Last Thursday night a number of Ground Zero customers gathered at the local theater for an advance screening of The Dark Knight Rises. My expectations were somewhat low as I am one of the few people who didn’t care for the second film in the series, The Dark Knight. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the film was the best of the trilogy and tied together various elements from the earlier movies to make the series work as a whole. It was not perfect. At two and a half hours it might have benefited from a little extra editing. Ultimately, however, most of my complaints are trivial. Overall the film was excellent and everyone I spoke to enjoyed a great evening.
Then I woke up to the same news as the rest of you.
You see, shortly after our showing of the film was finished, another group enjoyed their own screen in Aurora, Colorado. About thirty minutes into the film, their lives were shattered as a man entered the theater and tossed tear gas into the theater. He then methodically shot patrons in the panic that ensued. In the end, twelve innocent people were dead and fifty nine more injured.
In the aftermath, Warner Brothers pulled Dark Knight Rises television ads from the major networks. Even with that action, the finger pointing has already begun. A customer visited Ground Zero and was very upset that a poster advertising the film was still in my window. The problem is that an event as senseless and tragic as this one is difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to react to. The media tells us to be afraid, with constant coverage designed to inflame an already tense and worried nation.
I might have a somewhat different perspective to this story than many of you, not only because I sell comics, including some that are tremendously violent, but also because I’ve been through an event quite similar to what happened in Aurora. I know what it is like to have your sense of safety shattered, to see a friend shot and killed. It changes your worldview.
All of which is why I view the reactionary finger pointing with disgust and disappointment. A reasoned discussion on how to prevent such tragedies would be welcome, instead we get a rush for easy answers and sensational alarm mongering. I have news for you, folks: going to the movies is no more dangerous now than it was last week or last year. Personal freedoms carry with them inherent risks and responsibilities.
It is, however, a good time for self-examination, to reflect on just what kind of society we want to be. Certainly the media should accept some responsibility, but their culpability has to be taken in context. Violence is so deeply ingrained in our history and national identity that it is only natural for our entertainments to reflect it. But we make choices every day as to what we want to see and hear and in those choices determine just what kind of life we want to lead. Every week I help a parent in this store who is looking for appropriate comics for their child. Invariably, when I try to steer them away from a particularly dark and violent book I am told “Oh, that stuff is okay, as long as there is nothing sexy in it.” I strongly believe that each parent should make their own determination of what their children should be exposed to. However, I am still astounded how many choose to ignore really violent content as long as there are no nipples or cleavage present.
Even more worrisome is how impersonal and isolated our society has become. Do you know the name of the person you buy groceries from? How many teachers can you name at your child’s school? Just who do you consider part of your “community”? The day after the tragic events in Colorado, several Ground Zero customers called the store, partially to thank us for hosting the advance preview, but also to check on me personally. They knew this would hit very close to home for me and wanted to make sure I was okay. In each instance I was touched and it made me realize that it is only through this sense of community that we will heal ourselves
I realized it is okay to feel sad for this senseless tragedy in Colorado and it is okay to feel angry. But rather than react with accusations and fear, we need to realize that all change begins with us. You want to react? Fantastic. Start by strengthening the community through your neighborhood, through your church, through your school. Know the name of the kid that carries the groceries to your car, tell him you appreciate what he does. Change starts with small things and grows into big things.
And go see a movie or read a Batman comic. Life is too precious and short to recoil from it out of fear.