Political Animal


July 20, 2012 9:25 AM Senseless

By Ed Kilgore

When I became a news-cycle-blogger, I didn’t think about the moments when some act of random violence would leave me wordless—or worse yet, feeling bad for saying anything at all about anything else. So I’ll just quote this reaction from Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress and let it go:

I woke up to the news this morning than 50 people had been shot by a young man at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado, and at least twelve are dead.
Sean Collins is right that, to a certain extent, Batman is a fantasy about turning violence that is random, or in this case, unpredictable, into something that can be predicted and contained by the great efforts of a single man. Anthony Lane is correct that movies and murder have been linked before and will be linked again, though I think he is in more tenuous territory in discussing ugly threats against critics who did not like The Dark Knight Rises, which are themselves symbols of a brokenness I think fan culture has to deeply reckon with, and this act of violence. If you think The Dark Knight Rises is the greatest expression of cinema of all time, your next step is unlikely to be to kill people who, by their decision to show up for the first possible screening of the movie, give some semblance of agreeing with you.
Mostly what I feel is this: Midnight screenings are big, hyped, advertiser-driven events that have become a source of new information to feed the Hollywood data beast, but indicating how motivated audiences are to see a movie. But they’re also a product of genuine enthusiasm and an expression of collective joy. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has meant a lot to an enormous number of filmgoers. And as someone who writes about movies, and who cares about the big, flawed thing we call fandom, I’m saddened by someone turning that shared enthusiasm into a weapon. And even if this tragedy hadn’t happened at the premiere of one of a dwindling number of genuinely mass cultural events, I hate the idea of using an audience’s suspension of disbelief, their openness to and absorption in the spectacle unfolding before them, as cover—the gunman reportedly started shooting during a sequence involving gunfire, meaning the audience was slower to react. We are vulnerable when we go to the movies, open to fear, and love, and disgust, and rapture, surrendering our brains and hearts to someone else’s vision of the world. We don’t expect to surrender our bodies, too.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on July 20, 2012 9:43 AM:

    I am afraid the first impulse will be to use it to hype this or that personal hobby horse. I hope the first impulse is grief and an outpouring of love for the victims. There will be time to turn this tragic event into something symbolic of whatever it is we might want to promote.

  • stormskies on July 20, 2012 9:51 AM:

    Let's all simply pray for the victims and the families of this insane person. It's not time for politics about any of this sadistic insanity.

  • c u n d gulag on July 20, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Mindless violence is all around us. And that's not counting the lunacy of war.
    I'm talking in our media.

    Turn on the TV, and you'll see plenty. TV shows can't show much full frontal nudity on network TV, or use too many 4-letter words - ah, but murder's aplenty! The body counts are appalling, as is the graphic nature of showing those murders.

    And in films, well, pretty much 'anything goes' as far as the amount, and the the graphic nature, of that violence - as much as the rating will allow. And producer's CRAVE an "R" rating. Anything milder, and they'll lose a large chunk of the audience.

    And this country is awash in guns, after the NRA tsunami of advertizing and threats, over the last 3+ decades. We are drowning in guns.

    And yet, I'm sure today that if I watched TV news, on every channel they'll have either some NRA spokesperson, or some NRA-sponsored politician, on saying that the problem in that movie theatre, was that either no one had guns, or there weren't enough people with guns in the audience - or else this tragedy might have been averted, or the damage minimized, if there'd been a swift response by audience members - aka: shoot-out.

    So, after what, a dozen dead, and 50 wounded, at a midnight movie of the most anticipated movie in years, the answer, as it always, is "MORE GUNS!"

    You all know the definition of insanity, so I'll spare you.

    You'll see plenty of evidence of it today. Just turn on the TV news, where the people talking about arming everyone will be given plenty of airtime, and those calling for gun control, will be mocked - if not openly, then subtly.

  • Grumpy on July 20, 2012 9:57 AM:

    Um, is there any indication yet that the shooting was inspired by the movie? Not yet, which makes such pontificating premature.

  • James M on July 20, 2012 9:59 AM:

    This is a disaster on all levels.

    1st, my condolences to the families, friends, and loved ones of the victims. This is not supposed to happen when you go out on a summer night to see the latest blockbuster film.

