07/23/2012 12:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Does the The Dark Knight Rises Theater Massacre Say About the State of Our Society in the Summer of 2012?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Amanda Zhang, Student at Wellesley College

What happened in Aurora should never have happened, and I give my sympathies to those who were affected. I hope to construct this answer with as much respect to the victims as possible even though it may not be a popular answer.

1. I find it deeply ironic that a mass murder should be staged at a screening of a violence-glorifying superhero movie. It's ironic that the same people who were so excited to see Batman come to life on screen were also the ones to be cruelly reminded that there is no Batman, there are no superheroes in real life. Reality suddenly became more violent than fiction (which it is) but most people don't think that their world is violent. These ironies were not lost upon the gunman, who reportedly "declared he was the Joker, enemy of Batman."

(As an aside, I myself enjoy superhero stories so I'm not knocking on the genre nor am I saying that anyone was asking to be in that situation. Just trying to make sense of how we as a society can pay to watch fictional characters kill each other on the big screen and call it entertainment, yet feel shock and horror when it happens in real life. That the line is very thin, and that we go to great lengths to justify which violence is okay vs. not okay shows how invested we are in our culture of violence.)

2. The media and online discourse around the suspect James Holmes is unsurprisingly benign. If the suspect were a black man, there would be comments about gangs, ghetto life, and their "natural inclination" for violence; if the suspect were a Latino man, there would be comments about why America needs to deport illegal immigrants; if the suspect were a brown Asian man, there would be comments about how Muslims are terrorists who hate America, and if the suspect were a yellow Asian man, there would be comments about how Asian culture is absurdly cruel and nonsensical because Asians are communist and eat dogs for breakfast.

People say not to take anonymous comments on the Internet seriously, and it's true, people can get away with saying anything on the Internet. But to turn a blind eye to the consistent bigotry that comes up when crises like these happen, is to turn a blind eye to how American society really functions. People might also say that this point is irrelevant to this particular case, but honestly, I know that some people are relieved to hear that the suspect is white. White people get the privilege of not having to be associated with the suspect just because they're white. People of color don't get this privilege. It's demeaning and at worst, fatal, to be stereotyped as the "same kind of person" as the mass murderer just because they share the same race.

3. It's also unsurprising to hear the gun control debate resurface because the issue's been politicized, and it seems like the most surefire way to prevent violence. And while that's true to some extent, we also tend to forget that guns don't kill people; people kill people. We rarely address the other institutional failures that contribute to an event like this, such as joblessness and cracks in the health care system. (While Holmes is reported to have suffered from mental health issues, we should keep in mind that the majority of crimes are committed by the non-mentally ill.) So even though politicians have put aside their differences for a day, it still doesn't change the fact that no one wants to touch how we could make deeper institutional changes to prevent people from killing other people. Gun control is a much easier talking point.

4. Terrible things happen all the time because we live in a world where people are capable and have motivations to do terrible things to each other. That we feel shocked when something like this happens and characterize this kind of violence as "senseless" reflects how we have become used to a society in which everything is predictably, rationally, and bureaucratically safe.


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