generic theater audience

Rising above the Dark Knight tragedy

 by Jake Ten Pas

colorado theater massacre

The scene of the shooting, which claimed 12 lives so far and resulted in the injury of more than 70.

As a kid, I wore a shirt that read, “I prefer to be called Batman.” I don’t remember all the things that made Bob Kane’s character resonate with me so completely at that age, but as I’ve grown older, it’s been the duality of the character that’s kept me immersed in his saga.

Batman is a wounded character, a man marred by violence in youth, who spends the rest of his life trying to come to terms with what he’s lost, what he’s become and what he wants his world to be. He commits acts of violence in defense of a society he sees as salvageable against others whose violent streaks have turned them against that society. He eschews guns and avoids killing whenever possible.

After midnight today in Colorado, a pathetic real-life example of that darkness turned sour, senseless and violent, walked into a theater and killed 12 people and injured more than 70. Watching the news this morning, I struggled to keep it together. Was it because my wife and I were sitting in a local theater at exactly that time last night, and could just have easily have been in Aurora, Colo.? Was it because I think movies are one of the great cultural products of our society, and to see something that can bring so much joy and meaning to people’s lives turned to sorrow and fear is a philosophical tragedy? Was it because a story of positive transformation was itself turned back to horror?

I’ve been watching CNN since I woke up, and it was incredibly moving to hear the last Tweets of Jessica Ghawi, a 24-year-old aspiring journalist, read aloud. The last was sent just moments before the shooting began. The shooter was the same age as Ghawi.

batman sleeping gear

Batman has been my favorite comic character since I was a child. This wasn’t the shirt that read, “I prefer to be called Batman,” but these Underoos-style pajamas show my love for the Dark Knight just as well.

Even now, reactions to this madness are spreading throughout social media. Some folks are trying to make sense of it in real time, while others are striking out at the media. Some are using it as an excuse to make political or religious points, and others are exploiting it to sell clothes. Fear, sadness, greed, anger, apathy and so many other human traits are flowing through the arteries of Twitter, Facebook and the other channels we use to communicate with each other right now.

The term “going viral” gets tossed around a lot. Usually, it’s to describe a video of a cute cat or a drunk guy falling over or something else that brings us joy or at least a cynical-yet-harmless laugh. But an act of brutal violence has the potential to truly go viral, spreading like a disease that paralyzes us into paranoia, inaction and depression.

A friend just called me out on Facebook for delivering Christopher Nolan’s talking points when I posted this status update: “Don’t let this madman change your weekend plans one bit. Feels gross to use the phrase ‘letting the terrorists win,’ but this was an act of terror, aimed right at the heart of what we do for entertainment as a culture. If you want to go to the movies, buy that ticket and don’t think for a second of one anomalous scumbag who used the only pathetic, overcompensating weapon in his arsenal – blind fear.”

Perhaps I should have voiced sympathy or compassion before anger and defiance. Perhaps it was me being a stereotypical man that drove me to transmute my feelings of sadness and helplessness to tough talk. There are bigger things at stake here than the movies, after all.

But if the movies represent for others what they represent for me – a mythology in which we can turn real-life pain and misery into something hopeful and worth living for, then maybe the movies aren’t such a small thing after all. While Nolan’s Batman films have certainly been theme park rides of action and visual dazzle, they also made up a story of redemption and personal transformation, of fighting to make the world a better place.

Batman and Bane

Batman squares off against villain Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Reports have the gunman dressed similarly to Bane, wearing some sort of gas mask and body armor.

Another friend posted, “Batman could have stopped him. Ironic.” His sister responded, “Too. Soon.” Maybe so, but maybe he was trying to turn the tragedy, something he couldn’t control, into something he could control through clever language. In a deeper way, the ideas behind Batman, that we can change, that we can do something useful with the hurt we hold inside, just might be able to stop the waves of fear and uncertainty radiating out from Aurora right now across every means of communication we use.

Whatever you decide to do this weekend, whoever you decide to do it with and however you choose to communicate about it, remember that it’s up to each and all of us how this story turns out.

Hate to sound trite, but my heart really does go out to every person in Colorado who lost somebody today. Nobody should have their childlike joy at sharing a movie with a theater full of fellow fans turned into a nightmare of lost hope. I’m going out tonight to be with my friends and watch live music in a crowded space, and I’m not going to worry that some sick, cowardly bastard might try to ruin that. Is that solidarity, revenge or just escapism?

