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July 21, 2012

James Holmes: Let the Mythologizing Begin

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Nolan’s Batman trilogy has proceeded on the assumption that what happens on the screen in some way reflects what’s happening in the world, that fantasy and reality are mutually permeable—this is what makes his movies function as political allegories, if at times muddled ones. Why shouldn’t we assume the reverse is true as well—that the grim, violent fantasies we gather to consume as a culture have some power to bleed over from the screen into real life?

– from: Why There? We can’t blame The Dark Knight Rises for the Aurora shooting. But we also can’t ignore the parallels between Christopher Nolan’s grim world and our own. Dana Stevens (Slate)

While arguing that drawing a causal relationship between the representation of violence and actual violence is reductive and lazy, Dana Stevens does put on the table the fact that the Aurora massacre and the new Batman film are inextricably tied. Because Holmes didn’t open fire during a showing of “Happy Feet Two,” Stevens argues, she believes that one has to “at least talk about why [Holmes] might choose The Dark Knight Rises as a backdrop (and possibly a template)” to understand the meaning and motives.”

I don’t take issue with this exercise conceptually, but I find I do in practicality.

Sure, Holmes’ reference to himself as the Joker, and the painting of his hair red, lends more credence to a fantasy identification. Adding more fuel to the hell fire, the rich trove of Batman history has already unearthed this chilling association to a scene in a Batman Dark Knight comic about a character opening fire in a movie theater. What with the bulletproof vest and riot mask and helmet and leggings, and groin and throat protector, on top of the trove of weaponry in Holmes’ possession, you can almost imagine him straight out of Gotham, can’t you?

Still, in the coming days, Holmes — the neuroscience grad student — is going to be turned into the monster, the evil character, the mad scientist-bomber, the diabolical force and X-factor without any assistance from what’s playing at the cineplex. In these photos, and sifting through the more physical and tangible elements of this crime (as much or as little as it was inspired by Batman), hopefully we can take it easy on the myth-making, whether its referential to the DC Comics, or the Kozinsky/McVeigh brand.

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In the mundanity of Holmes’ “uniform” in the theater parking lot, however, scattered on the pavement in the stark light of day, these sad, meager and scattered scraps of visual evidence speak just as much to the miles-wide gap between Hollywood and the theater inside Holmes’ mind.

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The thing is, we live in a culture that glorifies violence, that makes it easy to acquire the implements to perpetrate it, and does very little to identify and treat those who, in their anguished estrangement and then steep decent into mental oblivion, might resort to it. Apart from how much Mr. Holmes was shaped by popular culture and how much popular and media culture is setting about to shape Mr. Holmes, why not do some sifting through that?

(View here for full BagNews coverage of the Dark Knight massacre.)

Photos via The Denver Post Media Center theater shooting slideshow.

(photo 1: Global Grind via TMZ. photo 2 & 3: Karl Gehring/The Denver Post caption 2: A combat style helmet was one of many pieces of evidence in the parking lot behind the Century 16 movie theatre where a gunmen shot and killed 12 persons Friday morning, July 20, 2012. Witnesses claimed the shooter was wearing a helmet, a gas mask and a bullet proof vest.photo 4: AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post caption: Agents from the FBI and ATF investigate the scene behind the Century 16 theater in Aurora where 12 people were killed and dozens of others were injured during a premier of The Dark Knight Rises on Friday, July 20, 2012 in Aurora.)

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  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com/ Stan B.

    Strange, how the media immediately associates this (latest) firearm atrocity with pop culture but is basically silent on the the continued power and rising influence of the gun lobby in our legislature, politics and everyday lives. And when we talk about the increasing presence and influence of the NRA, its legion of gun lobbyists and the ever present military industrial complex- if we dare talk about them (haven’t had that conversation since last century), let’s also not forget that the majority of that rifle totin’, gun loving, bullet friendly cadre of armed aficionados are also Bible totin’, Jesus loving, god fearing Christians.

    So yeah, let’s blame it on comic books, let’s blame it on neuroscience graduates, let’s blame it on anything but the (Christian) law makers of this country that have never seen a gun they don’t like, and have fought tooth and nail, every and any reasonable law that would help bring some modicum of sanity to gun ownership in this country.

    • The Great Incognito

      If you do some research, you will find that since gun control laws have been loosened, there has been a very sharp decline in violent crimes.

