When I first heard about the events, where people were killed and many more wounded during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises by a man armed with guns and gas calling himself The Joker, I was naturally horrified. But a part of me welcomed the news. Bear with me, please.
I don't know if you've noticed, and maybe this is just my perspective as a 24-year-old American, but the world these days is bizarre and wondrous and terrible in ways that feel more like fiction than reality. Our politics reads more like satire, our tech news like science fiction, and everything else, well... There was the week that Florida seemed to be suffering the onset of a zombie epidemic; the cyberpunk summer when every other week the hacker organization called LulzSec claimed responsibility for another attack on our biggest corporations; the rise of Anonymous, the capricious Internet hive-mind in Guy Fawkes masks responsible for both astonishing activism and astonishing destruction; the way reality TV seems to be inching closer and closer to Stephen King's prescient visions of Long Walks and televised murder; the news that Russia suffers from mass addiction to Krokodil, a kind of cheap super heroin that eats you alive from the inside ala Philip K. Dick's Substance D; and, a little closer to home for us, the realization that costumed vigilantes exist. I view all of those things, great and awful, as something to be rejoiced in. Maybe it comes from growing up in Austin, but I like it when life is Weird.
So when I first heard about it, I filed the Aurora shooting under the same category. In a way it was like the ultimate cosplay--taking a character that didn't exist, whose horrific acts of violence and mayhem did not exist, and making it all real. The excitement that I felt at that was counter-balanced with all the "normal" emotions one is supposed to have--fear, anger, sadness--but it did exist, and at first I wasn't sure why.
Then I saw this article.
Survivors of the Dark Knight Rises shooting rampage joined family members and friends of the victims in the courthouse here on Monday morning to watch James Eagan Holmes be charged with 142 counts, including 24 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the July 20 massacre.
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In the Nolan Batman movies, which I have yet to comment in detail on in this blog (I'll get there in about 20 years, guys), the argument is made (not for the first time) that the Joker arises in response to the Batman, as a form of escalation, and that the two iconic characters are inextricably linked on a level deeper than any mere plot. Metaphysically speaking, before this moment, the Joker didn't exist:Victims, friends and family were led into the courtroom before the hearing while members of the media were placed in a holding area. No cameras were allowed in the courtroom for Holmes' second appearance in front of District Chief Judge William Sylvester but witnesses said Holmes appeared more subdued, uttering only one word during his appearance when he answered "yes" to agree to waive his right to a preliminary hearing.Some of those in attendance wore Batman T-shirts, an overt reference to the Christopher Nolan-directed film that was playing when the massacre took place at the Century 16 multiplex in nearby Aurora.Don Lader, 32, was with his wife in theater 9, row 8, about 15 yards from the exit when Holmes allegedly walked into the theater spraying gunfire. He wore a Batman shirt emblazoned with the words "A Fire Will Rise," a sentiment matching comments he made to the media that he would not allow fear to govern his actions in the aftermath of the shooting.
This is standard dramatic practice (with a little metafictional flourish of the sort that tend to arise after 80 years): establish your hero first, and then give him a villain he can fight. But it's not how things work in the real world.
In the real world, the challenges come first, and ordinary people become heroes by meeting them with thought, action, and courage. James Holmes, the shooter and wannabe so dumb he showed up to the wrong movie, hurt a lot of people, and that's a terrible thing. But his actions ennoble the rest of us by contrast. By way of a horrifying example, his actions engage and inspire us to be better and closer and more awake, more cognizant of the results of our choices as artists, as voters, and as human beings.
My heart goes out to the dead, the wounded, and the traumatized; of the former, I hope it doesn't sound too crass when I say that, of all the things they will never be able to do, the least and yet still rankling, I'll bet, is that they never got to see how the story turned out. All because a villain ruined their evening and ended their lives. If I can spoil it for them, though, they should know: the good guys won. In real life, they don't always. But "real life" is getting less real all the time. To me, and I hope to others, that can be a comfort, too.