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Courage Isn't Going to the Movies

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Throughout the weekend following the tragedy in Aurora, television interviews showed folks queued up outside movie theaters waiting to get into The Dark Night Rises. The customers, in so many words, had a common message: the terror inflicted by one gunman would not keep them from movie going. The crux of the hundreds of broadcasts was contextualized on a backdrop of courage and resiliency--"going on" in the face of an American tragedy, as we always do.

A Twitter handle was created called #defytheshooter. An article on Entertainment Weekly shouted: "Defy the theater shooter: Go out to see a film, and DON'T be afraid - ANALYSIS." In it, the author pleads, "So if you want to defy the theater-shooter and the terror he has created -- go out ... to see a film and enjoy being with your fellow moviegoers ... Don't be afraid." That same message--a typical politician's trope--was then broadcast on Sunday's Meet the Press by Colorado Gov. John Hicklenhooper.

Now, I get the sentiment. In fact, this kind of reaction of perceived courage vis-à-vis movie going is expected. When one community is afflicted with a rather spontaneous and senseless tragedy, other communities will adapt by packaging the irrationality of that event into something seemingly predictable--hence: the "movie theaters are actually a dangerous place" phenomena that has cities arming local theaters with plain-clothes police.

One problem with this reaction is that movie theaters are, by and large, not dangerous places. Rather, a society polarized through politics, isolated through sprawl, alienated by a disintegrating social fabric and increasingly armed to the teeth... well, that is where many of the issues lie.

So let's temper the faux bravery related to eating popcorn. The horror of Aurora--while committed by an individual--was surely also precipitated by problems with deep societal roots. It is a horror that will be imprinted on the minds of the family members and survivors for the rest of their lives. It is not, however, a problem with a solution driven by the act of movie going.

Movies are built to provide an escape from reality. They are experiences in which we can ignore life's problems for a minute to live in that collective imagination that comes with a big screen exuding fast, vivacious images and loud sounds. And while it is ironic and twisted that the murders occurred in a location collectively recognized as an escape, it is beyond the pale to suggest that dealing with an event that is terrifically impossible to ignore or run away from can be done through a behavior that's derived from the act of escapism itself.
So where is the real opportunity of courage? How about we start by trying to understand why we are so afraid all the damn time? The irony is that our increased armament has not led to us feeling more secure. Rather, it has created a situation in which even our amusement has become anything but.

This story originally appeared in Huffington, in the iTunes App store.