Dark Knight movie shooting shows how quickly our pop culture celebrations can be turned against us
It's an odd thought to have watching coverage of a mass shooting in which a dozen people may be dead and up to 50 people may be injured.
But as news outlets scramble to cover a shooting in Aurora, Colo. in which a man opened fire during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises film, I'm struck by the fact that I was at a similar screening just hours ago, unaware of how vulnerable I and my family truly were.
Like so many comic book-loving knuckleheads, I crowded into a theater last night with my 17-year-old daughter for a midnight showing of the film at the Muvico complex in Baywalk.
It was your typical midnight movie madness in St. Petersburg -- a few people dressed in costume, many more youngsters fortified with various adult beverages for the long movie -- all packed into a raucous, devoted crowd ready to see the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy of films.
Now, I can't help imagining what might have happened, had something similar happened here.
It is odd to see a film become a magnet for so much controversy and extreme behavior. From fans threatening movie critics who wrote negative reviews to pundit Rush Limbaugh's paranoia, The Dark Knight Rises already drew its share of pre-release weirdness -- as the pop culture world seemed so excited about this film's debut, that the anticipatory energy burst forth in odd, harsh ways.
TV news anchors are now saying the shooter slung tear gas and began shooting while similar action was happening onscreen, fooling the audience briefly into thinking they were witnessing a prank or special display. As details emerge, we will learn how that tactic impacted the situation.
Beyond the sorrow for the lives lost and people wounded in a shooting with a scope we haven't seen in many years, there is the dismay in seeing a public celebration turned into an ugly massacre.
Early reports suggest witnesses had a difficult time describing what the shooter did before the killing began, because so many patrons were dressed in costumes resembling the film's terrorist villain, Bane. Will movie theaters now feel obligated to ban such costumes, out of caution, because one twisted soul committed a horrific act?
As I write this, St. Petersburg CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 is already airing a story talking about the film's violence and musing on possible connections to what happened. It is true that lots of people are killed in the film -- true to modern movie techniques, little actual blood is shown onscreen despite the many shootings, explosions and neck breakings depicted. While that tactic helps the film keep a PG-13 rating, it also removes the gory consequences of violence - making the thrill of ferocity seem antiseptic and almost surgical.
But there have been plenty of violent movies released this summer, from Oliver Stone's Savages to the most-excellent Avengers movie. we shouldn't rush to judgment about the impact of a dark film, particularly when we still don't know why the accused shooter did this horrible crime.
I think it's more likely this guy picked this movie because it was the biggest release of the summer -- gathering lots of people in a small space where they would be distracted, with enough camouflage among others dressed in costume that many wouldn't realize the danger until it was too late.
For that reason, trivial as it seems now, I hope people don't avoid the Dark Knight film out of fear for their own safety (I totally understand, however, if people don't want to see a movie filled with terrorism, explosion and killings while still processing what has happened in Aurora)
Contrary as it seems, we learn most about our own darkness by facing it and exploring it.
So I hope we find a way to pay tribute to the victims and condemn their murderer without turning away from the film he used to turn our pop culture celebration against us.
Because doing otherwise would just give him more power over us all.