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Monday, 23 July 2012

The Aurora Shootings

A little after midnight on Friday a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. This shooting took place at a midnight premier that was evidently going to guarantee a full, sold out theatre. The shooter bought a ticket for the film, sat through the first ten minutes of it, then left the theatre. He went to his car, dressed in body armour and a gas mask, loaded an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols and returned to the theatre where he proceeded to fire randomly into the crowd.

Twelve people were killed and more than fifty people were injured. The shooter, James Holmes, was arrested shortly after. He showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever for his crime. Police officers sent to search his flat found the place booby-trapped with explosive tripwires. It took them a while to get inside the apartment where they found ingredients for making explosives, along with documentation for his firearms.

Those are the basics. This was a terrible tragedy and was clearly perpetrated by an incredibly unhinged individual. Due to the severity of the incident this event obviously requires reporting. The facts are shocking and the motive unknown and it is news. But I think, personally, that the second and third paragraphs of this blog post does a good enough job of reporting the facts as they are known. The world's media seems to disagree - they are the professionals, after all, so what do I know, right? 

What the papers and rolling news channels seem to like to dwell on here is not the fact that a twenty -four year old neuroscience student was able to legally purchase a combat weapon, a hunting shotgun and two handguns, along with over six thousand rounds of ammunition, military grade body armour and tear gas canisters from both local and web-based weapons stores without anyone thinking there may be something a little iffy going on, but the fact that the movie he chose as a venue for his crime was The Dark Knight Rises.

The Sunday Mirror claimed, in a double-page spread adorned with a half-page mugshot of a grinning Holmes, with the sub-heading "self proclaimed Joker", that he may have got inspiration for this horrible and senseless attack from a Batman comic - The Sunday Mirror wrote, "in the violent comic a shooter with red  hair - like Holmes -  opens fire in a movie theatre showing a Batman-inspired sex film"... I've read this comic book and that sentence has NOTHING to do with what it actually portrays. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Rises contains seven frames, in the second part of its four issue series from twenty-six years ago, in which a mental patient decides that a porn theatre is corrupting the innocent of Gotham, so opens fire during a screening of "My Sweet Satan", a sex flick featuring "sexy Nuns". There's nothing that is "Batman-inspired".

But of course that doesn't matter! Joe Public, reading about this event, would see that and make a connection, apropos of a badly researched piece of journalism at best (and a blatant and dangerous lie at worst), between the crimes and Batman. Since the movie this comic book fan chose as his venue was a Batman movie, this too is seen as a contributing factor. This has led to Mr and Mrs Outraged crying out for the cancelling of all screenings of The Dark Knight Rises, to american cinemas banning the wearing of costumes to the movie (but not others, so presumably when you go to see The Expendables 2 in the cinema you can strap a bazooka to your back, paint your face, prep your AK47 replica and strut about in your camouflage gear to your heart's content!) and to the apportioning of blame - directly or indirectly - to the makers of the movie and its predecessor by those who, most probably, haven't even seen them!

Worse still is that the papers also seem to enjoy picking apart the lives of the murderer, today named as James E. Holmes, instead of simply James Holmes as he was known yesterday. I wonder when that'll get extended once more to James Edward Holmes (or whatever the E stands for) in order to make him sound that little bit more like a mass murderer in true media terms. It turns out that, when the police finally entered Holmes's apartment, the place was "adorned with Batman paraphernalia and explosive trip wires" (as though the two go hand-in-hand, naturally) but was, as far as I can tell from their reporting, perfectly ordinary. The Batman "paraphernalia" was the only new detail in today's reporting of the inside of the flat - the trip wires were known about on Friday - but this one new detail is still enough, apparently, to justify a headline on the LA Times site which reads "Profile of Aurora shooting suspect keeps getting murkier". 

I have two points to make about that single headline. Firstly, I have a table full of empty coffee cups. Should I decide to shoot up a Costa's tomorrow and booby trap my flat with trip wires, would I then get a headline reading "Profile of Costa's Killer gets murkier - suspect's flat adorned with coffee cups and trip wires" as though they too were connected? And secondly, I think it's fair to say he's no longer just a suspect. James Holmes has admitted to the killings and was seen by hundreds committing the crime. At least, I hope the cops are sure it was him or poor James Holmes' life will now be ruined after the coverage he's getting in the press!