I don’t know, but I prefer to be called Batman.

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A tale of three car sites, only two of which do it right

by Jake Ten Pas

When I run a car into the ground, I do so in spectacular fashion. There was my 1991 GMC Jimmy, which crapped out on the backside of Steens Mountain. That it did so while rocketing down a roughly 45-degree incline with no guardrail and enough boulders littering the road to give Wile E. Coyote a panic attack was much to my copilot’s and my chagrin. The disc breaks gave up the ghost, and the ensuing frame rattling – not to mention near death experience – was enough to sour me on the vehicle for good.

Honda PilotI traded it in for a used 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which served me well for nearly a decade before the radiator exploded while driving to the coast for Memorial Day weekend this year. When I pulled into Burgerville to assess the situation and eat dinner, it was making a metal-on-metal sound that not even Lou Reed at his most avant-garde would have dared call music. When I exited BV, the lake of coolant under my vehicle was roughly the size of Titicaca, and I knew its number was up.

Over the course of the weekend, my research assistant/smoking hot wife gave the interwebs (and our local library) a beating they won’t soon forget. Faced with the choice of spending $400 on a new radiator – not to mention the impending kidney sale that would come when my transmission choked to death – or renting a car until I could find the time to comb the entire city of Portland for a worthy replacement, I chose neither. Thanks to some handy online resources, I was able to find almost exactly the car I was looking for and conclude the transaction with the good folks at Herzog-Meier by the end of the day Monday.

What resources enabled this modern-day miracle, this far-fetched feat of automotive fortuitousness?

Three things:

1) The Kelley Blue Book app – The free app will help you figure out what your current car is worth if you want to trade it in, as well as giving you a good idea of the value of any car you might consider buying and how it might hold its price. Why it does it right: With a simple, easy-to-navigate interface, you’d have to close your eyes and rubber-band your fingers together to not be able to work this app. Simply click new or used, the year, make and model, and you’re cruising.

kelly blue book app 2) Consumer Reports – Through Consumer Reports, we discovered a car that appealed to both my wife’s common sense and my style stipulations, all while getting a solid rating for durability, safety and resale value. The reputable car-and-consumer-electronics reviewers will tell you about the best makes, models and years of cars. Why it doesn’t do it right: Unfortunately, Consumer Reports has decided to charge for its online content, meaning you have to pay $6.95 a month or $30 a year to access this info on the web. The good news is, your local library likely carries Consumer reports. Save your money, and hit the stacks to do your research. Perhaps at some point, Consumer Reports will realize there’s more money to be made incorporating advertising or going the IMDB route – offering free and paid versions of its content – than there is in charging consumers directly.
consumer report app3) – Say you know what kind of car you want, but you don’t want to drive all over town to find it. Autotrader can point you in the direction of a local dealership that carries it. That’s how we found my 2005 Honda Pilot at Herzog-Meier, which deals primarily in Volkswagens. Why it does it right: While the site isn’t pretty looking, it’s super functional. You can be as detailed or as general as you want when it comes to what you’re looking for, and Autotrader will give you a great idea of what’s available in your community. If you’re even earlier in the process than that, the site can show you what you might be able to afford in the first place. Now, if they could just consider hiring a new web designer, all would be right in their world.

auto trader app

The lesson here is simple. Know what your consumers are looking for from car sites and make it easy for them to find it. The Kelley Blue Book app and Autotrader both provide a great free service that will have people coming back the next time they need to buy a car and recommending the resources to their friends (I heard about Autotrader from my brother, who used it to buy his own car). While Consumer Reports knows what its online users want, it is clearly less concerned with effective, consumer-centric models of online commerce.

So it was that after a long day of looking, researching and haggling, I was able to drive home in a car that functioned properly, a novelty whose charm has yet to wear off. It might not be as exciting driving to work without having to worry if some aspect of my engine is going to malfunction horribly, leaving me on the side of the road or the back of an ambulance, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

While there’s no telling how my Honda Pilot will finally bite the dust, I have no doubt it will be spectacular. When it happens, assuming I live to tell the tale, I’ll be ready to research the next car I’ll doom to the monstrous fate of ferrying me into automotive Valhalla.