Friday, July 20, 2012

This Present Dark Knonsense

I wasn't going to comment at all on the surprising events in Aurora, Colorado last night where a young guy opened fire in a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Crazy events are troubling, but they are the exception and not the rule. Every now and then some radical will do something horrific in some unexpected setting. It is the way of the world in this present darkness. However, to blame the movie for it or to take drastic actions across the country because of a clearly isolated incident is foolish fearmongering; and to discuss it too much brings the danger of making this guy famous.

It's reasonable for people to be shocked, and it is reasonable for news to be covering it, as it is a major story that deserves coverage. But it should end there. A paranoia has ensued. People who bought tickets already have refused to go to screenings of the movie today out of fear. Yet there is no indication  that there would be copycats or that there were any more than one man working. This film was screened at midnight last night in thousands of theaters across the country and this is the only incident. Furthermore, it is reasonable to presume that the "event" nature of the midnight screening attracted him in the first place, and I consider it unlikely that any subsequent screenings will bring further actions from other people elsewhere. Theaters have now banned anyone from coming in costume, as if that will ensure safety. Yes, the guy was wearing body armor but the real issue is that he had guns on him and no one else did. This is just as ridiculous as when schools were banning black coats after Columbine. There was also talk of Warner Bros. pulling screenings of the film, which is ridiculous and I'm glad they aren't going to do so. The movie is not to blame. Even if you want to blame Batman (and claims that the shooter referred to himself as "the Joker" might lend credence), this film in particular isn't responsible. It would have to be the previous film, a suggestion which is still dubious. Yet Warners has decided to edit the trailers and remove all images of guns from them.

These sorts of events are rare but they do happen. The public often wants to jump on the blame train and find some cause that they can eliminate. But look, crazy people are crazy and do crazy things. There was a stabbing (I think it was a stabbing; might have been a shooting) at the theater in Framingham about ten years ago at a screening of the (now forgotten) horror movie, Valentine. It was nowhere near this massive an assault, but it happened. There may not have been any prior signs he would act this way, or there may have. Now everyone who knew him will try to qualify their interactions with him, second guessing every little conversation, glance, statement or lack of one. While some of these are natural human reactions, my biggest problem is with the way the media will foster them.

And so it is that the primary reason for this post will be mentioned. Tonight, CBS preempted its usual programming to air an hour-long 48 Hours special: "Tragedy in Aurora." It contains interviews with people out in Colorado, discussions of the victims, speculations on the shooter, and all the sorts of things you'd expect. And yes, I might even expect this type of thing after a national tragedy eventually. I'd have a problem with it then too, but not nearly so much as I do at this moment. This event occurred early this morning. It has only been about 20 hours before this piece was aired. That means that CBS News spent the entire day flying out to Colorado, shooting and editing content all to put this piece on the air. This is beyond simple nightly news reporting; this is flagrant exploitation and it sickens me. They have to be the first ones to air this thing. It JUST HAPPENED! Simple reporting is one thing, but for the television news cycle to swoop down and make content from it that no one has demanded that very day is astonishing. Let Aurora grieve, let the police do their job, let justice be served, and stay out of the way.

I recently watched the Billy Wilder film Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival), which was a fairly prescient movie about the media circus that surrounds tragedy. And this television special strikes me as being in that same vane. I do highly recommend the film, by the way. Kirk Douglas puts in a great performance. I have seen a lot of television reaction to tragic events over the years. I remember Fox pulling the broadcast of Independence Day that was scheduled for the weekend after September 11, 2001 and running Mrs. Doubtfire instead. I remember the special news magazine programs that dealt with the Columbine shooting or other similar events, often on anniversaries. But I have never seen a network so quick to pounce as to air something the very day of a massacre. Shame on you, CBS.

"Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos." - The Joker, The Dark Knight

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