A gunman breaks into a crowded theater, opens a canister of gas, and starts shooting.
What can you say to that? How can you hope to process such a cruel and pointless act with any type of logic? Investigators will now try to discern a motive, but what could possibly be gained from opening fire on an unarmed crowd of strangers in the dark?
I don’t accept the “Obviously, he’s crazy” explanation. This was calculated. This was done to cause pain.
So if you want to defy the theater-shooter and the terror he has created — go out this weekend to see a film and enjoy being with your fellow moviegoers.
Don’t be afraid.
This isn’t even about him. It’s about us standing up and saying we’re not going to allow the fear created by some random, pissant boogeyman to resonate any further. He was a coward, stomping around in body-armor as he blinded people and shot them in the back as they crawled away. Don’t let him feel bigger than he is and don’t let him take any more away from us.
As the families of the victims and the people of Aurora, Colo., grapple with the aftermath of this sickening attack, they deserve our prayers, love, goodwill and any tangible help we can give them. (The Denver Post has this story with information about where you can donate to help.) Apart from that, the rest of us are left to ponder the unanswerable from afar.
As someone who believes deeply in the power of story, and spends a lot of time in the dark watching images projected on a movie screen, this feels like a violation of one of our last collective refuges. We go to the movies to escape, and we do it together. It’s a source of joy, comfort, and relaxation – all things our society could use a little more of. I know this is very Kumbaya of me, but frankly, we could use a little more “together” too.
Yes, we go to concerts to hear bands and line up at stadiums for our favorite teams, but mostly we listen to music through our earbuds, and watch the big game on television at home. Movies are one of the few nationwide events that we enjoy as groups. Now comes word that screenings of The Dark Knight Rises in New York will come with police chaperones, as if the movie itself was provoking crazed reactions and was not just another victim in this sad ordeal. I realize copycats are a possibility, but overreaction will just fuel the destructive passions of those out there who are just looking for an excuse to snap.
I don’t care if this killer was supposedly in costume, pretending to be The Joker. The simple fact is, movies may inspire folks to do stupid things from time to time, but they don’t make people kill other people. This is a falsehood spouted by pundits who prefer to torture a straw man, rather than deal with, say, the question of how a particular madman was able to get his hands on so much lethal hardware.
The Dark Knight was one of the most popular movies of all time, seen by hundreds of millions around the world, so we can just forget about blaming the moving pictures for this tragedy. (It was also released by Warner Bros., which like EW, is owned by Time Warner — although no one from the studio had anything to do with this essay.)
Disturbed minds attach themselves to all sorts of inspiration, rarely for any good reason. Charles Manson claimed to take his cues from The Beatles. Later, the murderer of John Lennon claimed inspiration from The Catcher in the Rye. John Hinckley Jr. thought shooting the President of the United States would make Jodie Foster like him. I don’t care what pop culture these diseased minds consume. I’m much more concerned about whether this killer – whose guns were apparently purchased legally – could have been stopped by stricter gun control laws, or through a more detailed background check.
Perhaps not. Perhaps this was such a random explosion of hatred that no one could stop it. But those are better topics for discussion than: Did a comic-book character cause this? You can’t blame Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, or the trailer for Gangster Squad, any more than you can blame the fans in the theater who were preyed on by this killer.
Horrified by the theater shooting? Don’t blame a comic-book character. Make a vow to speak up if someone you know shows signs of being dangerously disturbed.
Another thing we can do is simply not be afraid, not amplify the pain and distress this killer has caused. It may seem trite, but I keep thinking of a scene from another recent superhero movie, The Avengers, when a frail old German sees right through the penny-ante, would-be dictator Loki, and refuses to kneel before him. “Not to men like you,” the old timer says.
“There are no men like me!” Loki declares.
But the old German has seen a lot in his day: “There are always men like you.”
Similarly, there will always be malfunctioning souls like James Holmes who try to make the world suffer by infecting us with paranoia. We only inspire those types when we succumb to that influence. But the truth is, we’re better than that. We’re stronger than that.
One of the eyewitnesses, Alex Milano, a guy in a Batman t-shirt who was in the screening next to the attack, told Denver’s KUSA 9News he didn’t run right away because he thought the smoke and gunfire coming from the next auditorium was just a stunt, something extra done by the theater to make the midnight showing special.
“Me and a friend of mine, who I had just met that night – tonight — we were talking about it and we thought: ‘Special effects! Midnight showing! That’s awesome. What theater does that anymore?’”
It’s a heartbreaking mistake, one made by many in those theaters. But there’s also something uplifting in that quote, which speaks to the larger power of movies.
In his hasty description of what happened, Milano described the stranger he’d just met at the theater as “a friend of mine.”
If there is any good that can come from this, I hope everyone lining up for The Dark Knight Rises and other movies this weekend will see each other the same way.
NOTE: Reader Aislinn Robbie (@Its_A_Laura) started a hashtag: #defytheshooter. Let’s see if that or @Salesonfilm‘s #FearDoesNotDefineMe can turn up stories of goodwill at the movies. (This guy is already getting in on it.)