A friend’s nephew was at the movies on Friday, July 20 when plaster dust fell on his wife and him. They shook it off and wondered if this was part of some studio stunt. Then something whizzed through the wall and hit a man sitting next to them. He, too, didn’t understand what was happening. It was like the filmmakers had debuted some new, better than 3D, technology. My friend’s nephew said the guy sounded puzzled to be bleeding.
It was a scene straight, as they say, out of the movies. The shootout over, the characters tot up their casualties. Everyone seems fine, and then, plop, someone keels over.
In the case of my friend’s nephew, his seatmate took a bullet in the arm. The massacre was next door, its sounds and smell blending into the operatic chaos of The Dark Knight Rises, which they were also watching. But their surreal question, “When did this become real?” is what many of us were probably feeling as the news sank in.
The Western answer falls somewhere in the between 424 and 347 BC, when Plato came up with his idea of forms (the world as we see it is not real, but a projection–like, you know, a movie). While this doesn’t explain Aurora, it helps to know that the Greeks had a word for it.
The questions nobody can touch–banning assault weapons, enforcing the ban on super-sized ammunition magazines, do movies create violent behavior–seem so far from resolution that it ratifies the depressing notion that we are whirling on a gyre without a center, toward ever greater bloodshed.
This is again, no surprise, to anyone with a clue. Back when 24 was a runaway hit, and a self-declared antidote to liberal pussyfooting, the Pentagon intervened. Soldiers in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan were adopting Jack Bauer’s stock in trade, the quick shot to the leg, in interrogating suspects. Some were skipping over the interrogation part to a summary execution, arguing, in a popular T-shirt of the time, “Kill ‘em all, let God sort them out.” Our NCOs were having a hard time keeping the troops in line and the attitudes of the Jack Bauer generation were losing hearts and minds and, of course, a war.
As Plato (the first movie producer?) would also argue, of course art corrupts. He was even against writing. The movies have a fine warped tradition of influencing bad behavior: when Bugsy Siegel met George Raft, the actor realized he’d been studying his moves. Siegel even asked for the name of his tailor. David Chapman killed John Lennon in the squared-off police shooter’s stance, “as seen on TV.” The only reason more rappers aren’t dead is they started holding their Glocks sideways, after film baddies. Totally throws off your aim.
As for the argument that our increasingly violent films are simply a mirror to our violent society, time to call bullshit. Heath Ledger’s death was a major PR coup for The Dark Knight. Sure, they said all the right things, but rode the box office all the way to the next super-hyped sequel. That’s what they’ll do here, too. Can you imagine how the PR drumbeat will sound if there’s a fourth installment? I’m betting there will be a charitable foundation, with talk show appearances by teary actors and directors, pleading for everyone to behave–this time–but not to let the losers win by not attending the nearest midnight matinee.