If it didn’t sound flippant, it would be tempting to merely begin by saying "here we go again…” Another tragedy, more victims and within hours more finger-pointing than most people have hands. Such horrible events ARE rare... but their aftermaths are becoming frustratingly familiar.
By now we all know of the basic events that happened in Aurora, Colorado early on Friday morning - twelve people died and many more were injured when a gunman opened fire on a Dark Knight Rises audience. Beyond that, the accusations, assumptions and conflicting reports have begun in earnest. Turn on the television and the alliterative ‘Midnight Movie Massacre’ runs off presenters’ tongues in far-too polished a fashion.
TV needs viewers. Newpapers need sales.Those truths sometimes power reporting to less than fair or impartial levels. In the space of barely a paragraph, the Saturday edition of the UK’s Daily Mail (which had a front page headline ‘I’m the Joker!’ referencing a quote from a New York City official hundreds of miles away... on an aspect that the local Colorado police have refused to confirm and MAY have actually come from a hoax caller) claimed that the accused shooter was somehow and obviously dressed as Batman, Bane AND the Joker - which in a wholly different context would actually be something quite impressive and contradictory to pull off simultaneously. The newspaper’s website also manages to throw in a reference that the gunman was ‘addicted to the computer game Guitar Hero’ and reprinted dialogue from a character/scene in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight graphic novel from the 1980s because it dealt with a killing in a cinema… covering itself by adding “Holmes motives behind the massacre are unknown, but if he was a fan of the Batman comics, then he may well have read the issue featuring Crimp's killing-spree..”
To translate from mediaspeak:, ‘we don’t know this, we can’t prove this, but it makes an awfully good headline, now doesn’t it?’ It couldn't be that the attacker was wearing a gas-mask because he used gas-cannisters, that he was wearing body-armour for less decorative reasons and that if he thought the Joker had RED hair, he was clearly colour-blind? Those explanations are probably far too mundane.
There is a solid argument and discussion to be had that constant exposure to hard, fictional violence might well dull people to the crueller realities of life and, yes, I’ve seen films through the years that I think are opportunistic, exploitative and salacious without offering anything positive to the genre. But to follow that cause and effect argument too far, logic would dictate that you should pull The A-Team and Tom and Jerry reruns from the screen in case people tried to emulate those consequence-free set-pieces as well. Indeed, take it even farther and if you didn’t have fictional bad people doing bad things on screens, you could never have heroes and heroics rising up and you’d never have any mature film-making suitable for a discerning adult audience.
It doesn’t negate Hollywood and global film-makers from trying harder with cause and effect and consequence or the likes of the BBFC for keeping a close eye on what merits what ratings/certificate, but in a world where there are millions of potential stimuli from the second we wake-up in the morning, at some point the individual has to be responsible for their own actions.
The media is wont to try and provide neat, succinct answers that it can slam into headlines or push into bold-type and which reassures its regular readership that it is speaking from a position of knowledge and authority. The problem is that tragedies like this do not always have such clear answers and in the hours and days that follow, newspapers and media outlets struggle to fill their column inches and air-time with anything new. When there’s nothing fresh, idle speculation and quick inaccurate Google searches appear to be a good second option. For the record, during Friday Impact tried to print nothing but confirmed facts or those believed to be from official sources.
In the absence of any current FACTS issued to the contrary, Batman – in comic or film form – did not cause James Holmes to kill his victims. The Dark Knight Rises midnight showing merely provided a darkened, close-quarter opportunity to unleash death and tragedy and if it hadn’t been there, one suspects that such individuals would latch on to something else. If Holmes had gone on a rampage at a concert, would we really be pointing the sharpened plectrum at the Guitar Hero game and Simon Cowell?
The best way the media can both honour the victims of such atrocities and keep the trust of those who read their articles expecting clarity, is to make sure we don’t short-change the truth or the consequences. Sometimes an action film is just an action film.
So here we are: We have no idea if Holmes bought a single comic in the days before the tragedy, but we do know he was quite legally able to buy a massive 6,000 rounds of ammunition and four weapons and subsequently used them to kill twelve people and shoot many more at the screening of a much-anticipated summer blockbuster. He left music blaring in a baited, booby-trapped apartment to which the police are still trying to gain safe access. The desperate, haunting questions surrounding this series of events are obvious and will take time... but almost none of the really important, verified answers we need contain the word ‘Batman’.
There’s going to be understandable fear, grief and anger amongst cinema-goers in the US and further afield, but, as in the case of terrorism, plane-crashes or disasters, this will pass and be put in the context of rarity. This next week, we can be real action-fans…let’s do what many are already determined to do: get back to the cinema. Support your favourite film-makers. Enjoy the productions as much as you would have done a week ago. Prove that Holmes was just another impotent, lone force in search of a temporary, hijacked headline and that, disappointingly, newspapers gave him it willingly and with added decoration.
Get up. Go out. In short…rise.