"You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little ... push." -The Joker
The Dark Knight, 2008
Make no mistake. I like The Dark Knight Rises, which I saw in a midnight screening in California as horrific events were unfolding in Colorado, very much. And I do not believe that movies force people to be crazy, or even that movies are the principal source of violent images in the culture. There's too much real news for that. But even a movie can become a focal point for irrationality and rage, and a telling index of the culture.
Just before the unconscionable shootings during the first public showing of The Dark Knight Rises, not far from the site of the Columbine massacre of 1999, something ominous took place around the launch of this excellent film. Movie critics who dared to give it bad reviews received unprecedented amounts of vitriol from commenters on the popular Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator site, including death threats. For the first time, the site shut down the comments section.
That none of these furious folks had actually seen the movie before they clicked publish on their viciousness mattered not a bit. In an us vs. them world, the world of politics and media in America today, of instantaneous judgments of complex matters and casual boorishness in debate, they were chomping at the bit to lash out.
As to what precisely motivated the evident shooter in Colorado, that remains to be seen. But he was clearly very angry, had no respect for others, and lashed out in the most shocking manner possible.
This is a culture with too much anger, too little reflection, and too many guns.
About the guns. Many are saying it's time to get rid of guns. That might be a better world, but it's not going to happen. Pretending it might does no good.
But that doesn't mean that assault rifles have to be tolerated. There is simply no good reason why assault rifles have to be available.
The Colorado shooter entered that movie theater carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and two pistols, with the assault rifle his primary weapon.
His AR-15 is the civilian version of the M16, in one form or another the principal rifle of the U.S. Armed Forces since the Vietnam War. I know this weapon. I earned the Navy expert rifleman medal (the actual non-PC name of the award) shooting the M16.
The AR-15, which is what the rifle was called before it was bought by the U.S. military, and the M16 are essentially the same weapon. With one difference. Only the M16 can fire automatically, in what most people think of, without getting into the technical weeds, as machine gun mode. (Though the AR-15 can be converted to full auto, and you can look that up on the ever helpful Internet.)
But even if is "only" semi-automatic, the AR-15 can deliver a devastating stream of rapid fire rounds, and much more accurately than the popular AK 47, which has far more recoil. I'm a gun owner, but I can't imagine why anyone would need one outside a combat zone. A real one, that is, not one in some very misguided or deranged person's head.
There's certainly no true sport in hunting with one. For a good shot, it's much too easy.
So what happens next?
If the past is any guide, not much. We'll learn a lot more than we really want to know about the accused shooter, a UC Riverside grad who was a doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado.
The media will obsess and kvetch, as it has done with every sensational crime since the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, when it found the formula, and people will talk and talk.
Will there be new limits on assault rifles? I'd like to think so. But the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and no attempt to reinstate it has so much as reached the floor of Congress.
There is an assault weapons ban in California, and specifically on the AR-15, but there seem to be some ways around it.
Even last year's near assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led to nothing.
Hopefully, this time around will be different.
As for this being a culture of too much anger and too little reflection, well, I had thought the vitriol peaked in the reaction against the rise of Barack Obama. In 2008.
That proved to be, er, overly optimistic.
But I suspect there will be fewer online calls for the outright deaths of movie critics.
Oh, and The Dark Knight Rises? It's a fascinating and provocative film, which I'll discuss very fully in a forthcoming essay.
It shattered The Avengers' box office record for opening midnight screenings but its performance does seem to be affected by the tragedy surrounding it. Still, it will flourish. The film is just too intriguing for it not to.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.