Everyone is aghast at what happened last week in Aurora. Often, though (seems to me), so many of us are aghast for the wrong reasons. What is truly horrible is that anyone had to die at the hands of a man cum maniac who was able to buy a few guns and a few thousand rounds of ammunition in less than a hundred days.
Let’s get this straight: this wasn’t some random act of violence. And I don’t mean that Mr. Holmes was planning it for months. I mean that this sort of thing is inevitable, and will continue to be so, in a culture like ours that valorizes violence and vendetta and allows easy and legal access to the kind of firepower James Holmes walked into the theater with. The value of human life is at a low ebb in the cadence of modernity’s march towards collective inanity (and perhaps even insanity), and we’re giving all the so-called bad guys not only the means to realize their sick and twisted visions, but the motivation to carry them out. It’s a recipe for disasters like the one in Aurora.
Think about the basic underlying theme of the Batman trilogy, for example: Revenge. What’s Bruce Wayne’s line in the final installment: “I’m not afraid. I’m angry.” This isn’t about a man resurrected from the dead to bring peace and love to a hurting world. This is about a man resurrected from the dead to kick some serious ass. And we can gussy it up all we want in words like “justice” and “honor” and “good vs evil,” but even if those themes are present in the trilogy, evil has a whole lot of fun before it’s taken down, and good succumbs to evil in its methods of overcoming it. What’s the final body count in the film, anyway? And what’s the final point?
We put violence on cellulite, get a great back-end score and some wicked visuals, and by doing so can’t help but glorify a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest mentality, and then we stand back in a state of collective shock at how it affects those who are already terribly disturbed like James Holmes. Seriously? None of us can afford to walk away from the responsibility we all have in glorifying this message as we continue to pour millions upon millions of dollars into such movies. We are a blood-lust society, and as long as we provide a market for such things, and we partner that with legislation that allows for easy access to guns, we will continue to have Auroras and Columbines and Virgina Techs. We fill our minds with images of extreme violence and gore and pathology, and then denounce in the strongest terms those who act those images out. How can we be so daft, so imbecilic, so naive?
“Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” the English metaphysical poet John Donne once wrote. “It tolls for thee.” All around this country this week, bells will toll for the lives that were lost in this massacre. And as they do, let us not forget — for the sake of those who died and that their deaths might not be in vain — that those bells toll for us, too; for an entire society drowning in violence and pornography (which is just a different kind of violence) and political corruption (and yet another kind of violence). We pay $25 to watch a madman go on a rampage until he is finally stopped by a masked marauder, and then we stand in shock and awe as a real madman does the same thing to us. Where’s Batman when you need him? Oh, that’s right, he doesn’t exist.
Tell me, is there not something terribly wrong with this picture? Western culture is in a dark night of the soul of its own, and its time we fessed up to it. If we don’t, and we simply chalk up what happened in Aurora as a freak and isolated incident wrought by a lone gunman who had lost his mind, I offer you the iconic words of Mission Control when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded into a million pieces on live television:
“FLIGHT CONTROLLERS HERE LOOKING VERY CAREFULLY AT THE SITUATION…OBVIOUSLY A MAJOR MALFUNCTION.”
Major malfunction? How about… THE WHOLE GODDAM THING JUST EXPLODED!!