I would not normally have anything useful to say about the unspeakable tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. That is the type of thing that warrants grief-filled silence.
But there is one aspect of the event that comes into the bailiwick of Breakfast with Pandora: the connection between the shooter and the intense, violent story being told where he chose to shoot.
Did "The Dark Knight Rises" bear any responsibility for the shooter's act? Does myth-- deeply-felt stories told over and over again by a particular culture-- adversely affect our behavior?
This particular shooter has gone on record as having been directly affected by the Batman story that "Rises" tells: he said he "was the Joker," a villain from the iconic comic book series. The Joker is violent, so he decided to take on that persona and commit violent acts.
So did the story drive the shooter to his crime?
Here is a suggestion from movie reviewer Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Can we at least consider the possibility that our movies have become a feedback loop for national neurosis, celebrating it, glorifying it and nourishing it?
It has long been clear to me that our current cinema — in the United States — has lost the Female Principle, that our cinema, especially our most popular cinema, is concerned only with external things, to the exclusion of inner values, and the external thing that it’s mainly concerned with is violence.
I bent myself into contortions trying to say something nice about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES in my review today, knowing that this is not, generically, my kind of movie and thus I should make some kind of allowance for the bias of personal predilection. But there is something in this kind of cinema that strikes me as essentially anti-human — a cinema where human interaction is a kind of unreal expression standing in for real emotion — and where the only things that actually feel real are chaos and calamity.
I understand Mr. LaSalle's point, and I agree with him in some particulars. But I wouldn't agree that our popular cinema feeds a "national" neurosis-- just, in this case, one particular deranged mind.
In fact, I think it is a real blessing that it in this country, where violence is glorified in stories, where there is so much dark, difficult material out there, not only in movies but in comic books, novels, TV shows (ever seen "Dangerous Minds"?), and where guns are so readily available for legal sale, it's truly a blessing that this type of tragedy does not happen more often.
In fact, maybe violence in stories REDUCES violence in real life.
Aristotle the Greek philosopher would contend that violence in stories should calm a person down. He wrote that the action of a tragic drama (such as "Oedipus the King," one of the most intense stories ever created) should bring about a psychological "cleansing" or "purgation" (catharsis) of emotions. Scholars differ as to what that actually means, but it's clear Aristotle considered it a good thing. In my course on Greek mythology I called it the "wet noodle" effect-- the calming, centering effect that an overwhelming rush of adrenaline has on a person.
Would this shooter have done what he did without the fantasy of becoming a character in a drama? I think he would have. I think he would have found some outlet or excuse or pretense.
Is "The Dark Knight Rising" dehumanizing? Does it, rather than purge one's emotions, incite one to violence? Possibly. I can't judge because I haven't seen it and probably won't. I don't need that type of adrenaline rush very often.
Most likely, we are dealing with one person who is mentally ill, or disordered personality-wise, and it is as simple as that. As long as we have people who can't cope with their world, we will have trouble. I don't think myth causes that, or that there's anything that myth can do about it.