Tragedy in Aurora

This is dedicated to the people of Aurora, Colorado.

For those that don’t know me, I’m a night owl and a Redditor, so the news about Aurora got to me very quickly. I had almost attended a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises myself, but I ended up going this past Saturday. I happened to be browsing Reddit when the news broke and I was beside myself (which is saying something because I’m a pretty big guy). I’ve been around, but I still find a hard time wrapping my brain around an event like this. This is one of those incomprehensible acts that defies any attempts to rationalize or understand. As I watched the drama unfold (in a way previously unseen) I started thinking about how we react to this type of violence today, as opposed to how we have in the past.

A Fitting Tribute

I’m not going to go over the details, because I believe the devil is in the details and there’s a lot we still don’t know, most important being the “why”. This sort of thing has happened before, though not quite to this magnitude, but this time, something feels different this time. That’s not to say that if this had been a midnight screening of the latest Sex and the City, that we wouldn’t be talking about it the same way, but the way the geek community immediately responded on this makes it feel different to me – more connected, more concerned and more involved. I just think back to the somewhat recent shootings in Oakland and Seal Beach and I can’t find nearly the same amount of coverage on them. Is it the fact that it happened at a highly anticipated event? Is it the fact that geeks (who truly rule modern media) were closely watching the event? Or was it really more chilling and awful? It’s difficult to say. But just to give some perspective, here’s a link to a list of the Mass Shootings in the US since 1991 as provided by the L.A. Times (Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings). I wonder how many you remember.

As I was saying, as I watched this unfold, I noticed something that really bothered me: political and ideological grandstanding. As with most shootings, the more liberal among us (read: Democrats if you’re in the US) immediately call to ban guns, or at least make them harder to get. Then the conservatives (read: Republicans in the US) go to the other extreme and say that if there were less controls and more people were armed, the effect would have been lessened, or the threat removed altogether. Of course the entire argument is ludicrous because it only happens when something like this occurs. We don’t have any meaningful dialogue about gun control because our nation is so polarized right now that we can’t heave meaningful dialogue about ANYTHING. But let’s face facts: Legally or illegally, if this man wanted to hurt people as badly as it seems clear that he did, getting the guns wouldn’t have been a problem. And even if he couldn’t get guns, he seems more than capable of using other means to kill lots of people. I mean hell, his apartment was not only rigged to blow up anyone who came in (and his stereo was set to play loudly at midnight, ensuring someone would try) but also burn down the whole building. If he’d have gone into that theater with pipe bombs, it would have been a lot worse.

The other thing that seems to be happening falls into ideological grandstanding. I’ve seen tweets and posts along these lines: “12 people died in Aurora, but 6000 children die every day because they don’t have clean water” or “hundreds of people die everyday because of poverty, where is the outrage there?!” Perhaps my own experience has jaded me, but I don’t see how those types of comparisons don’t trivialize the event. Yes it’s sad that 6,000 children a day because they lack clean water, but in my mind, that’s a predictable event and not tragic; at least not on the same level. To me it reduces the importance of an event like this one to compare it to other kinds of sadness. People aren’t suddenly going to go, “I lost my best friend to a maniac, but shit, that’s nothing compared to the suffering of the children in Syria.” It’s apples and oranges, pure and simple, and shame on people who trivialize the pain of the families involved by trying to guilt us (and them) into caring MORE about something else completely unrelated.

I don’t like that this happened, and I like less that we will blame everyone in the world except the man who pulled the trigger. We’ll blame the guns because they fired the bullets. We’ll blame the government for not banning the guns. We’ll blame the gun makers for… well… making the guns. We’ll blame the theater for not having metal detectors or more police. We’ll blame the shooters parents for raising a loon. We’ll blame everyone but him; the one man who planned and devised and schemed to kill as many people as he could for a yet unknown reason. I don’t get that. We turn victims into criminals and criminals into victims. The guy that shot all the people in Seal Beach pleaded not guilty. People SAW him do it. I’m sure his lawyers will paint him as a victim of some sudden mental illness. The guy that shot all those people at Ft. Hood; they didn’t blame him, they blamed his religion. Religion is just philosophy with some divinity added for flavor. It can’t make choices for you. We’ve become a culture where people don’t have to be responsible for themselves, they can blame their environment, or their parentage, or their movie choices.