    • Adrian

      Lots of good gun info here:

      ohhshoot.blogspot.com

  • Cactus

    Dave Cullen, who wrote the book “Columbine.” says that all the reporting and the myths immediately after the incident were all false but were embedded in the minds of the public (and the media).  With that in mind, everything we are hearing about this is probably going to be proven wrong, but will we hear/see it?
     
    Also, isn’t it interesting that the premier of an over hyped movie is judged to be the cause of mayhem, but the repeated haranguing of “Dr. Tiller baby killer” for weeks on end has no relationship to the murder of said doctor.  Remarkable.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4UYQJJ43UBTAQYYPBHWTAHYMCY Ed

    Agree that pop culture, altho shallow, has little to do with this violence. This guy is obviously insane and should have been medicated or in an insane asylum…see below.
    Also the gun control argument has merit, especially these assault weapons he was using.

    In the old days psychotic individuals used to be incarcerated in state hospitals for the insane and then with the advent of major tranquilizers like Thorazine they were allowed out in society IF they took their medicine. In more recent years bleeding hearts have felt it too cruel to require these people to take the nasty medicines and, along with civil liberty types/lawyers, enabled them to 1. not have to take meds, 2.  mingle in society freely,  3. Made it much more difficult to involuntarily commit them after they had done something outrageous. Now we are seeing the consequences. And this is far from an isolated instance, altho it does involve more casualties than usual.

    • Slobo

      Under what pretext would you have had Holmes’ hospitalized?  Until Friday morning there were no indications that he was in any way psychotic.  Unless you believe the State should forcibly imprison and drug into submission all shy, nerdy introverts as a precautionary measure. 

  • JimGoad

    Kozinksy?

  • Matt

    the tmz stamp on the top photo adds more hollywood.

    the life imitating art imitating life imitating art cycle continues.

  • Matt

    the tmz stamp on the top photo adds more hollywood.

    the life imitates art imitates life imitates art cycle continues.

  • Nanofish

    It is absolutely certain that the media will not be able to tell us why people become mass murderers, but they will certainly attempt to shove their theories down our collective throats. Whether it’s that “culture of violence”, death metal music, video games, marijuana use, social isolation, bad parenting, alcohol, physical abuse in youth or any other media trope, I’d be very wary of believing any unsubstatiated generalization. It is a question that still has not been well answered by science.

    Instead of trying to legislate this kind of behavior away, which always seems to be the default position, wouldn’t it be better to focus on how to identify potential threats before they explode into violence?   Much more research needs to be done here, but most of modern psychology appears inadequate to the task.

    It should give us all a deeply unsettled feeling that violent events such as these are routinely met with a collective shoulder shrug of puzzlement.  Is it even possible to profile a tendency to mass violence? That should be the main question we are all asking.

  • robert e

    I disagree with you somewhat on this, Michael.

    One of the more disturbing parts of this incident is that Holmes donned paramilitary police gear, armed himself in similar fashion, and chose as his backdrop a movie about a loner vigilante “super cop” who wears stylized body armor.
    NYC’s police chief was quick to promote the idea that Holmes identified with a villain rather than the movie’s anti-hero enforcer. This statement was not corroborated by anyone at the scene or directly involved in the investigation, as far as I can glean, but news media ran with it anyway. Whether it’s true or not, the real-life Gotham City’s police chief apparently felt that it was important to say, and so did the media. Perhaps they were as disturbed by the implications of Holmes’ dress and actions as I was.The problem is not merely that we do “very little to identify and treat those who…might resort to [violence]“, or that we glorify it. It’s that we regard lethal violence, at a practical level, as a cure for many ills–a reasonable response and deterrent. If not always the first, best option, then at least a ready and logical one. “Go ahead, make my day.” “We declare War on ______.” It’s a solution, not a problem. The NRA is merely articulating this cultural belief in its baldest form, while our government implements it abroad and increasingly at home.Among such ideologies and policies, is it any leap for the estranged and imbalanced, too, to turn to violence as solution? How effectively can a culture so steeped in violence “identify and treat” the potentially violent? It seems to me that trying to treat the cultural disease is at least as urgent, and at least as practicable, as trying to treat the individual symptoms.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_L23MMI7TC4NYYM3BEKY2K34OOY Vanna L

      Exactly, and that’s one of the most insidious poisons of popular culture, and one we swallow every day: that, in the end, it’s the more violent person who wins.

  • Obsidian

    James Holmes is explained as all past and future “James Holmes” can be explained: through the searing, crystal clear understanding of modern western industrial society and consumerist
    culture, published in 1967, entitled “The Society of the Spectacle” by Guy Debord.
     
