I shouldn't be posting right now. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't, so I might as well be damned for "do". It is too soon to talk about a bloody tragedy that happened only hours ago. It is highly insensitive to the victims and their family members for us media wonks to go on about it.
But you're all going to forget this happened within a week, and sick jokes about it are already starting to circulate on the web, so my hand is forced.
Last month, I posted about people who cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Detailing the problems that occur when these kinds of people encounter the media, and their delusions become mixed up with fictional fantasies. It got me called a "crank", among other things.
Last night, a man named James Holmes entered a movie theater at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. He was dressed as one of the villain characters in the movie. He was equipped as that character in the movie. He then proceeded to open fire on the audience, attacking them in exactly the same style as that character in the movie. He timed his attack to coincide with the identical actions performed by that character in the movie, happening right beside him on the screen. Finished with his rampage and leaving a theater full of dead and wounded people, he then calmly waited in back of the theater for police to show up, bearing no evident anxiety over what he had just done. After being arrested, he informed the police that his apartment was booby-trapped with a sophisticated device exactly like one the character in the movie would have used.
James Holmes cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
Let's see if I can break this down so the simplest of you can understand it:
A crazy person with guns just caused a massacre.
Key points of problem:
- Crazy people.
Solution space #1: What can we do about guns?
Well, there's debate about that all the time. Michael Moore said quite a bit about it in Bowling For Columbine. Gun control debate isn't my focus here. Naturally, hordes of gun nuts all crammed online within minutes of the story breaking to sing hymns to their beautiful, beautiful guns, and rationalized it as "if everyone was packing (including, one assumes, the three-month-old baby) then this situation would have been better... somehow". I am flabbergasted at how people can think that in a dark, crowded theater, where many people were so disoriented that they thought the rampage was part of the entertainment until the actual bullets started hitting them, more bullets whizzing around would be exactly what we need, but oh well. Second Amendment debates lie outside the realm of a geek / tech blog. To those of you out there with no such disclaimer... good luck!
Solution space #2: What can we do about crazy people?
Ah, now we're closer to my turf, since I blog about the Internet (it is a matter pertaining to both geeks and technology), and if you've all not noticed, a heck of a lot of crazy people seem to be on the Internet. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the whole Dark Knight fad was born in the lap of the Internet.
Previously, I indicated that the Internet, while not to blame for crazy people having delusions any more than any other form of media (video games, TV shows, literature, movies), does differ in one, small detail, in that it is more interactive than other forms of media. You give to the Internet and it gives right back. It gives to you, and you give right back. It is a more immersing experience. So it fosters and nurtures delusions.
Now, we all want to go on using the Internet. So we have a responsibility on the Internet. That responsibility is:
- To keep an eye out for deluded people.
- To be intolerant of hate speech by deluded people.
- To call out and identify when deluded people are posting hateful, violent thoughts on the Internet.
- To make it as clear as possible that there is a line between reality and fantasy and announce unambiguously when we cross it and when we return.
- To listen to, and identify, the delusions that run around within the media space and analyze the harm potential they have.
- To intervene to our fullest ability to council deluded people, explaining the difference between their delusions and reality.
- If they are resistant to this council, then to intervene with mental health treatment to prevent them from becoming a danger to themselves and society.
- ...And get health care laws fixed so that it's easier to do that.
Now, what is the responsibility (and I'm including myself here, remember) of those of us who produce media for public consumption? To not encourage people to confuse reality with fantasy. And that goes 180-degrees opposite of what big film studios do with their viral marketing campaigns for summer blockbusters. When we allow corporations to astroturf, when we allow "altered reality" events to market fiction, we make it that much harder for people who are already prone to delusion to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
Here's another good reason for me to post right now: The motives and inner thoughts of James Holmes have so far not become public. However, when the story comes out, I am certain that his thoughts will turn out to be woven, warp and woof, from a tapestry of popular Internet memes, Internet-bred conspiracy theories, Internet-published cornflake urban legends, Internet-popular pop psychology / philosophy / politics. You will hear his utterances and read his posts, when his web accounts are uncovered, and you will nod your head with recognition, because more likely than not they will be echoing the headlines of the very stories you've been reading lately all over social media.
I'd be very surprised if he also wasn't one of those guys painting his face like the Joker during an Occupy Wall Street rally. Or one of those guys wearing a V for Vendetta mask during an Anonymous rally. Or one of those guys dressing as a Wookie during a Ron Paul rally. Maybe three-for-three.
Are there some more Dark Knight fans who are deluded? Well, according to this story, negative reviews of the franchise have drawn death threats over the Internet. Does this tell us anything? Even BoingBoing, as guilty of the irresponsible media frenzy around comic-book movies as anybody else, just posted this week about these retards, biting the hands that feed them.
But remember, I'm not blaming the Dark Knight franchise itself, any more than I blamed the Matrix franchise before, or any other media production. They're just stories, albeit pretty brainless ones. It's the people who experience a work of fiction and then adopt it as their frame for reality that is the problem. I draw a webcomic, for those two of you who weren't aware yet. I would be equally (if not more) upset if someone chose to emulate the characters and actions of my webcomic in real life as well. I would be just as condemnatory if they tried to practice the fictional religion "Micca" from my strip, or attempted to commit cybercrimes the way the strip's character "Sherry" does, or conned their way into the offices of Senator Rick Perry to beat his butt with a riding crop the way the strip's character "Audrina" does. These would be wrong things to do. That's why it's - duh! - called fiction!
Speaking of BoingBoing, they've reposted (with no awareness of the irony) Marilyn Manson's thoughts post-Columbine school-shooting (which are also a part of the aforementioned Michael Moore movie). If you won't listen to me, perhaps you can listen to M.M.?
"A lot of people forget or never realize that I started my band as a criticism of these very issues of despair and hypocrisy."
As have I started my blog for similar motives, albeit within the realm of technology.
"When it comes down to who's to blame for the high school murders in Littleton, Colorado, throw a rock and you'll hit someone who's guilty. We're the people who sit back and tolerate children owning guns, and we're the ones who tune in and watch the up-to-the-minute details of what they do with them."
Say, do you suppose he's talking about us?
"We live in a free country, but with that freedom there is a burden of personal responsibility."
Well, now you know where I get some of my crazy, radical, wild-hair ideas.
"In my work I examine the America we live in, and I've always tried to show people that the devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us."
Well, hopefully, since Marilyn is more popular than I am (not, I concede, without cause), maybe you'll take his word for it, even while you dismiss me as a random raving loony for saying things of a similar bent. I am, after all, just one more part of the media.
A political cartoon that I found here speaks volumes about the issue:
Now, the thing that Americans seem to push back against always seems to be the complex solution. People don't want that, they want an easy quick-fix. But that doesn't work. You should always beware of black-and-white solutions to multi-hued problems.