2012-07-20 18:55:00

Colorado Shootings: The Dangerous Pursuit of the Meaningless

In what has become an annual rite, I do my best to ignore the summer deluge of “superhero movies” and all the attendant hype. As someone who has dedicated his life to the love and study of cinema, I find it offensive to inflate comic book character to pseudo-mythical proportions with “brand identities” that have no other purpose than to separate bored and gullible moviegoers from their money.

Yet a strange, feeling of foreboding came over me some days ago when I noticed a billboard for "The Dark Knight Rises." The advertisement loomed black and grim, with a suggestion of the Batman figure. I remembered the summer of 1966 when I first arrived in America as a foreign student from Iran while the original “Batman” series was all the rage. I reveled in the craze as I anointed myself with samplings of Coke and hamburger on what would turn into my long journey to becoming an American.

Seeing a stupid teenage craze of the sixties pose so self-importantly on a billboard nearly half a century later was eerie to me.

A few days later I had to clench my teeth as I heard on NPR a fawning interview with the movie’s director, Christopher Nolan. Guy Raz of “All Things Considered” put to shame any paid propagandist while he hyped the glorified comic strip as “the most anticipated movie of the summer,” and went on to heap praise on the director and just how “dark” and “disturbing” his vision was.

I earnestly wondered why Raz was doing so?

On Friday morning of the film’s opening, as 12 people are left dead and scores wounded during the premier of the movie at a multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo., I have the answer to my question at an unspeakable price.

Raz was jumping on the bandwagon as any other fan would, trying to make it clear that he “got it,” that he “belonged.”

This urge comes from a desire to find with others a common denominator in an increasingly fragmented America. Americans no longer read the same books, magazines and newspapers, watch the same TV shows or even shop for the same food brands. As they leave high school behind to learn a profession and earn a living, they find themselves steeped in proliferating, ever-narrower areas of specialization. Moreover, the real world and cyberspace offer the possibility of experiences which are progressively specific to the person.

Yet the human urge to connect with others, share experiences and have common points of understanding persist. Such experiences, as they must satisfy all, cannot be either meaningful or challenging. They range from “viral videos” on tiny mobile devises to "The Dark Knight Rises" on the big screen with its haunted house pretentions of concern for social disintegration and nuclear annihilation.

Some of the attendants at the tragic screening were in costume. Witness after witness have been telling reporters that when the heavily armed, masked gunman fired a gas canister and began to shoot at random, many believed that it was a part of the entertainment, an “extra added attraction” in the best tradition of American hucksterism.

The need for the unifying fantasy is now so great that it overshadows a fragmented, increasingly alienating and dangerous reality.

James Holmes, the alleged gunman, is in his mid-twenties. Whatever his personal motivations, he has now written himself into history, and will endure as yet another cyberspace icon long after the bodies are buried, the tears are shed and an essentially rudderless America has gone back to business as usual without quite comprehending just what happened.

For the gunman, riding the coattail of global movie hype by taking of human life in the glare of the big screen during a few terrifying minutes was his way of focusing attention on himself and sharing a single “real” experience amid the indulgence in an empty fantasy.

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