movies don’t create psychos, movies make psychos more creative!” Williamson played on this again in Scream 2 when, in the opening scene, a character is brutally stabbed to death in front of a screaming audience for a horror movie’s opening night – and they assume her death is a publicity stunt. Though Williamson winked at us with nods toward the violence/media/art/life discourse, the fact remains: Ghostface is fictional. James Holmes is a real human being who just took the lives of 12 other real human beings.

The media cannot seem to escape the fact that Aurora lies only 15 miles away from Columbine, where in 1999 two high school students murdered 13 people. Anyone who was in school at the time of the Columbine shootings understands how they (and later, the Virginia Tech tragedy) affected school security throughout the country. You probably also remember that Marilyn Manson was blamed for the shootings, because the killers listened to his particular brand of shock-rock. Further, trenchcoats became a thing to fear. What’s to happen to theater security following the DKR shootings? And what’s to happen in the discourse about violence in the media and violence in the real world?

This tragedy is a punch in the gut, not only to those who knew the victims but to all of us as humans. And after the fallout, maybe we’ll be able to get our brains around it in some worthwhile way. In the meantime, the blame should be placed on the shoulders of the individual who committed the crime and no one else. Unfortunately, I predict the blame game will shortly be upon us. And all that does is distract from the horrifying fact that 12 people lost their lives and none of us really knows how to understand that.

Dan:
It takes just one diseased mind to transform one of the most highly anticipated events of the year into an unprecedented horror. We are all struggling to express the full ugliness of this act, or to explain in any reasonable way what brought it about. As facts come to light, shock wears off, and we grieve for the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shootings, a lot will be said about violence, security, and the media. Tempers will run high, and why not? This is worth getting angry about, but the difficulty lies in directing that anger properly.

Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film We Need To Talk About Kevin, based on Lionel Shriver’s blistering novel, probes the subject of senseless violence at an uncomfortably close distance. It also happens to be an excellent film, and I find it impossible not to think of now. Shriver’s narrator, the mother of a high school mass murderer, recounts her son’s troubling childhood in an attempt to explain his deeds, and comes up ominously short on answers. Causes may be speculated, blame may be laid arbitrarily, but the nature of evil is a mystery, at least to reasonable people. The frustrating truth is that many times, when horrible things happen, there is no reasonable target for our anger and blame.

I do not pretend to any deep philosophical perspectives, but complete silence did not seem like an option. Having said that, I dread the coming storm of debate and half-cocked political ranting that a tragedy on this scale is sure to produce. If you have any mass media influence, be it so humble as a Twitter account, please resist the urge to exploit this awful tragedy for point-scoring on your pet soapbox. It is disrespectful.

Inhumanity has no permanent face, which makes it difficult to identify. Only in retrospect does it take the faces of those individuals who, for whatever reason, set out to be inhumane. The only upside in this case is that the perpetrator seems to have been caught. I will not venture an opinion of what I think should happen to him. It would be rather against the spirit of this statement so far.

Though it pales in importance to the injuries and lost lives, this incident is a slap in the face to all of us. The people who made The Dark Knight Rises, by all accounts a tremendous effort for the sake of our entertainment, will be in some way linked to this tragedy for life. Meanwhile, no audience can face this film, or any night at the movies, without some measure of the anxiety and grief that now has us reeling. Cinema, at its best, creates a unique and shared sense of wonder among crowds of strangers, and that is too special a thing to be lost for good.

Again, this is a very minor detail in the greater context of this crime, yet it will surely have long-lasting effects for us all. Safety is a curious and often illusory state, but living in fear never makes anything better. Vigilance and courage will not prevent terrible things from happening, but they are good things to have on hand at all times.

For now, let our hearts be with the survivors, and with the families of the dead. And to the one responsible: I am ashamed to share this earth with you.

What are your initial thoughts, as details continue to roll out? Please feel free to discuss in the comments – but be kind. All of us at The Fourth Wall and CLR send our warmest thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families and friends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mello.melu Mello Melu

    There’s been way too much glorification of violence in our movies, and our video-games.
    I was getting sick and tired of the head-shots, the explodings, the usage of high-calibur weapons just being GLORIFIED as “entertainment” and considered the “standard norm” for entertainment. Gosh I rather have sex or sexy elements in our video-games than a bunch of needless blood and violence. There’s been nothing but tons of FPS games being released one after-another and game corporations are just making tons of money off of VIOLENCE.
    Then there’s these gamers who make all sorts of excuses like violence in video-games is okay and will defend their crappy franchises for it (World of Warcraft, FPS, ect). Now there is a nut and a murder who went off and killed people in the movie-theater in pre-meditation. Yea he just ‘happens’ to open fire on all the victims in the movie-theater right at that scene with the heavy gun-shots in it.
    This guy’s ugly Joker-Face smiling in the picture above.
    It’s sickening.

  • Toba Singer

    Our culture is depraved. We are given double messages about “violence” at every turn: It is bad, but necessary. It is “unacceptable” or “inappropriate” in the hands of the masses, but justifiable and even desirable when carried out by the police or the military, no matter how corrupt or villainous they demonstrate themselves to be. We are hectored into glorifying its agents and agencies via air shows, gun magazines, and pyrotechnic displays of impossible marshal arts feats that use harnesses and photoshop fakery to instill a cult of the Superman, and The Joker cynic. Then we are surprised when the anonymous violence that pervades every aspect of our lives suddenly finds a home in the face and body of a sociopath. The resulting chaos invites the the preachers to invoke God or condemn the Devil; liberals wring their hands and bleat and tweet about gun control, our children learn to view what they see realistically as the background noise in a grim world where elected officials who condemn what happened in Aurora seem to have no trouble loving it in Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, so long as it comes in the form of a drone stamped “Made in the USA” or bought and sold for profit by Blackwater and the like. There is no solution short of ending the tyranny of capitalism, which relies on violence to enforce the exploitation and super-exploitation of workers at home and abroad, in order to achieve the desired figure on the bottom line of its falsified account ledgers. Just as it needs the superman, it needs the cult of violence to intimidate us into complicity, or “thrill” us into participation in their ugly tyranny as junior partners. There is so much culture that goes missing because it is supplanted by the culture of violence; it is not necessarily peaceful per se, but it is creative; it is not necessary anti-nihilistic, but it could become that as it evolves over time, as we use art to work through both the repression of what has been missing, as well as the sociopathy that is imposed on us. As W.H. Auden wrote in the poem “September 1939,” “I, like them, composed of eros and of dust, beleaguered by the same negation and despair, show an affirming flame.” He also wrote, “We must love one another or die.”

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