As you all already know by now, Colorado has been visited by mass murder.
A gunman slipped into a midnight premiere of the new Batman movie through an emergency exit early Friday, tossed two hissing gas canisters and then methodically, calmly walked up the aisle firing, killing 12 people and wounding 58.
It was among the worst mass shootings in American history.
Terrorized moviegoers, some dragging bloodied bodies, spilled out of the Century Aurora 16 complex at Aurora Town Center trying to escape shortly after 12:30 a.m.
Coloradans woke up Friday to news of the tragedy, an eerie echo of a similar massacre 13 years ago in a different Denver suburb, at Columbine High School. Once again, a mass shooting in Colorado was recounted around the world.
“Our hearts are broken,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said.
“It is beyond the power of words to fully express our sorrow this morning. Coloradans have a remarkable ability to support one another in times of crisis. This is one of those times.”
In response Christopher Nolan, the director of “The Dark Knight Rises” has issued this statement.
“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community.
I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.
The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.
Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”
Humans have loved artful storytelling since before there was such a thing as the written word. Oral tales and cave paintings–some of which still survive to the present day–are a testament to our age-old fascination with a rousing yarn. The enduring power of a well-crafted tale will exist for as long as there are people.
What sort of stories do we tell? The vast majority of our written and pictorial entertainments revolve around a struggle between good and evil. Good has been given many faces. Evil can be depicted as low banality or the heights of fantasy and every possible permutation in between.
What we must remember about our stories is that, when done well, the heroes and villains serve as metaphors for real world people and ideas. The Daleks of the Doctor Who television series are a science fiction stand-in for German National Socialism’s murderous racism. Wall Street‘s Gordon Gekko is the human face of greed. Conversely, Neo from The Matrix trilogy is a classic Jesus figure. James Kirk, the lead character in the original Star Trek series, is a symbol of post-WWII American optimism.
This is one of the reasons why the shootings at the Century 16 Theater are so horrifying. Films are meant to deliver potent symbols and show us compelling characters to root for and against. Reality is not supposed to intrude on our islands of comfortable diversion. We would never go to a theater and knowingly put ourselves in a life-or-death situation. Evil shouldn’t come off the screen and attack us in our seats.
Another reason why we are all shocked by this tragedy is that 2012 America is, statistically speaking, a relatively safe place. The homicide rate for the modern United States is just about the same as it was during the early 1960’s, a fairly quiet time in our nation’s history. For most Americans, violence doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives or cast a bleak shadow over our memories. The closest many people in the States get to murderous criminality are the fictions we create for ourselves. Things like James Patterson novels. And police procedural television shows. And motion pictures.
Given all that, one might be tempted to assume that Americans would react to terrorism with nothing but selfish panic. A people largely untouched by criminal blood lust, more used to looking at stylized violence on the silver screen than real sadism in their streets, would be expected to simply flee in an every-man-for-himself melee. Instead, the Aurora shootings have produced stories like this:
Three survivors of the Colorado movie-theater massacre escaped with minor wounds, but were left with broken hearts because their heroic boyfriends died saving them.
In final acts of valor, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves used their bodies to shield their girlfriends as accused madman James Holmes turned the Aurora cineplex into a shooting gallery.
Blunk’s girlfriend, Jansen Young; McQuinn’s girlfriend, Samantha Yowler; and Teves’ gal pal Amanda Lindgren made it out of the bloodbath — but they would have been killed had it not been for the loves of their lives.
“He’s a hero, and he’ll never be forgotten,” a tearful Jansen Young told the Daily News of Blunk. “Jon took a bullet for me.”
…Equally heroic was the 24-year-old Teves, who hurled his girlfriend to the floor as bullets whizzed through the theater.
“He pushed her to the floor to save her and he ended up getting a bullet,” said his aunt, Barbara Slivinske, 57. “He was gonna hit the floor himself, but he never made it.”
