Trying to make sense out of the terrible events in Aurora, Colorado seems pretty pointless. Many in the news media and politics are raising issues of gun control, mental health and the effects of violence in popular culture, but those arguments feel worn-out and pro forma.
The truth, as I see it, is that there is no reform, process or bit of enlightenment that would guarantee prevention of another case of a 24-year-old college kid going crazy and shooting up a crowded movie theater for no apparent reason.
Guns are not the problem, at least not in this instance. There have been mass shootings in recent months in Canada and Sweden, two countries that are gun-averse and which are generally regarded as peaceful and placid.
Psychiatry and psychology, for all their advances over the years, are not precise sciences. Trying to reliably predict who might cross that invisible line from eccentric to criminally insane will continue to be frustrating and disappointing.
Did the pervasive nature of violence, especially gun violence, in our movies, TV and video games, play a part? Impossible to tell, but there are millions of people who watch such entertainments who are as harmless as buttermilk.
The only sensible way to conclude such a search for answers is to abandon it. Each person is an individual, and what motivates one person to act in a certain way may have an opposite effect on a different person. There are no comforting generalizations to which we can cling, no clear path to a safer future.
We had been planning to see “The Dark Knight Rises” for a while, and the tragedy in Aurora did not keep us from going to the cinema. Of course, it was a strange feeling for a while. You found yourself looking around with suspicion at your theater-mates. Every time someone got up to buy popcorn or visit the rest room, you wondered, just for a split-second, if there was not some dangerous motive to their movement.
Overall, I felt the movie was artistically accomplished but morally empty. Christopher Nolan has posited a world in which our societal ills are in many ways caused not by our own failures and misunderstandings, but by evil forces out of sight and out of control.
These powerful malevolent influences are directed by sociopathic masterminds whose abilities and resources are beyond those of “normal” people to defeat or even escape. It takes a man dressed up like a flying rodent to take on such powers, and even he finds himself checked as often as not.
Don’t get me wrong. I like superhero-type movies as much as (perhaps more than than) the next guy, but I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that the ordinary citizen is pretty helpless in the face of modern predators, or that our problems are not of our own making, and that we are helpless victims.
When I look around at the real threats we face in this world – terrorism, climate change, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the persistence of tribalism and race hatred – I don’t see a thing that doesn’t have the hand of Joe Ordinary on it. We’ve created these crises out of our own ignorance, greed, venality or miscalculation.
Any problem that we’ve created is one which we can solve, or at lease salve. It is in our power to reduce these and other problems to manageable proportions. They weren’t created by giants, and don’t need titans to handle them.
Just as there are no evil geniuses or superheroes (Batman’s superpower, frankly, is his billions of dollars), there are no miracles that will protect us from the lone, tortured man (or woman) who will strike out violently.
There’s nothing to do but be our own heroes, daily doing the things that keep society from tumbling into a real-life Gotham. Treating each other, and the world we live in, with respect. Loving freedom and justice for ourselves and others. Helping the other guy out.
As the wise man once said, “There’s no justice. There’s just us.”