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.
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.
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.