Soulproof Vests & Bullet-Ridden Spirits: Reflections on Violence, Tragedy & Spectacle in Aurora, CO
As I was just as shocked as most people to hear of the shooting on July 20, 2012 in Aurora, CO at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, I was less so of what happened afterwards. We are quick to turn tragedy into spectacle because violence is not only normalized in American society but is a source of entertainment. Entertainment for moviegoers and fanatics. Entertainment for film producers and venue operators. Entertainment for journalist and news media. Entertainment for politicians and pundits. Entertainment for us all, because the more commonplace and senseless it becomes, the less we reflect having a human soul.
The first rounds of media coverage are always noble and reflect old style journalism and the reason why the fourth estate exists in the first place. Who, What, Where, and How are questions that are sought and provided in those moments because when we wish to be human, we long to be connected. But once we venture down the road of the Why, we quickly shed our human nature and become automatons creating a show for a staged production.
I watched as sentimental theme music was developed for live coverage and prime time investigation specials; Mayor Bloomberg of NYC led a charge on gun action for both campaigns although his law enforcement can shoot an unarmed man while in his bathroom with no apparent probable cause; and, Facebook posts began popping up with the typed-in words, “my heart goes out to the victims and their families.” I watched as those who were there in the Cinema 9 displayed far too much eagerness to recount their stories to Anderson of CNN, Ann of NBC, etc. I watched as good new shows changed their format or programming to center on the incident yet has devoted nearly no national coverage to the insane amount of innocent gun deaths in Chicago this summer, a place that if I had daughters would be visiting their grandmother (as if parenting increases the ability to sympathize).
But we have been here before: the Safeway shooting and attempted assassination of Gabrielle Gifford in the 2011 Tucson Suburb, Campus shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, Snipers throughout 2002 Washington D.C., the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999 Columbine, the Branch Davidian sect siege by the ATF in 1993 Waco, Philadelphia police and the MOVE organization in 1985 Philadelphia, the shootout between the American Indian Movement and the FBI in 1975, the Murder of Fred Hampton by Chicago police in 1971 Chicago, University of Texas Tower Sniper in 1966 Austin, Bonnie & Clyde shoot out in 1933 Joplin, the Earp’s versus the Clantons and McClaury’s at the O. K. Corral in 1881 Tombstone. We have been here enough times that “villains” have been glorified in one instance while getting their just rewards for other circumstances. Sadly, the shooter and the shot have not been consistent enough for us to know what it means to be the “hero” in order for us to model that behavior. Our love of spectacle fogs our vision to make that distinction clear to our children much less ourselves.
Dave Cullen’s book Columbine provides us with the proper social critique on the Columbine Massacre. His critique does not make us feel empathetic to the shooters nor lessen the tragedy but calls for us to remember it accurately. These were not social outcasts or misfits as we now falsely remember them. But our memory has been instructed to recall our sense of senselessness based on the manufactured rhetoric of “trenchcoat mafia” and bullied teenagers. We resign our senses to the notion that they killed because they were treated so badly by others as opposed to the fact that they killed because they desired to kill. James Holmes, a White neuroscience PhD student, is being carefully painted in this way instead being painted simply as what he was, a killer. His striving for a PhD in any subject matter did not make him any less having the propensity for killing than a Black middle school dropout gang member in Chicago. While the unorthodox nature of the quick identification of his race was also troubling as if it should relieve any fears of a “colored” uprising. As if we can now exclaim a relief that it was not an Arab/Muslim so not a terrorist or another Black/Latino/Asian savage/illegal/psychopath. “It was just another troubled young man.” But his mom, pronounced without hesitation, “you have the right man,” as if to say stop with the nonsense, he knew what he wanted to do, which was to kill.
