How Not to Respond to a Shooting

I really didn’t want to talk about this. Not at all. If I’m being perfectly honest, I woke up Friday to hear the news of the shooting and I didn’t feel much of anything.

It was a terrible tragedy, yes, but our world is so full of violence, suffering, and injustice that if you think our biggest problem is that every few years a psychopath goes on a shooting spree and murders some “average Americans,” then frankly you lack perspective.

I wanted to stay out of the gun control conversations, the inevitable politicization of the events, and ignore any moralizing idiots who blame Batman or Chris Nolan or the ghost of Heath Ledger or whoever the hell they’d like to blame for poisoning our culture and damaging the psyches of  impressionable murderers.

That it happened in a movie theater did not strike this deep, horrible chord within me. Yes, I go to movies. Yes, I saw The Dark Knight Rises at midnight. Yes, it would have been the worst thing imaginable if someone had walked into the theater and opened fire on myself, my girlfriend, the close friends we were there with, and the other several hundred wonderful nerds in attendance. But it would have been exactly as fucking awful had it happened anywhere else, and while I firmly believe that the movie-going experience is an incredible thing and a crucial part of my life, I do not for a second consider what happened in Aurora an attack on that experience.

It was a random act of violence by some fucker. Whether it was a movie theater or a school or a mall doesn’t really matter to me, personally. There’s nowhere that isn’t horrible for a bunch of innocent people to be shot, and whatever reasons said fucker had for choosing the location of his rampage is pretty much irrelevant because, once again, he’s a deranged fucker.

The movies are just as magical as they’ve always been.

That’s why I didn’t think I was going to write about the shooting at all, and especially not here. This is a place for talking about the fictional, about media, about story. I didn’t consider the shooting especially pertinent to this blog.

And then, well…just watch this trailer:

Looks like a damned good movie, right? Now let’s say you’re Warner Bros., and your biggest entertainment release of the year was just marred by an in-theater massacre. And in a few months you were going to release the above movie. Can you guess what part of that trailer might make you feel uncomfortable?

If you guessed “the part where a theater full of people is mowed down by gangsters with automatic weapons,” then well done.

So what do you do? Pull the trailer from theaters? Sure, edit a different one. That’s only respectful. Maybe delay the release of the movie a bit, until the shooting isn’t so fresh in people’s minds? It might cost some money, but maybe it’s the best move, all things considered.

But they didn’t stopped there. If you haven’t already heard, Warner Bros. will cut that sequence from the film entirely, and do some reshoots to compensate.

And that’s where I draw a mile-wide line in the sand, as should all thinking people. Has altering a work of art so as not to offend the public ever been an enlightened decision? I consider it a cowardly, idiotic, wrongheaded move by the studio for just about every reason imaginable. Would they lose money by keeping the movie as it is? Going by the “controversy=revenue” rule, no. Would they seriously offend anybody? If so, fuck those people. This film was made long before the shooting. The two are entirely unrelated. Anyone who wouldn’t realize that isn’t worth considering. This is a ridiculous insult to everyone who made Gangster Squad and everyone mature enough not to lose their shit from viewing content vaguely reminiscent of a terrible thing that happened.

But that’s not even the worst of it. I’ve also heard talk of some theaters not allowing costumes, since the shooter was apparently dressed like the Joker or something (I’m really quite determined to learn as little about this fucker as I can) and I really think this all ties together sickeningly. There is something so distinctly American about a man walking into a movie theater in a costume and mowing down innocent people, and the response being “That’s fucking awful. Let’s ban costumes and censor movies.” While of course, those are usually the same people who will say the Founders would have wanted everyone in this country to have access to automatic weaponry, but I digress.

Yet it gets even more frustrating. Around 110 people just died in terrorist attacks in Iraq. That just happened. Over nine times as many fatalities as the Aurora shooting. Is anyone going to act, for a fucking second, a fraction as upset by this news? Is any movie studio going to edit a film out of sensitivity to that, I wonder? Of course not. And of course they shouldn’t. But what I’m trying to say here is that really bad shit happens all the time, much worse than this shooting, and to act so much more affected by this one act of violence than the rest doesn’t come off as respectful to the tragedy, but instead feels like reinforcing the notion that if it happens to Americans (well, not all Americans, there are minorities and the poor to consider) it’s so much worse and we all have to tread super carefully lest we shock everyone’s delicate sensibilities.

And that’s just so untrue. People can handle shit. Really. The world is fucked up. That’s never a reason to censor anything. When Heath Ledger died, there was talk of removing the scene with the Joker in the body bag from The Dark Knight. They made the right decision then, it’s not too late to make it now.

And Warner Bros. has done so much right. They’ve donated money to the victims and their families, they neglected to boast at all about their box office take, but in one spectacularly misguided move they’ve gone from respectful to dangerously overprotective, and they’re not helping anyone.

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