|Law enforcement officials gather outside the Century 16 Theatre where a masked gunman killed 14 people at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado July 20, 2012. A masked gunman killed 12 people at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in a suburb of Denver early on Friday, sparking pandemonium when he hurled a teargas canister into the auditorium and opened fire on moviegoers. REUTERS/Evan Semon
"It was just like a movie."
After four generations of living in a society in which all the most dramatic events we see happen onscreen, it's the default description many witnesses have for when actual horror breaks out in ordinary lives.
It's been used to describe the events of 9/11, horrific car crashes, serial killings and the street gang shootouts that have marred our lives of late.
But to actually have a mass killing take place IN a movie theatre where killings were happening onscreen, a meta-massacre as it were. That's something new.
Considering how many times movies have been invoked as "causing" mass murders (American Psycho for the Bernardo/Homolka murders, The Matrix - and Marilyn Manson and video games - for Columbine, etc.), it's startling that cinemas have not been targeted by gunmen before, apart from pattern incidences of gang activity. After Columbine, perhaps the most famous American massacre one took place at a San Diego McDonald's, though even Morgan Spurlock has yet to connect Big Macs to murder.
Even at the cinema in Aurora, Colorado, where the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises turned into a bloodbath (allegedly at the hands of 24-year-old suspect James Holmes), patrons said repeatedly they initially thought the shots were effects from the movie.
As for The Dark Knight Rises, by early yesterday, 'Netizens had uncovered a storyline in a Batman comic book that involved a disturbed loner opening fire in an adult movie theatre.
Tenuous to be sure, inane even. But I don't begrudge people looking for easy connections and possible "inspirations" for murder. Our brains are wired to try to make sense out of the random and inexplicable. It's why we see faces in sand and animals in clouds.
There will be a rush to implicate media violence, if not this actual movie, just as surely as the Oklahoma City bombing was erroneously attributed to Muslim terrorists, and Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was said to be the product of anti-immigrant rabble-rousing (before he revealed his delusion that he was also working on behalf of the medieval Knights Templar, which is not exactly a terrorist group you can pin down).
More than three decades later, the most astute observation on a gun rampage remains Bob Geldof's "There are no reasons." At least no reasons that can fit in any rational thought process. "I don't like Mondays," remains as nonsensically logical as blaming Columbine on trenchcoats.
As for the violence (and make no mistake, The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most violent movies of the year), decades of the best efforts to build an iron-clad cause-and-effect case have come up short. The Japanese and South Koreans watch more violent entertainment than anybody in the world, and have relatively low crime rates.
We Canadians watch the same movies and TV and play the same video games as Americans. And though we are clearly not immune to the kind of madness that engulfed that theatre full of eager and expectant Dark Knight fans, there are clearly other factors at work that make violent derangement something that may forever remain outside of our ability to understand or predict.