Jean Barker

Batman killings: 'Not part of the plan'

2012-07-24 12:26

Jean Barker

Although most Americans don't talk about the shooting constantly the way South Africans in the same situation might, political opportunism is rife in the US media, with people on all sides shooting their mouths off in the hope of gaining some political leverage.

Gun control activists have had a blast in the guise of compassionate outrage. Some conservatives blamed the The Dark Knight series and other action fantasy films for glamorising violence. The National Rifle Association accidentally spoke out when a Twitter account for NRA magazine American Rifleman @NRA_Rifleman (account since deleted) greeted followers with: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” just hours after the shooting.

The NRA claims, probably truthfully, that the tweeter was unaware of the incident at the time. Otherwise, the group has been the quiet one in the class, as members are currently preoccupied with opposing a UN resolution that prevent the US from continuing to sell arms to dodgy third world regimes.

The political sniping and outpourings of compassion both sincere and diplomatic continue on radio and TV and in the papers. But in person, at a deeper level, nobody's sure what to say.

A 'normal' American

What do you say? Do we say the shooter was insane? Do we say that he was a freak?

The problem is James Holmes, the suspect in custody for the shootings, was by all appearances a "normal" American. He wasn't "overly religious". He was a scholarship neuroscience PHD candidate. He was good with the neighbour's kids. Like serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, he didn't cause any trouble around the house, and though he kept to himself was polite to people.

Sure there were a few things about him that could have been red flags - for instance, his sex website profile where he asks “Will you visit me in prison?” and his lack of close personal ties. But compared to many people logged into, and some of my exes, Holmes probably seemed fairly trustworthy.

What else about his behaviour is normal? Well, the violent tendencies. We do, after all, live in a world in which bombing foreign countries is normal, where encouraging people to see glory in going overseas to die for wars of murky moral value is normal, where torturing suspects is bad... but normal, where religious extremism is normal. Owning a gun (or four) is legal and some would say normal. Going to the movies is normal. Dressing up as evil creatures is normal.

So why shouldn't going to the movies dressed up as an evil villain and shooting people with your guns be normal, too?

Well of course, because it's not. For his victims, going to the movies with the intention of eating popcorn and watching a film, only to be shot dead or terrorised at gun point 10 minutes later is not normal, even if all the elements that make it possible are. And that's what's scary. It's not the number of people. It's not the death. For me and for America, what's really scary is the invasion of a movie theatre; a place that's supposed to be sacred as a place of magic and escape. Holmes may as well have walked into a church or a mosque and shot worshippers as they prayed peacefully.


It's shocking in the same way that the massacre of women and children trapped while hiding in a church in Rwanda was shocking. It tells us that the rules don't matter to some people.

But as killer's role model The Joker points out in The Dark Knight (2008), objecting to killing in one context but not in another makes no real sense: "You know what I've noticed?" He says, "Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan.' Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all 'part of the plan'. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!"

The day Holmes went to court for the first time yesterday and got his picture all over the internet, this story about the killing of 93 innocent Iraqi civilians (all unnamed) by suicide bombers (also unnamed) was published. Shocking, right? Newsworthy, right? Wrong. It never went viral. None of my friends posted it on Facebook. Most Americans didn't even know it happened. Why? Because that killing was part of "the plan". That was normal news. That's precisely what we expect to happen in Iraq.

The fact is, none of this stuff should be normal, not in America, and not anywhere. Violent killers shouldn't have to dress up in a costume and hijack a movie premiere to be called evil or inexplicable. And all killing of other human beings should be considered insane no matter what the reason.

I believe, logically, that a society that's shocked by one death but utterly numb to another is crazier than any psycho killer. And you should believe this too. Now if only I could feel what my brain tells me, in my heart of hearts. It's harder than I ever expected it to be. And instead of feeling what I should, I lie awake at night, wondering about Holmes, and asking over and over again, like everybody else does: How could anyone go and do something like that?

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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