There's a word Ford Prefect uses when he feels like he needs to say something but he doesn't know how to say it: goosnargh.
I'm going to say some things anyway. Maybe that's a bad idea. Guess we'll see. Maybe I'll stumble, fugue-like, onto some deep and profound truth; more likely I'll say something trite, insensitive and offensive -- in which case at least my newfound posting frequency means it won't be on the front page for long.
In the early hours of this morning, a man in a gas mask and a bulletproof vest walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, threw two cannisters of tear gas on the ground, fired once into the air and then began firing into the crowd. The death toll currently stands at 12, the wounded at 59. Those are the details as they're currently being reported, though it's still early and the information could change.
In the meantime, well, everyone is shocked and sad and horrified and, in compliance with human nature, trying to make some sense of this appalling act by making it fit some sort of narrative.
Was the killer a deranged Batman fan? Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't; I don't think it matters. Maybe he just picked a movie he knew would be crowded. Maybe he picked a movie where he thought people would think he was just a guy in a costume.
But there's something that feels like Batman about it, isn't there? An over-the-top villain on an over-the-top murder spree. There's no making sense of it; it's a horrific cross of violence and theatricality. If this man wasn't doing an intentional impression of a Batman villain, then he was tapping into something in the zeitgeist that forms the basis of all the Batman villains.
There's something Alfred says in The Dark Knight:
Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
That's the kind of man we're talking about today -- a madman, a broken man, a man who cannot be understood rationally and whose motivations are fear and chaos on a scale that an ordinary mind cannot reconcile.
I heard an interview on NPR this morning -- it doesn't appear to be online yet -- with a reporter on the scene who also covered the Columbine massacre. The interviewer, sensibly, emphasized the fundamental differences between the two shootings, but, also sensibly, asked if the police procedure for responding to shootings had changed since Columbine.
The reporter said that yes, it has -- that in the case of Columbine, the police took time to set up a perimeter, whereas now they focus on getting in and stopping the shooter as quickly as possible.
And that makes sense, too, looking at something that's changed in how we see criminals. Setting up a perimeter and a dialogue is what you do in a hostage situation -- what you do when you're dealing with people who can, at least on some level, be negotiated with, reasoned with.
Random acts of violence are something else entirely. You cannot reason with someone who is just killing for its own sake -- there is nothing you can offer him to make him stop. He's not threatening lives in order to achieve something he wants; ending lives is what he wants.
It's a hard, hard thing to read about, to hear about.
Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing linked to Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?, Marilyn Manson's Rolling Stone article following the massacre which is sadly relevant today. He discusses how there is no single simple cause for such acts of violence, but how the media and society seek simple answers, seek explanations for the unexplainable. And how his own stage name is a criticism of the media's tendency to treat mass murderers like movie stars.
In the days and weeks to come, the news media will talk about this. They'll speculate. They'll engage in crass discussions of how this will affect the movie's box office, or what it's going to mean for Obama and Romney in the polls. Maybe they'll try and engage in some scapegoating and try to blame it on comics or video games, maybe they won't -- even speculating on such things is just too much for me right now. All I can think is how horrible this was and how my heart goes out to the victims and their families.
Perhaps the deepest and bitterest irony is that Batman itself is, on a fundamental level, a story about two people who went to see a movie and were gunned down, and the devastation that wrought on the son who would never see them again.