|Photo: Barry Gutierrez/AP|
It was impossible not to think of the Denver shootings as I attended the new Batman movie at the local cinema tonight. This latest random mass murder could have been scripted in the film itself, though it would have been the work of a cardboard-evil mastermind rather than just an unhinged student. While I'm a fan of the work of director Christopher Nolan, this latest effort was turgid twaddle. The plot was so predictable I left after an hour of tedious violence, with the hero in a bit of pickle but assured that the good guys would "win" in the end.
I came away thinking it was folly to believe there is no connection between the film and the murders. Guns and the power they confer are at the heart of the Batman movies – as they are at the heart of most Hollywood blockbusters. Guns are the ultimate deus ex machina plot device. Whoever is holding one, calls the shots. The drama moves towards the pivot where either the tables are turned or someone is shot. In the Dark Knight Rises, guns were everywhere and only “superhero” powers can overcome them. When the real murderer went loose in the cinema, many in the dark assumed the noise was from the film and paid no attention. James Holmes called himself The Joker for the stock Batman villain. He painted his hair red and used tear gas before opening fire. There was no superhero to stop him.
The film producers’ coy reaction showed they are part of the problem. Warner Bros said they took “the unprecedented step” of delaying revealing “eagerly awaited weekend box office figures for Dark Knight out of respect for the victims and their families." How the box office news would affect grieving families is beyond immediate comprehension, though there was no sign any of the record takings would be used to compensate victims or be put to a campaign against weapons.
America’s “foremost defender of Second Amendment rights”, the National Rifle Association were as quick as I was to blame the culture. The problem was caused, they said, by “violent imaginary movies", many of them like Batman having, perish the thought, “absolutely no patriotic value”. As NRA’s Wayne Lapierre deadpanned when wheeled out to defend their position, "Guns don't kill -Batman kills. Had someone in the audience been armed, this tragedy could have been averted." Multiplexes, were according to Lapierre, death traps. Lapierre may have preferred a good old fashioned saloon shoot out where everyone could have taken a pop at the dark knight.
Lapierre is of course right on the point of violent movies, though somewhat muddled about multiplexes and patriotism. The culture promotes death and violence, as do the movies of many other countries But there is one big difference about America compared to nearly every other first world country. There, guns and weapons are as easy to get as movie tickets and popcorn. The major reason the unhinged Holmes had no difficulty in acting out his fantasy was because he was able to accumulate a formidable collection of weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. None of the journalists baying at Lapierre for answers picked him up on his glib lie: Guns do kill and the tragedy would have been averted had no one in the audience been armed.
As the New York Daily News said, Holmes did not act alone. Lapierre was at his side as were Obama and Romney both cowed into silence over gun control for fear of unleashing NRA’s mighty political wrath. “(Also) Standing at Holmes’ side as he murdered 12 and wounded 59, were the millions of zealots who would sooner see blood flow and lives end than have to check a box on a gun registration form,” the Daily News said. It wasn’t just about the occasional newsworthy massacre but the “day-to-to-day mayhem of street-crime shootings, responsible for more deaths than all the mass carnage combined, (that only) makes it to the police blotter, the courts, the newspapers, the emergency rooms and the cemeteries.”
The Daily Beast's Adam Winkler said mass shootings don’t lead to gun control. Colorado has some of the weakest laws in the land despite the Columbine High School massacre 13 years ago. Winkler said the radicalisation of the NRA in the 1970s stalled American gun reform. He quotes Bill Clinton as saying the Brady Bill (named for Reagan aide shot in the 1981 assassination attempt) cost the Democrats the control of the House of Reps in 1994 and neither party has mounted any gun control since, despite America having five murders for every 100,000 people.
The NRA vigorously defends its stance at every opportunity against every perceived threat to its clout. This week they attacked Obama signing a UN Arms Treaties because they might “trample our Constitutional right to bear arms.” The 18th century need for a well-regulated militia remains a holy cow despite bearing arms now sounding as ridiculous as arming bears. America deserves a referendum on the “right” but in the unlikely event it happened, the majority of Batman watchers across the land would probably vote against change. Violence is endemic in the culture. Unless one of the dead in Colorado had a well-connected senior operative in the Republican Party for a relative, this latest massacre won’t change anything after all the hand-wringing is completed. Superheroes are as thin on the ground in Washington as they are in Aurora.