…Samantha Yowler had a similar story of horror and heroism about her boyfriend, Matt McQuinn, whose last living act was to shield her from death. Yowler, 26, survived with a gunshot wound to the knee and is in fair condition after undergoing surgery.
McQuinn’s family credited his quick actions for saving Samantha’s life. Witnesses said he dove on top of his girlfriend as the shooting started and that Samantha’s brother, Nick, who was also in the theater, helped get her out of harm’s way. Nick Yowler was unharmed in the shooting.
“Both the Yowler and McQuinn families thank everyone for their concerns, thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” the McQuinns’ lawyer, Robert Scott, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Matt perished from the injuries he sustained during the tragic events that unfolded . . . and went home to be with his maker.”
How are we to explain this sort of self-sacrifice? Our knowledge of human instinct suggests that the will to live is stronger than any other impulse. Yet these three men used their bodies as shields to protect others from harm. They had to know that their actions could result in their deaths, yet they did it anyway.
What this terrible shooting should teach us is that real-life heroes are extraordinary in every sense of the word. The good guys that populate our fictional tales may be blessed with incredible powers, superhuman will or extraordinary resources. Even with all that, they pale in comparison to people like Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Terves. The heroes we construct are nothing when put up against real people who do the right thing under the worst possible circumstances.
At the same time, the Aurora shooter shows us how withered and barren evil really is. In popular culture, the forces of destruction are sometimes given a glossy coat of panache, intelligence or wit for the sake of good story-telling. With that in mind, contrast the most memorable movie villain with the face of the theater killer. There is nothing original or compelling about the shooter.
In fact, he’s a little more than a poorly conceived mimic. He aped the look and actions of The Dark Knight‘s Joker character. Why? One suspects it’s because he has so little to say. His inability to create anything on his own, coupled with whatever grandiose self-delusions he labored under, meant he had to take on the persona of a well-known movie antagonist. He styled himself like a powerful super villain, but in truth he was a small pathetic figure who could only use murder to make any sort of statement.
Real world evil is destructive simply for the sake of destroying things. Unlike the movies, where malevolent characters are often given nuanced motivations and complicated events to explain their actions, the villainy typified by the Aurora shooter is stupid, cruel and ultimately nihilistic. In the days and weeks ahead, we may find out that the theater killer had some twisted philosophy or inane manifesto that he used to justify his actions. More than likely, the man who terrorized the Century 16 last Friday morning will more closely resemble the 2011 Tucson shooter than any Hollywood villain.
In the end the Aurora murderer is going to be tried, convicted and sentenced. The eggheads will psychoanalyze him for a while until they move on to the next sociopath. If there is any justice in the world, the shooter will get a needle and be wiped from existence.
It is the heroes and victims of the Aurora shooting, both the living and the dead, who need our thoughts and prayers. Pray for the friends and family of those that were lost. They are feeling unimaginable grief and will be for far too long.
How Can You Help?: If you are in the Aurora, Colorado area and you would like to give something to a community that has suffered so much, the Bonfils Blood Center is in desperate need of donations. Here is their website.
More–John Caelan writes:
Mostly, we are terrified of terror without cause. It feeds no agenda, it supports no doctrine, its takes no side. The pitiful attempt to assign it purpose reveals our darkest fears-that sometimes evil has no design. Sometimes, it has no rhyme or reason.
The redemption we seek in this may also be entrenched in the metaphors of Nolan’s second Batman movie, wherein the hostages aboard two ferries in the harbor, both capable of destroying the other with a flick of a switch in a sadistic scenario orchestrated by the Joker, choose not to. They do not empower the mad man by reacting with fear. They just take a deep breath and remember that, where they cannot control the world, they can control their minds and hearts. This is what ultimately leads to victory over madness.
Sometimes, it is sufficient enough to mourn the works of the diabolical. When we institute extraordinary changes in reaction to these events, we truly serve the intent of the perpetrators, or at least those who would capitalize upon the moment. When we simply strive to be better, kinder, and more embracing of each other, evil is baffled.
Great stuff. Read the whole thing.