Ah, that opens another can of worms doesn’t it. There are going to be people who blame this on the violence in movies, and to an extent, at least I can understand that. There have been crusades against comic book and cartoon violence since I was a small child, mainly for fear that it could adversely affect the impressionable mind of the children that were watching and reading. The target audiences for Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons were adults, but they played the old cartoons from the 40′s alongside newer ones from the 60′s, and even though I didn’t understand a lot of the references, I still laughed when Daffy had his face blown off. And there were stories of the children who killed other children trying to act those things out. But seriously, where was the supervision? How were they allowed to do those things without someone noticing?

As for comic books, the Comics Code doesn’t monitor acts of violence in and of themselves, it only prevents the actual show of the violence (so you could have a criminal commit a mass shooting and the aftermath, and you can show him shooting, but you can’t show victims being shot). And since the Aurora shooter identified himself as “The Joker” I’m sure they’ll find a way to blame comic books and the movies they inspire too. But really, Science Fiction hasn’t failed us here. There’s plenty of this kind of depravity in Science Fiction. Heath Ledger’s “Joker” rendition, the final portrayal of his career, was so spot-on, and the movie so senselessly violent, that people immediately assumed that it was connected to his untimely death. Movies like The Road Warrior and The Book of Eli portray acts of violence like this one as ultimately evil and they people who commit them always meet a justifiably horrific end.

If only that happened in real life.

To all those who lost their lives because they went to the movies – Requiescat in Pace.

We The Fans…

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine (@JediJayne… you should follow her if you aren’t already) about my old Star Wars v. Star Trek article. I noted that I was surprised that it was still getting attention nearly two years after it’s publication, even during the period when I wasn’t active. It been, by far, my most read piece, and the one that generated the most traffic and comments. I just answered one two weeks ago, in fact. There is a lot of passion on the topic, more than I realized. So I started thinking about the fans of science fiction, and how rabid we really are.

Yes I said “rabid”, as in the foaming-at-the-mouth, crazed-look-in-the-eye, incoherently-babbling kind of rabid. And it’s been this way, well, since Star Trek. I mean I imagine that it’s the natural offshoot of how that generation felt about comic books (while they weren’t the original generation of comic book fans, they were the most populous – we’re talking Silver Age comics as a time reference); and as they matured and turned to movies and television, they took their ideas about fandom with them. These are our parents, really, the generation of kids that grew up on Star Trek and raised us on the reruns. And we grew up with so much more, and seeing those images come to life, and now we have children of our own. And now, with the internet at our disposal, and thousands of pages devoted to the science fiction genre of your choice, fandom has taken on a whole new meaning.

Now, imagine that these were actually fans of “Days of Our Lives”… You can’t, can you?

So what is it about science fiction that makes us love it so dearly. I mean there are conventions all the time, but people don’t dress up in costume for them. And let’s face it, the American Dental Associations convention doesn’t hold a candle to Comicon or Dragon*Con (though there probably are more shiny objects at the ADA show). And it goes beyond just “loving” a show or concept. People take their fandom seriously, both in the form of man-hours spent on a project (like a costume or website) or in the defense of their love. Here’s an example: I went to Dragon*Con in 2003 and I came across (for the first time) Firefly fans. They were having a discussion when one of the people involved chimed in “You seriously can’t compare Firefly to Star Trek…”. I thought it was going to come to blows. No, seriously. The Firefly fans banded together and began to defend their faith in the short-lived enterprise against the megalith that is Star Wars. And they were adamant about how important Firefly is, not only as science fiction, but as commentary on our lives today. And the other guy (presumably a Trekkie… sorry, Trekker makes you sound like you spend 14 hours a day on a bike in the Andes, and lets face it… none of you do), just kept saying, “I just don’t see it… it’s just the Old West in space…”. Of course, that statement is dripping with so much irony it’s leaving a rust stain on the floor, but that isn’t the point.

