After the grisly massacre in Colorado no one will attend weekend showings of The Dark Knight Rises with expectations of a rollicking, uplifting, feel-good night at the movies. But even before its association with horrifying images of real-life mass murder, this final installment in the current Batman series suffered from serious deficiencies in terms of its fun factor. It’s wrong to suggest that the movie provoked the killings in its midnight Aurora premiere, but those crimes do, in a sense, expose the nihilistic darkness at the heart of the film that’s become dominant in far too much of today’s pop culture.Whenever Americans find themselves transfixed by stories of senseless slaughter, there’s an irresistible impulse to seek causes and cures. We’re supposed to probe some chain of cruelty and complaint that impelled the alleged lone gunman (and it’s almost always a lone gunman) to undertake his deadly rampage. Custom also calls for earnest pronouncements by every preening pundit on social and governmental changes that might prevent such carnage in the future.
Concerning causes, we usually hear about the devastating impact of adolescent bullying, the influence of violent media imagery, the breakdown of the family, or, more generally, the toxic nature of our “sick society.” When it comes to cures, the most common recommendations involve tighter regulation of guns, or new restrictions on brutal entertainment, or more emphasis on character building in school, or more antibullying protections, or mental-health programs, or enhanced economic mobility, or smaller class size, or more spirituality in public life, or some idealized combination of all of the above.
Of course, none of these causes or cures seems to fit comfortably with what we know of the alleged shooter. Like the alleged killer's Colorado counterparts who perpetrated the Columbine massacre in 1999, the evidence suggests that the suspect was a bully rather than the bullied: with a reported height of 6 feet 3, he no doubt would have cut a hugely intimidating figure on the night of his alleged crime, dressed in black ninja garb with body armor and gas mask. Moreover, preliminary information hardly suggests the suspect is a troubled loser on the margins of society; instead, James Holmes compiled an impressive record of academic achievement (in the challenging field of neuroscience) with no reported record of prior arrests or serious psychiatric problems.