    The spectacle corresponds to the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life. It is not just that the relationship to commodities is now plain to see — commodities are now all that there is to see; the world we see is the world of the commodity. The growth of the dictatorship of modern economic production is both extensive and intensive in character. In the least industrialized regions its presence is already felt in the form of imperialist domination by those areas that lead the world in productivity. In these advanced sectors themselves, social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities. With the advent of the so-called second industrial revolution, alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses. The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production.Media stars are spectacular representations of living human beings, distilling the essence of the spectacle’s banality into images of possible roles. Stardom is a diversification in the semblance of life — the object of an identification with mere appearance which is intended to compensate for the crumbling of directly experienced diversifications of productive activity. Celebrities figure various styles of life and various views of society which anyone is supposedly free to embrace and pursue in a global manner. Themselves incarnations of the inaccessible results of social labor, they mimic by-products of that labor, and project these above labor so that they appear as its goal. The by-products in question are power and leisure — the power to decide and the leisure to consume which are the alpha and the omega of a process that is never questioned. In the former case, government power assumes the personified form of the pseudo-star; in the second, stars of consumption canvas for votes as pseudo-power over life lived. But, just as none of these celestial activities are truly global, neither do they offer any real choices.The individual who in the service of the spectacle is placed in stardom’s spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual, and as clearly the enemy of the individual in himself as of the individual in others. In entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomy in order himself to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things. Stars of consumption, though outwardly representing different personality types, actually show each of these types enjoying an equal access to the whole realm of consumption and deriving exactly the same satisfaction therefrom. Stars of decision, meanwhile, must possess the full range of accepted human qualities; all official differences between them are thus canceled out by the official similarity which is an inescapable implication of their supposed excellence in every sphere.The admirable people who personify the system are indeed well known for not being what they seem to be; they have achieved greatness by embracing a level of reality lower than that of the most insignificant individual life — and everyone knows it.

    The individual who in the service of the spectacle is placed in stardom’s spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual, and as clearly the enemy of the individual in himself as of the individual in others. In entering the spectacle as a model to be identified with, he renounces all autonomy in order himself to identify with the general law of obedience to the course of things. Stars of consumption, though outwardly representing different personality types, actually show each of these types enjoying an equal access to the whole realm of consumption and deriving exactly the same satisfaction therefrom. Stars of decision, meanwhile, must possess the full range of accepted human qualities; all official differences between them are thus canceled out by the official similarity which is an inescapable implication of their supposed excellence in every sphere.
    The admirable people who personify the system are indeed well known for not being what they seem to be; they have achieved greatness by embracing a level of reality lower than that of the most insignificant individual life — and everyone knows it.

  • Obsidian

    A mind at war with itself from early childhood, between the gulit of repressed sexuality,
    and organized religion’s condemanation of sexual desire. Intellectual fragmentation results in sophisticated split personality disorder from early childhood, which manifests in identity
    containments: as if he were a brilliant actor who should of entered the drama department
    instead of science in order to exorcise and sort out intellectually the vast gulf between the “angelic Christian boy” who is ”loved” for his “goodness” and and the demon who despises philosophically all that this poisonous Christian dogma has done to destory his healthy sexual needs, which manifest in unwanted guilt and self-condemnation. Hence, a template is formed: the brilliant boy who will get to the root of his problem through “neuroscience”….changing the illusions of the past. The crime’s seed is allready planted without him even knowing it…he’s going down the wrong road to get to the right light at the end of the tunnel…he cannot admit to himself the hatred he feels for his parents, the church, society-at-large. The seed waits. Years pass. Circumstances shift, blur, rearrange, and conspire.

    He finds his stage, instead of the theatrical one. He’ll be a star, a somebody after all. He knows the media will eat it up. He is the anti-christ, and he doesnt need a SAG card and an agent to
    play the part, with a perfectly timed entrance.

    He is now the very warped embodiment of our own terminally sick and toxic culture….fake bullets, real bullets, what does it matter? It’s all just part of the show.

  • Obsidian

    To verify the theorizing below: See 1986 Batman comic with the shooter in the theater which involves a sexually repressed man angry at a porno version of his hero, the bisexual group sex crusing page two weeks before the incident, the report of a pastor who stated that he saw him in church during a sermon two weeks before the incident, and that an unsubtaniated rumor is that the techno song in the apartment was by Skrillex and the song was ”The First of the Year”, which has a video about a child summoning up a demon to ward off a pedophile (see: recent Vatican church scandals, recent arrest of a priest for pedophilia protected by Church elders for decades). 

