Friday, July 20, 2012

Fictional Violence vs. Real Life Tragedy

How do we enjoy The Dark Knight Rises after the shooting in Aurora?

It’s an open question. I don’t have an answer, only gut reactions from watching the movie less than a day after 12 people were killed and 50 wounded by a psycho. Last night, James Holmes turned the premiere of TDKR into a massacre when he walked into a theatre and started shooting during one of the movie’s many gunfire scenes. At first, people outside couldn’t distinguish between the real gunfire and the movie; some inside thought the gun sounded like “popping balloons.”

For me, I couldn’t enjoy it. TDKR is a technically great movie; the plot is engaging, the acting incredible, and the world building extraordinary. But it is also an incredibly dark film, and the violence not only explicit but casual. Because of the extreme realism, each death is visceral and painful. With Aurora still fresh in my mind, it was too real.

I watched the theatre hallway during the shooting scenes. I was jumped once a few years ago, and now I’m paranoid enough that I can all too easily picture random acts of violence. Between the realism, Aurora, and my own experience, watching TDKR was an extremely uncomfortable experience.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for a movie like this. I’m not even saying it’s too violent. But I am saying that watching the movie after a real life tragedy felt more than a little tone-deaf, and I couldn’t put an appropriate distance between what was fiction and what could be only too real. I didn’t need Bain as a symbol of evil; I already had that in Holmes.

I’m open to other interpretations. It may be that in a few years I would enjoy the film for what it is, a great work of fiction. Maybe I just need the time to inure me to what the fictional deaths would be in reality. Maybe TDKR is a peacetime movie, and it’s good that many people have little enough experience with violence that the movie doesn’t bother them. But right now I can’t do it.

Does anyone else have other thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I hear you on this one. I've not seen TDKR yet (damn, TZ with no movie theater!) but I can imagine well enough the violence in it. These are questions I struggle with too. I don't think movies should be censured, nor would that work even if they were. People would find another way to market the violence that many crave.

    When I was working in violence prevention I taught classes about media and the violence that was portrayed in them and how that affected our culture. When we experience atrocities such as the one in Aurora, people tend to look at the person or persons who "were responsible" for such brutality instead of looking at the person inside the context of our society. It's not an isolated incident. These kinds of acts of brutality happen every day on street corners, in homes, classrooms, offices, etc. I don't think any 1 movie or video game is going to make a person go on a shooting rampage. But I do think that a culture like ours that feeds on violence as a way to exert power over others makes it seem to many like the best possible solution.

    But the question remains, what do we do to prevent violence like this? I don't have an answer because I don't think there's an easy solution. I do believe in the power of education. Education about media literacy, but also education-education. The more people are educated, the more they see. They see the world, know their options. The more options a person has, the more in control of their life they feel and the less likely they are to try to exert power/commit violence against another person in order to feel in control.

    Call out violence when we see it in every day life. Don't just wait for a big episode like this which hits all the daily news. Look in our inner cities and identify violence. Look in our homes and identify violence. Look in our workplaces, our relationships with other countries. Violence is everywhere but we close our eyes to it and say "They had it coming" or "It's diplomacy" or "They deserved it." We have to first recognize violence to be able to stop it.

    I also believe in speaking up when you see something wrong. Providing comfort to people who seem to be in pain. Offer support. Demonstrate non-violent conflict resolution to your kids, your neighborhood, your siblings.

    These are just my ideas. I'd love to hear what others have to say about it.