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.
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.