The point here is not that the guy liked Batman, but that he was clearly unhinged enough to shoot random people in a crowded movie theatre. If Holmes had been at a midnight screening of Mamma Mia and decided to open fire there would we now be crying out for the banning of Abba?! No. So any calls for a ban on screenings of The Dark Knight Rises are completely stupid. Banning people from wearing costumes is silly enough - what on earth is that going to achieve? If someone wants to shoot people mindlessly they will do so whether they are wearing a costume or not. If fact, Holmes WASN'T dressed "as the evil villain, Bane" as some news sources have claimed, but simply protected from any kind of attack on himself thanks to body armour and protected from his own tear gas attack thanks to a gas mask. It wasn't a costume, it was armour!

So the blame has to lie with a) the man who committed the crime and b) the system that made it very easy for him to obtain four lethal weapons, six thousand rounds of ammo and military style armour and gas canisters. The problem here is gun control. "But," as one Texas politician has disgustingly bleated, "if everyone else in the theatre were carrying a gun too, the chances are Holmes wouldn't have had chance to kill as many as he did! We need more guns, not less!" Utter bollocks. Four guns going off in a crowded theatre resulted in twelve dead and more than twice as many injured. HUNDREDS of guns going off would likely leave very few survivors at all. 

Holmes's character has been picked apart for days now, apparently revealing a twisted and depraved individual. But it doesn't matter what he wrote in his lonely hearts column, or what his answer phone message was, - mine, incidentally, was an impression of Heath Ledger's Joker telling people to leave a message or suffer the consequences, when The Dark Knight came out - or even if he was "a shy loner". The fact is he killed strangers with seemingly no motive and should therefore be investigated and punished. But what is more unsettling is that the final moments of the victims are being retold in movie screenplay fashion by the Dailies. "Twelve people died in Holmes's attack, two of whom died as heroes while protecting their girlfriends" - so the other ten were what? Cowards? Hey! Maybe we can make a movie based on the last two hours of a few of the victims' lives along with those of Holmes? We could show them getting all excited about the movie and having fun with their mates while Holmes is shown brooding and cackling in frames lifted almost directly from the coolest Batman stories! Or not.

Apparently it's news that one victim, a twenty five year old Mother in a serious condition, has been told this morning that her six year old daughter is dead. There are even some lovely photos of the dead child playing in the park, cuddling with her parents and smiling cutely at the camera. I'm glad they've written another double page spread on this one fact in the Daily Mirror today, the world NEEDS to know.

I'm sick of the media and pompous, bloated preachers blaming Batman or video games or whatever for the actions of sick individuals with murder on their mind. I'm sick of these deranged people being let of the hook by the papers and rolling news channels because they enjoy horror movies. And I'm sick of reading that Warner Bros and the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises have be doorstepped to give awkward messages of condolence and gentle, unneeded apologies as though they are partly to blame. 

I'm very sorry that these events happened. My thoughts go out to all those who are affected. Holmes deserves to remain in prison for the remainder of his days. Nothing can excuse or explain his actions, which were clearly those of a very disturbed man. But if I was the spokesman for the Batman movies I'd say "hang on! This has nothing to do with us or our movie. It's very sad, of course. Devastating! But until there's a proven link between the actions of this madman and our movies please lay off us!" Insensitive? Maybe. But do they ban lunchtime or close the nations's cafeterias every time there's a high school shooting? No. 

I could talk and talk and talk but it would only be a rant, as much of this has been. The point is, as usual, the media are irresponsible sensationalists churning out glamorised prose about real life disasters as though they were reviewing the latest Hollywood action flick. What we should get from our media is balanced, informative journalism that reports the facts and little else. This is just the latest in a long line of dangerous media reports that, more than any comic book or video game or rock song, will inspire other, similarly unhinged individuals to commit copycat crimes. They'll chase headlines like "'The Joker' kills 12, injures 50+ in Batman Shooting Spree" or "The Dark Knight Massacre". So, next time something like awful happens, let's nickname the killer "The Small-Cocked Mummy's Boy" or something equally as humiliating. Or we could stop with the sensationalism altogether and simply report the news.

Edit 23/07/12, 22:35 - ITV News just claimed that Holmes showed up for court "with hollow eyes and dyed red hair like the character he aspired to be; Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker..." which is not only disgustingly sensationalist (and basically giving this sick individual exactly what he wants, namely infamy) but completely factually inaccurate. Also, it seems that the deaths of their children isn't enough for the families of the victims. They want one more murder. Holmes will likely get the death penalty. 

This makes those family members and anyone else pushing for this punishment no better than he is. That makes them, in my eyes, at least accessories to the murder of James Holmes. No matter what a person has done, murder is not the right punishment. Should this be the outcome, should Holmes be put to death, no justice will have been done. All that will have happened is thirteen young people will have died in this senseless tragedy, not twelve. The final victim added to the count by a baying mob of people proving themselves to be as bloodthirsty and devoid of human decency as the shooter.

I have a feeling this blog will be updated many more times as the week progresses.