I said to someone, this Holmes guy may have some kind of organic defect, even a brain tumor. The person said, “Or maybe just crazy.” But isn’t a malfunctioning brain the same as crazy? Where’s the line between some kind of fixation or misapprehension or failure to process consequences -- bad attitude -- as opposed to the malfunction of one of the little brain sorting centers or molecular feedback loops, an equipment problem? One affects the other, one creates the other. And our social iives, our cultures, shape both of them in terms of experience, compensation, nutrition, even trauma. Where is the line between excusable madness and inexcusable narcissistic fantasy?
Ty Burr, writing in the Boston Globe, was impressed by the extreme comments about the new Batman movie before anyone had even seen it except for the critics, a few of whom disliked it.
“There is something truly awful going on here: an entitled fanboy mentality, enabled by the anonymity of screen names, that moves and thinks as a mob and that reacts to any deviation from unanimous praise with the fury of a spoiled child. Of course there were plenty of level-headed responses on the Rotten Tomatoes boards and elsewhere; of course not all fanboys (and girls) are immature dolts. But enough of them are there to dominate the discourse, and their assumptions are frightening to contemplate: If someone does not like this movie, he or she deserves to die.” Isn’t this thinking as Holmes must have? Burr generalizes on the genre.
More pressingly, it needs to be asked, why does fantasy in general and this fantasy in particular mean so much to so many people? Why does a negative review for a movie strike some as an attack on their own identity? When the second film in Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, “The Dark Knight,” came out in 2008, it was remarkable to see so many members of a generation that had no cultural focal point discovering theirs in this, . . . a young man I met . . . likened the impact of “Dark Knight” to the Kennedy assassination and the Challenger disaster as events that unified young people and gave them their defining moment.
. . . I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that [Holmes] was responding, in his psychosis, to the tortured fantasy of power that this movie — and so much of the popular culture aimed at young men in particular — trades in. That fantasy is now everywhere..
. . . you’re still figuring out who you are and a beautiful, conflicted superhero (or supervillain) mirrors your self-image. Our entertainment culture’s dreams of power are a drug that keeps us rapt in a cloud of promises: that we can win and that winning is everything; that we’ll be seen and heard for who we are . . . when we’re sold a fantasy that is so well made, that seems to tap so deeply into our very real sense of imminent catastrophe, and that seems so self-aware about the fantasy itself, certain people respond to it as if it’s the Truth.
(Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
There is a precursor movie with many of these same qualities. It’s called “The Crow” and uses the same ruined urban nighttime scenery. I had a high school student who loved that movie -- he’s in a federal penitentiarry now. The same dynamic goes back to Conan and back before that all the way to -- well, I suppose to pre-literacy. Someone exceptional must save us. (Elect Obama.) If he’s not capable of making everything better right away, reversing the Great American Decline, kill him. Well, at least vilify him.
IMHO the gun issue is a total distraction. Guns magnify violence, people who can afford a lot of guns and a lot of ammo magnify it even more. Some will say that if there had been someone in that theatre “packing heat” when Holmes began to shoot, he could have been prevented from killing so many. Really? He’s in the dark theatre, he’s lobbed two tear gas grenades so that people can hardly breathe, much less see. Besides his gas mask, he’s wearing all SWAT bulletproof gear, so it was hard to distinguish him from actual SWAT team members. Everyone is screaming, milling around, falling. I don’t care how good a sniper is, this was an impossible situation, carefully thought out to be that way.
When I talk to people around here about the right to bear arms (this is a rural place where bears come into the yards), they do not talk about personal situations of danger. They talk about danger from governmental oppression. They speak of Russia. Indians (if they feel very very safe) speak of the massacres not so long ago. Yet they all hurry to be on the side of law enforcement and join the military at a higher rate of enlistment.
Control is the hidden issue and guns are the illusionary source of control, both of one’s own safety and of the country’s preservation. This is the talk from Cheney and the corporate funders of private “security” armies. One cannot trust elected officials to prevent the obvious decline of the nation, so bunker-up and make sure you’ve got enough ammo to make it through the coming dystopia. But what use are these things against an armed Predator drone? You could escalate all the way up to tanks and still not be in control. You wouldn’t even know where your attackers were from or where they were when they triggered the drone.
Many feel the only response is terrorism, either individuals or semi-organized groups intent on control, which they interpret as defense of themselves and their way of life. In the process they destroy both, their goal turned back on them.
What terrorists and citizens both seem to want is a return to better times, maybe even childhood, when things were run by their parents -- if they were reliable which many are not. There is a sense of entitlement to the way it is SUPPOSED to be, and a struggle to make it happen.
In the case of James Holmes, he seems to have felt something was wrong in his own head and to have tried to find out what that was all by himself. This is another strong marker among youngsters I’ve known -- never never trust adults or authorities to help you. They will only punish, misunderstand, and confine you -- all the time saying it’s for your own good, even though it’s not. Because adults don’t listen, they don’t get it, they aren’t grownups at all -- just pretending. You’ve got to take it into your own hands.
Recently I saw the Tim Burton version of Batman. I keep thinking about how much the phony city officials who stepped up to the microphone looked and sounded like Mitt Romney.