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Caped crusader and Colorado

Our national dialogue is at the level of fanboy culture



 "This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object."

—The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight

When my editor asked me to offer up some thoughts about the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., as a follow-up to my review of The Dark Knight Rises, I wasn't sure I had anything to say that anyone should properly need to hear. While I frequently injected social and political context into my movie critiques, I recognize that readers expect me to comment on movies — not mass murder. I had to question my editor's concern that some might regard the appearance of an ordinary review as "unthinkingly robotic." Internally, my response was: "What's the big deal? Most comments and reactions to events like these are already unthinkingly robotic."

Massacres like the one in Colorado pop up with such frightening regularity that The Onion offered up a brilliantly satirical response within hours of the killings. Their headline read: "Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting's Aftermath Will Play Out." It wasn't a comedic piece. Satire doesn't have to be funny. Instead, in the paper's trademark ironic style it offered up a despairingly accurate commentary on our country's predictable and inevitably fruitless reactions to the tragedy. The subtext was simple: Our society is so broken that not only are we unable to create policies that respond to the unnecessary tragedies of gun violence, we are incapable of engaging in mature, thoughtful and productive debate.

In other words: There is no story here. The shooting in Colorado is just another pathetic sequel in the tragicomedy that is our gun ownership laws.

So, why do we pretend to care? If actions speak louder than words our nation has already shouted our lack of concern. Nothing in our gun control laws substantially changed after the slaughter at Columbine, or the slayings at Virginia Tech, or the shooting in Tucson that critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others. Every year, more than 12,000 Americans are murdered by firearms (10-15 times the rate of other Western nations). Annually, there are, on average, 20 incidents of mass shootings, as counted by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

At this point, it's pointless to rebut the long list of hollow and disingenuous arguments that gun rights advocates put forward for why control and regulation is unacceptable. No fact or statistic or personal account or heartfelt plea has meaningfully changed their minds or our policies. Let's just be honest here, we have decided that random and frequent mass murder is the price we're willing to pay for our right to acquire minimally regulated firearms.

So, how does the caped crusader fit into all this? I don't think he does. It is highly unlikely that The Dark Knight Rises inspired James Holmes to launch his homicidal assault. The movie's popularity simply provided him with an opportunity to attack a large group of unsuspecting people in a nearby venue with no real security. Had the shooting occurred at the next Twilight film, I doubt we would be discussing Bella's possible influence on the killer's state of mind. The sad irony of this awful tragedy is that Batman, despite his vigilante actions, refuses and condemns the use of guns. It is the weapon he watched murder his parents — outside a movie theater no less.

But then I consider film critic Marshall Fine and his early, negative review of The Dark Knight Rises. The ensuing reader comments on Rotten Tomatoes were so nasty and vitriolic that the site decided to suspend feedback. One commenter fantasized about beating Fine into a coma with "a thick rubber hose." Another wanted to set him on fire. All this horrible invective over a movie many had yet to see. Pop culture blogs have referred to these reactions as "fanboy fascism."

Oddly, I do not blame these hyperbolic comment trolls for their florid displays of emotional immaturity and cultural illiteracy. They are simply following by example. Fanboy pathology is not limited to comic book geeks and Star Wars nerds. It is de rigueur for discourse in America today. Religious fundamentalists use the language of violence and scorn when it comes to issues of abortion and gay civil rights. Xenophobes deny the humanity of Muslims and think nothing of curtailing civil liberties to thwart immigration. Members of Congress have called colleagues who disagree with them traitors. There is an entire "news" channel devoted to uncompromising debate, character assassination and partisan manipulation.

To my ears, the leaders of the National Rifle Association are no different than the frothing fanboys who call for the head of anyone who denies the genius of The Avengers. Both engage in a zero-sum game of rhetorical warfare that is devoid of rational thinking. If you disagree, explain to me how "I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands" elevates our national conversation?

The sad truth is that American society behaves much like the selfish teenage boys for whom superhero movies are created. We hate to be told what to do. We hate to be told we're wrong. And we refuse to clean up our mess. Unfortunately, this mess included a dozen dead bodies on the floor of a suburban multiplex. —Jeff Meyers

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