This was not the Batman piece many thought they’d be writing today. While controversy continues to circle the recent release of Christopher Nolan’s epic The Dark Knight Rises (almost all of it surrounding Rotten Tomatoes, negative troll commenters, and ‘journalist’ Eric D. Snider) , the appalling events that occurred in Aurora, Colorado on 20 July are destined to cast a devastating pall over what is, otherwise, a typical weekend at the box office. Yes, Nolan’s reign as Caped Crusader revisionist is coming to an end, and while many will argue the merits - or lack thereof - of this final installment, there is a real fear that the conversation will turn from the aesthetic to the absurd.
Actually, it’s already happening. While the social media struggles to balance shock with bad taste and blame, the standard news is doing what it does best - sensationalizing. Talking head overreact and speculate. Politicians and pundits are pulling up right alongside their prospective lobby pools and proving themselves more out of touch than a time traveler while outlets are offering smartphone video from inside the incident. Witnesses are being trotted out, each one arguing the same thing (“we thought it was fireworks…”, “we thought it was part of the film…”) while the spin spirals even further out of control. Even President Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney have released statements, securing that, in the upcoming election, no one will be left out of the outrage loop.
As tragedies go, it’s abhorrent. Fans and the faithful flock to a film they’ve been anticipating for nearly a decade and some maniac with an alleged military obsession (or as some have argued, connection) decides to play shooting gallery. As the final full blown tentpole of the summer experience arrives to signal the return of Hollywood’s dog days, some individual with too much access to too extreme of weaponry drops a smoke bomb and opens fire. A dozen or more die. Many more are injured, and we are once again reminded of how precious and unpredictable life can be. One moment, you are enjoying an early preview of what will likely be the water cooler event of the next few weeks. The next, you’re running for your life…if you’re lucky.
Yet within the sometimes rational discussion we call the news cycle, insanity lingers. Congressmen desperate to hold onto their place of power are blaming their favorite catalyst du jour - entertainment violence - while their supposed right minded enemies argue for stricter gun laws. Those outside DC but still ensconced in how our nation’s capital fills their overflowing pockets produce a similar thread of nonsense. As the facts slowly leech out, as the who, what, when, where , and how of such a tragedy get deciphered and dismantled, the “why” will dominate the discussion. We don’t care about particulars. We all want to play amateur psychologists and “solve” this crime for anyone who will surround our soap box.
What’s always forgotten here, and what will end up resetting at least some of the otherwise outrageous statements, is the truth. Whoever did this (we are purposely leaving out the reported name since we live in a world where the desire for a scoop can lead to false accusations) did this for reasons that will have nothing to do with Christopher Nolan, his take on the Batman character, or the dark dystopia he created for his realistic comic book creation. It will have little effect on the box office, except for those for whom hysterical reactions are habit. There may be copycats. There may not be. Cinemas may tighten security. Others will simply play the chances that this was an isolated incident and hope for the best. There will be fear. There will be reluctance.
In all honesty, to argue any link to The Dark Knight Rises is beyond ridiculous. In fact, the only association that makes sense is one of cultural popularity. If someone wanted to kill as many people as possible, in a manner horrifically similar to shooting fish in a barrel (meaning, defenseless and unable to react freely), a crowded theater seems like the appropriate place. Your targets would be off guard, distracted, and once the movie starts, completely immersed in something other than their personal safety…and since we are talking about one of the most heavily anticipated titles of the year, you are guaranteed a much larger turn out, and therefore, victim count. It’s not a question of content. It’s one of criminal convenience.
Even now, as the information trickles out, it’s clear that there’s no way to attribute this to any one movie or event. Honestly, it never is. The cheap and easy way out is to blame Marilyn Manson, video games, energy drinks, fast food, bad parenting, ineffectual schooling, drugs, and our reality TV based culture and be done with it. As stated before, the truth will be far more unfulfilling, incomplete, and complicated. Unless the shooter stands up in court and proclaims his allegiance to some ridiculous comic book reasoning, his wardrobe of choice (reports indicate a gas mask and a bulletproof vest) are not reminiscent of Rises villain, Bane, but of a sick mind preparing for a massive firefight with the inevitable police response. It’s the height of sloppiness to suggest otherwise, yet it’s also par for the easy answer, instant indignation and gratification course.
If it turns out that this is nothing more than a disgruntled individual with murder on his mind, we will have to live with that. We will have to recognize that our society begats psychopaths at an alarming rate, and just as we have talked out one entire tragedy, another will come along and slap us in the consensus all over again. The deaths will remain senseless, the particulars less important than the stunning, fragile finality of the act itself. Captive audience or not, this particular madman wanted to massacre as many people as possible. The time and place - and especially the circumstances - are not as important as the motive right now. Grieve for those gone. Grieve for our misplaced sense of humanity. Grieve for everything this represents except for one thing…the movie playing in the background.
Besides…Batman never uses guns and never kills. He believes in justice. Perhaps we should put our faith in it as well.