This guest column was in the Northwest Arkansas Times this morning. Thought I’d share
The initial moments after tragedy strikes are filled with confusion, anger, and questions. Last Friday I had been planning to go see The Dark Knight Rises with friends. I got to work in the morning and the first thing I heard about and saw on the television was the news of the shootings in Colorado. A coworker informed me a six year old was among those killed. My first question was, why in the world did someone have their six year old kid at a movie like that? I’m not a huge fan of dark films so I could barely handle the first two Batman movies, much less comprehend a young child watching them without nightmares. I acknowledge that is hardly the issue at hand; that the real issue is that someone chose to open fire. I was so disturbed by the disconcerting reel of stories on the news about the shootings that I sold my ticket. I instead spent the night with those precious to me: my family, my 4-week old niece.
Subsequent news articles can only fill you with sorrow for those affected, with anger at the injustice, with doubt and disbelief. And then the questions begin. What is our role in a monstrosity like this? Who bears responsibility? Does the accountability fall solely on the perpetrator, or did others aid in his demise into derangement? Events like these are, to me, more alarming and discomfiting than a terrorist attack or the horrors of war. Those are evils, yes, but there is a discernible motive in them. A random attack on innocent people by one person who is obviously suffering from mental delusions is unpredictable, unforeseen, frightening. It leads one to feel unsafe and nervous when going through the most mundane chores or activities: grocery shopping, going for a run, going to work. Just today, in fact, there was an altercation at church where a man was heckling the preacher as he began his talk. Unfortunately, the events of the weekend were the first thing that came to mind and something that in the end was harmless became stressful.
James Holmes was a seemingly normal person—someone intelligent (perhaps even brilliant) who was in a Ph.D. program. If he exhibited no irrational behavior before, then went crazy enough to commit such a crime, what influenced him to do so? A friend who had been to the midnight premiere of Batman was telling me that the most disturbing part for him was that as he watched the intensely dark actions of the antagonist, he felt as though it simply gave the “crazy” people in the world more ideas on how to be crazy. Which begs the question (in my mind): does Hollywood hold any responsibility in this? And not just the movies, but the gaming industry, books, graphic novels, etc.
No, Hollywood did not make Holmes, or any of the other shooters in mass murders do what they did. In the end, it was a human who made a choice to wield a gun and inflict harm. But nor is it the same as gun-control or obesity in which the gun is to blame for shooting or the fork for carrying food from the plate to the mouth. It is not an issue of gun control or controlling people’s nutrition for them. Guns and forks are inanimate objects, nothing more, and are useless unless directed by a conscious human being. But that is what films and media do; they plant images and ideas that slip into our stream of consciousness and subconscious unknowingly and they unwittingly can affect our actions.
There are many other issues that must be factored into Holmes’, or any shooter’s choice to act, of course. Nobody can pass any kind of judgment—who knows what was going on in their head and hearts. But we cannot reflect on the choices we make, the things we allow our brains to filter, and not conclude that the things we allow to influence us must be closely examined. If it is from the overflow of our hearts (and minds) that actions flow, shouldn’t our responsibility be to filter the intake?