I don't yet know if it was a killing in any way inspired by the content of the series. It's too early in the news cycle at this point for us to be sure of anything related to the gunning down of 12 people at a midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. As of this writing, it could be religiously motivated terrorism, it could be indiscriminate or a crime of passion. What's difficult to ignore (for those of us millions who know the movies, and the tens of thousands of them who know the comicbooks that contributed to those movies) is that a man took it upon himself to murder an audience for a story that's laced with issues of copycat vigilantism, violence, morality and ethics. Not to mention: Justice.
I can't effectively weigh-in through one post on any of these topics individually (heck: I can barely suss out the distinction between morality and ethics without a self-conscious Google or two) much less the lot of them, entwined. I mean, does justice even exist? Or is it, rather like "honor," one of those old-fashioned ideals that seems a little too black-and-white to a contemporary society? Are our societal ideals rife with concepts that just appeal to our baser natures? Or are they ideals, in earnest, and we just need to keep striving to conceive of them in a truer sense?
There is one thing about which I do have something unique to contribute. Maybe it's wrong-headed, or too soon, but every so often we each and all have a reaction to something going on in our society that we need to work to process. This definitely falls under that category for me.
I was in college by the time Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their spree in Colorado, but freshly so, and the crime held eerie echoes for me. In early high school, with certain friends, I planned crimes all the time. Those plans never involved murder, but were closely related to new feelings of rage that I didn't know how to handle. I played, and loved, the video game Doom. On the birthday before my freshman year of high school, my mom took me out to get me the black trench-coat I so desperately desired, and I wore it regularly - even in terribly inappropriate climates - right into college.
I also possessed an obsessive love of Batman, the character. I described him as my idol. That may seem unconnected, especially when you hear my rationale for this idolization: That he represents someone who not only survived trauma, but turned it into powerful motivation to excel and strive to make things right. That was an earnest rationale. It just leaves out that I also idolized the character because he could and did powerfully destroy other human beings with his bare (all right: gloved) hands. Is Batman's moral (or ideal) that he take no human life justification enough for his methods of achieving "justice"?
One thing I greatly appreciate about the recent trilogy of Batman movies is that the writers and director seem to be aware of the moral ambiguity of one person deciding what is right, and using violence to achieve that determination. They utilize and glorify that for our entertainment, but I appreciate the awareness nonetheless. After the first film, the media was already drawing comparisons between this Batman and American foreign policy in general, George W. Bush in particular - "You tried to kill my daddy, I'ma come out there with all my wealth and might and end your reign. Means and United Nations be damned." And in The Dark Knight, Batman literally eschews international extradition law. The writers then up the ante in the film's climax, showing our hero as a hunter willing to massively violate the rights of citizens in order to catch his prey. It seems to me they know that this is what they are doing, and that they want us to experience ambiguous feelings about it.
I suppose the great dichotomy between the iconic hero and villain of these stories - Batman and the Joker - can be a confusing one. Both are vigilantes, both rely on fear to achieve their ends, and both are flamboyant as all get-out. One is supposedly moral, the other amoral, but I've already pointed out that their ethics are not nearly as easily distinguished from one another. That leaves us with order versus chaos.
Who doesn't love a little chaos? I suppose for me it's been something of an acquired taste, but it's one I've definitely acquired as a performer and an audience member. Chaos can seem more sincere, frankly. Life does not readily present us with reasons - much less reason - and particularly in the contemporary age there seems little justification for a belief in a greater purpose, much less power. Purpose itself seems a hollow construction, under these circumstances. So, there are those of us who embrace a character bold enough to take that notion to the logical absurdity. There are some who just want to watch the world burn.
I'm not implying that the man who committed these murders was in any way inspired by the character of the Joker. Lord knows, we're likely to have more than one piece of unoriginal news coverage in the coming weeks that points out connections between this criminal and Joker's callousness, or Bane's paraphernalia (never mind that the cosplay an opening night inspires is a perfect cover for someone who already has destructive designs). What I am saying is that these characters have come to represent certain perspectives and behaviors of contemporary Americans, the same way the character of Batman has, or any ongoing archetype. The causation of it can not be sussed out with a few Googles, and odds are that culture in general exists as it has for all of human history: a sort of feedback loop between how we are, and how we portray ourselves in media.
So, causation aside, who has the right idea? Are human beings meant more for order, or chaos? Is it all so meaningless that the only true justification for action is how it affects the individual, the self? I acknowledge the possibility. Maybe we're all just too frightened of it to face it.
Maybe. But I'm disgusted, both by the incident early this morning, and the notion in the abstract. What utter selfishness. What a nauseating disregard for or ignorance of anything outside of one's own perception. Little wonder that we are eager to ascribe part of the cause for such actions to youth and/or mental illness - these are the two handiest explanations for such inward-obsessed, disconnected personalities. Regardless of the cause, and even regardless of the question of chaos versus order, even the Jokers of the world must admit that theirs are essentially selfish acts.
I have one argument to make to such people in such a debate, one thing to suggest that they're fools beyond even the kind of fool their worldview suggests they ought to be. If none of it matters, if life is indeed as meaningless and people as insignificant as in your philosophy, why do you have a purpose? Why must you do what you do, be it for personal gratification or illuminating the rest of us to your perspective?
You might just consider the possibility that your commitment to nihilism is best expressed in the same direction as your attention is. On yourself.