Entertainment vs. reality

The recent theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., has pierced even my jaded heart, which has hardened considerably in recent years against the daily onslaught of bad news. But even more distressing than the appalling loss of life and grievous bodily harm are the reactions from various quarters exclaiming and excusing and blaming. The NRA, as usual, bristles against any suggestion that it might finally be time to talk about meaningful gun control in this country. Politicians go on the record saying stupid things. Everyone wonders “why?”

It seems to me that this horrific incident affirms what American society values most as evidenced by its spending: Violence. Weapons. Explosives. High body count. That is exactly what millions of Americans paid good money to watch on the screen at midnight yesterday in the new Batman movie, after all, and in all the other prequels before it. We LOVE violence. We are entertained by murder, mayhem, rape, torture, pornography and every other possible form of violent depravity (no, I will not provide links). We pay billions of dollars every year to watch it.

So what was James Holmes thinking when he walked into that theater and started shooting? He was probably thinking “this is soooooo cool.” And if it were happening in a movie, most of the audience would be thinking the same thing. They might even cheer for him. They might admire his weaponry. They might wish they could be him, the one pulling the trigger and making those faceless figures who are hit by the bullets (who could bother to think of them as human beings?) pay the ultimate price for whatever inadequacy or anger or need for revenge they feel themselves. Movies that show this sort of carnage do very, very well in this country and around the world. We love to watch people hurt and scream and bleed and die. The more blood, the better!

But in the real world, when the same thing happens, families lose husbands and wives and sons and daughters who can never be replaced. They mourn. They cry. Their lives are forever shattered. There is nothing cool about it when the blood is real and the wounds are fatal. Imagine if it were your loved one who died on the floor of that theater, still clutching a tub of popcorn. Imagine if it were you staring down the barrel of an automatic weapon trained upon you by a mad man. It’s really not entertaining at all.

So why do we so willingly pay to watch exactly this kind of thing happen on the big screen, the small screen, the computer screen, and everywhere else we can find it? Why are first-person shooter video games so wildly popular? Why was a seven-film torture-porn series called “Saw” ever made in the first place? Why is a movie that shows two women kissing (such as “Desert Hearts”) rated R but one that shows children ruthlessly killing one another (such as “The Hunger Games”) is rated PG-13? Because we love violence.

I don’t have a solution to this. Until we are no longer willing to spend money to watch other people (pretend to) suffer and die, there really is no solution.

But in the meantime, I am scratching all the Batman movies off my to-see list.

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