But his identity does not relieve me. Maybe it is because I grew up on the Southside of Chicago where death by gun is still commonplace. Maybe it is because I knew so much based on the study of American propensity to kill. Or, maybe it is because his identity, lack of a Facebook and twitter account, and sophistically crafted bomb at his apartment speaks to a possible discipline and reserve not only of a killer but one associated with others as I reflect on Carl Rowan’s forgotten book Coming Race War in America that speaks to a growing militia/domestic terrorism that we cannot seem to accept. Do not believe me? Look up the term “Helter Skelter” as associated with Charles Manson and what he really was trying to instigate with his “family” back in the 70s.
We have been here enough times before that we can hear the news, post something on Facebook, and go on with our day. I remember one post from someone in Chicago that exclaimed of sadness especially so close to home in Aurora (Illinois, not Colorado). Our programmed emotional response is so set to operate in a certain way that we cannot even be accurate in our sympathy. Even I still went to see a showing of Dark Knight Rises at a theater only a day after the shooting in Aurora (Colorado, not Illinois) that is where I began this reflection. I noticed how IMAX staff did a smooth security move for the showing by turning the lower doors into emergency exists and the manager coming out with a microphone to introduce the film by impressing us with the uniqueness of the projector in the State, and we thought nothing of it or of the shooting in CO.
Those friends of mine who see themselves as liberals will join politicians and pundits in calling for gun laws to be revisited. While those few friends of mine who see themselves as conservatives will detract those calls from liberals for the protection of gun rights. Being neither, I see these opportunistic calls and detracting reminiscent of a recently forgotten or less important act of killing in Trayvon Martin, as hoods are no longer worn and Skittle purchases have dropped. His killing had less to do with the existence of a law. His death and those at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, CO continues to do with our lack of value of human life. We are now being exposed to a personal profile of each victim from the theater, but I ask why? Do we remember any of the victims from Columbine that happens to be very close to the location of this tragedy? Sadly, I cannot recall a single name from the massacre much less what their favorite foods or intended careers were. How come calls for gun laws have to be raised when there is a tragedy? Perhaps, investigating steroid use in baseball during “peace time” is more important than creating safe places for Congressional hearings. How come defenders of gun rights do not call for less strident sentencing on young gun wielding perpetrators in urban settings? Possibly, cutting funds for nonprofit youth programming and so-called entitlement programs is more important.
Fact: There is no correlation to gun laws and the reduction of gun violence. Fact: Gun ownership leads to more suicides and accidental firings than successful self-defense or safety. Opinion: If the audience was packing heat, James Holmes would have come with more heat (remember he bought 6000 rounds of ammunition and body armor) and we would be talking about a shootout massacre. Opinion: Nobody should be allowed into any venue wearing costumes that conceal your identity and allow one to carry items within pockets, bags, or boxes. Question: In a violent nation, what laws can truly be created to protect citizenry? Question: The more you explore James Holmes’ background (and any other killer) in your search for why, will you reflect on how much alike you are rather than different?
Therein lies the conclusion to this reflection on the violence that occurred in Aurora, CO that has claimed 12 lives and wounded 59 others. Instead of reflecting on the loss of life we must hijack the moments and turn them into something else. We slowly lose our humanity with each tragedy because instead of being prompted to slowly learn, reflect, and be inspired to act, we follow a patent formula that more resembles “add, mix, and stir.” We shed a tear because we are supposed to rather than because we feel so. We expect our emotions to have labeled slots to be deposited in rather than dealing with the complicated aspect of life called death. We require immediate gratification. In the case of this blog post I have chosen to not provide links as doing so supports our desire for consumption of spectacle in quick and all inclusive boxes while preventing us to search for our own understanding that may take more time out of our busy times with posting and such. Our desire for consumption of spectacle has left us with bullet-ridden souls because of a lust to be entertained. Our desire for consumption of spectacle has made us put on soulproof vests to prevent being shot by the human experience of life. Our desire for consumption of spectacle is killing us all softly, and others, horribly.
Rasul Mowatt, aka black
DJ & professor
“In the end, we will remember not the words of enemies but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.