What is my point? I suppose I’m trying to figure out what makes science fiction different than, say,  fans of action franchises, or romance franchises. Soap Opera fans can be very loyal and dedicated, but they didn’t organize conventions to meet and share ideas and dress up like their favorite characters. Comic Book fans are almost as bad, but there’s a certain amount of common ground to be had, so the rules of a “fight” between characters can be easily rationalizes. Superman beats The Hulk, Batman beats Wolverine, etc. What is it about Science Fiction that draws in the obsession in people to the point they become belligerent? I mean, I love Greek Mythology, but I’m not willing to throw down with you because you think Zeus isn’t as cool as Takhisis.

There are even fights WITHIN groups of fans over what the universe’s “canon” actually is. I get this all the time on my Star Wars thread (because Lucas, the creator (and in my eyes, the end-all-be-all in terms of what is canon, since it was his idea), has gone on record as saying that he only views what happens on screen as “canon”. However, Lucas doesn’t “own” Star Wars anymore, and LucasArts, the company in charge of those rights, says that they try to include ALL ideas into “canon” provided that it doesn’t conflict with something that Lucas himself created (i.e. they won’t “canonize” a story in which Luke is killed by Vader during their first confrontation because that contradicts Lucas’ own story… but they were forced to accept midichlorians… tsk tsk tsk… shame really). With Star Wars, Roddenberry himself was the problem. He would come up with an idea, then when someone (or even he) came up with an idea he thought was better later (even if it was years later), he would retcon everything to include the new idea. Let’s face it Star Trek’s continuity is worse than Marvel’s or DC’s… and that’s actually saying something.

I recently had a discussion with a co-worker where he commented that possibly the works themselves are the cause of the problem. If we look to two of the modern “fathers” of the genre, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, even they disagreed on the subject matter. The now-famous “Clarke-Asimov Treaty” was devised, mostly in tongue-in-cheek fashion, so settle disputes about their work easily. It states that Clarke is the better Science Fiction writer while Asimov the better science writer. Do you see the distinction? They were making fun of us and we didn’t even know it. But it speaks to the power of science fiction to pull at us emotionally.

I wonder, if maybe it’s the fantastic elements that make us obsess. I mean it’s really only the positive (or mostly positive) franchises that have such obsessive followings. I should probably take a moment to establish what “positive” and “negative” mean in this context. Those franchises that have a generally happy feel and ending, or present the future/genre in positive light are… well.. “positive”. Anything dystopic, cyberpunk or apocalyptic would fall into “negative”. So Star Wars, Firefly and Star Trek are each generally positive, while Terminator, Alien, and Blade Runner would be “negative”. And for the record, BSG is “positive” because even though humans faced annihilation, they did with honor and hope. If that’s not “positive” I don’t know what is.

So back to my thought – only the “positive” franchsies seem to have this effect on people. You just don’t see Terminator fans arguing with Mad Max fans over which future is more bleak. I suppose it could have happened once… maybe twice… but it just isn’t the same as Star Trek Fans arguing with Star Wars fans over whether Q is stronger than The Force (that’s actually been said to me).  Or worse, bickering over who would win in a fist fight (in their prime), Kirk or Picard/Riker. As if they would ever fight. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that there are dozens of websites (again painstakingly cared for by said fanatics) that give all sorts of information on the “technical” aspects of the universes in question. The problem is that most of these, even when they are cited, contradict other information, and let’s face it, anybody can put anything on the internet. What makes matters worse though, is that the anonymity the Internet provides makes these discussions degrade into name-calling affairs rather quickly, and they tend to involve many more than just the truly faithful fans. I call these people “pseudo-fanatics” because they aren’t really fans and “fanaticism” in my experience, is usually incited by people who aren’t really faithful to the cause, but rather just like causing problems (or having power over others).

So, in closing, I offer this: maybe we are just meant to be raving lunatics when it comes to our favorite science fiction. But can we at least play nice about it? After all, it’s bad enough that we have so many stereotypes about a lack of girlfriends/boyfriends, hygiene and social skills. We don’t need to add internet trolling and hating to the list. On Twitter, I follow Wil Wheaton (@wilw), Nathan Fillion (@NathanFillion) and Carrie Fisher (@CarrieFFisher) and my brain doesn’t melt and run out my left ear. I promise.

Besides, in a fight between Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, BSG and Stargate, we all know who would win…

The Zentradi would.