    Also, check the New Testament:Proverbs 7:20 through 27: a tale about a  young man “void of understanding” who yields to the sins of the flesh, resulting in death and destruction under a full moon.

    Line 7:20 precisely is:” this is the appointed date”. 7/20/July 20, 2012

  • Obsidian

    Breaking news: a copycat arrested in Maine: “thousands of rounds of ammo, large cache of
    weapons, clippings of Holmes, speeding 112 mph down highway after seeeing “Batman” film”

    Manchurian candidate theory to get rid of Second Amendment just may go mainstream by tonight.

  • Obsidian

    “Both literally and metaphorically, Holmes inserted himself into the spectacle at that moment, with a lovingly crafted soundtrack to match. By “spectacle” I don’t just mean “The Dark Knight Rises,” although it’s the biggest Hollywood tentpole production of the year. I mean the larger sense of the term, pioneered in the ’60s by situationist philosopher Guy Debord, who argued that our entire culture and indeed all of Western society had become a form of performance (or “representation,” to use his word), in which the distinction between the symbolic realm and the realm of reality had been erased, and all social life was mediated by images and commodities. We live in “The Society of the Spectacle” far more today, in the age of the 24/7 news cycle and ubiquitous handheld electronics, than Debord could possibly have imagined in 1967, when he published his prescient little volume under that title.”
     
     From “Does Batman Have Blood On His Hands?” by Andrew O Hehir, Salon.com columnist

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_L23MMI7TC4NYYM3BEKY2K34OOY Vanna L

    No, there may not be a straight line between “representations of violence” and actual violence, on a case by case basis. But a constant barrage of crime shows, graphic depictions of violence, and most of all, comic violence do have a cumulative effect over time. Laws do restrict most of us from outright violence, but it lingers in our language, our national identity, our attitudes towards criminals.  People who would press soft hands to their hearts and claim that they would never hurt a fly will still resort to violent braggadocio as a means of impressing on people their seriousness of intent–usually to children (“I brought you into this world,” etc.), and assumed always to be facetious. Other peace-loving types post on comments board describing in painstaking detail what they would do to the current villain du jour. We are to assume that this is harmless rhetoric–that the thought does not equal the statement, and that speaking violence never leads to enacting violence (even though verbal abuse is considered a prelude to physical abuse, but never mind).

    “The thing is, we live in a culture that glorifies violence, that makes it
    easy to acquire the implements to perpetrate it, and does very little
    to identify and treat those who, in their anguished estrangement and
    then steep decent into mental oblivion, might resort to it.” Then the author asks that we do some sifting through these questions–as long as we obviate the question of whether our popular culture may influence people to harm others. Yes: our country makes it easy to acquire murderous implements; yes, we do little to identify and treat those, etc., etc. But let’s not talk about popular culture, because we don’t want to give up one single moment of exciting bloodshed. That would mean we’re, like, sissies.

  • CephasAtheos

    The “solution” of tighter or looser gun ownership regulations neatly (and totally and falsely) dichotomises the reality : if this guy didn’t have access to a gun, then he couldn’t have used a gun. End of story.

    Don’t misunderstand me : I was always a passionate and responsible gun owner, but the laws that took away my prized guns also stopped this kind of mass murder mayhem in its tracks, in this country.

    Arguing about lessening or strengthening gun ownership laws is a psychotic and totally unrealistic response to a very simple, very basic problem : the misreading of the American constitution. It allows an armed citizenry only for the protection of the country, not protection of each individual. While Americans mistakenly believe in the right to bear arms without the binding responsibility to use those arms solely for the defence of the country, you’re going to continue to be the international laughing stock of the developed world.

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com/ Stan B.

    I hear ya, Oh Great One! If every American had an assault rifle, an RPG, and a different handgun for every day of the week (along with limitless ammo on demand), we would all be infinitely safer!

    http://fleshisgrass.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/us-and-uk-murder-rate-and-weapon/

  • KVA

    Great Incognito: former Bush staffer and conservative David Frum posted this data in the Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/20/gun-violence.html. His takeaway: “Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.” Even with declining numbers, US firearm deaths are significantly higher than in other countries with stricter gun safety laws. The decline in violent deaths in the US could just as easily be attributed to falling poverty rates before this latest economic downturn.

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