    2nd, The Dark Knight Rises is by all accounts an excellent film and I hope (although it is probably unavoidable) that it does not become forever linked with this tragedy. And, one thing I certainly don't want to see is any pop psychobabble somehow blaming the movie's creators or actors.

    Finally, what does this all mean? Since there can never be any justification for random killings, I fear we may search in vain for any deeper meanings. I will take Ron's advice and stay away from my favorite talking points on this issue. I am a fan of Michael Moorcock, a fantasy author whose major paradigm is 'Order and Chaos'. Sometimes really horrible things happen to good and totally undeserving people just by the chance of their being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Sigh....this certainly isn't how I wanted to start my weekend.

  • c u n d gulag on July 20, 2012 10:07 AM:

    After already having commented, let me also offer my thoughts to the families of those killed or wounded - and my condolences, too.

  • Nanuq on July 20, 2012 10:33 AM:

    My first thought on hearing this on the radio at 5 a.m. (via the BBC World Service) was that movie goers probably thought at first that it was a publicity stunt for the movie with blanks ebing fired – that's what I would've thought until the first few bodies hit the floor.

  • c u n d gulag on July 20, 2012 10:45 AM:

    Also three - How long before some chowderheads think it's funny to bring in some fireworks or M-80's to showings?

    If I'm the movie thzatre's, I'm telling people - you can bring in two things: Your keys, and a wallet.
    NO purses or bags.

    And you will be asked to show us your empty pockets before entering the screening.
    If anything else is found, your ticket will be confiscated, your money kept, and, depending on what if found - the police may be called in.

    Because, yes, Virginia, we have morons like THAT in this country!!!

  • zogderg on July 21, 2012 11:39 PM:

    @c u n d gulag
    How would removing guns stop a maniac like this. This person obviously had resolved himself to committing a heinous crime and killing as many people as possible. Our ever so diligent and efficient government has completely stopped illegal drug trafficking right? I mean it's so hard to score some pot these days right? They have also completely stopped human trafficking in this country right? Wrong. They haven't even come close, so tell me how they would stop illegal firearms coming into the country and being as easily available as pot, or coke or whatever. Just because something is illegal doesn't mean people won't get it. They will. Guns, drugs, sex, you name it, it's available. Easy too, especially in the cities. The only people outlawing guns will truly affect are the legal law abiding citizens. People that want guns will get them. This person would have done what they did with whatever they could. Be it homemade bombs, poison, whatever they could. It may have taken them longer to plan and execute but it would have happened. You can't prevent something like this from happening, you can be more diligent, but once someone is committed like this dude was, there was no stopping him. If I honestly thought more gun control would actually help I would be all for it, but the fact is, it won't.

  • Anonymous on July 22, 2012 1:30 AM:


    "...Just because something is illegal doesn't mean people
    legal law abiding citizens. People that want guns will get them....If I honestly thought more gun control would actually help I would be all for it, but the fact is, it won't.

    This is the main argument used against gun control but I think it is wrong for 2 reasons:

    1. Logic

    The fact that something may be relatively easy to get is not a justification for making it even easier to get!

    2. Empirical evidence

    Obviously trying to stop something that you can't is futile. But is that really the case for guns? Look at the data below comparing 1-year gun fatalities by 100,000 population for the U.S. and 2 other countries with much stricter gun regulations:


    United States 10.27 (Years 2004-2006)
    England/ Wales 0.46 (2002)
    Japan 0.07 (1994)

    Compared to Japan, gun-related deaths are in the U.S. are exponentially higher. Are guns available in Japan? Sure. Japan has a functioning (if weakened) Mafia, and people who are willing to get involved with the right people and pay large sums of money can get guns. However, they don't! Guns are very difficult to get, the penalties for owning or using them are severe, and people don't use them.

    Perhaps due to its cultural history, most crimes and acts of random violence in Japan involve bladed weapons. If a similar event had occurred in Japan, the criminal would probably have used a survival knife, and would likely have killed 3 or 4 people and perhaps wounded 4 or 5 others.

    In addition, the perpetrator would have had to make connections with some very unsavory people and would have needed a considerable sum of money to assemble his arsenal. Overall, the planning and preparation of the attack would have taken much longer and there would have been a bigger chance of him showing up somewhere on the law enforcement radar.

    The U.S. may not choose to enact meaningful gun control, but the evidence suggests we could if we wanted to.