Thursday, 26 July 2012

Gun massacres, and the importance of sensible bedtimes

When we're confronted with a genuine human tragedy, it's often hard to know what to do. Senseless violence and barbarity can be confusing, so we're left grasping for meaning, trying to make sense of it all. When someone walks into a cinema screening and opens fire on moviegoers, it's left to the rest of us decent folk to pick up the pieces, learn lessons, and ask the big questions, like 'why did this happen?', 'could we as a society learn from this?', and 'hey, isn't it past your bedtime?'.

Admittedly, the last one wasn't my own natural reaction. But then that's why I'm a lowly blogger and not an esteemed national newspaper columnist like that Allison Pearson. In her Telegraph column, she asks the questions that those of us without such a keen journalistic mind might miss.

It's the little details that we miss. I would never have thought to start a column with a wistful, thoughtful analysis of the killer's name;
James Holmes. It’s a quiet sort of name for a mass murderer.
It is, isn't it? We didn't stand a chance really. If his parents had called him Deathbringer McMurderson, perhaps we'd have been on the front foot and this whole sorry tragedy might've been avoided. But 'James Holmes'? It's a bit-part Doctor Who actor's name. The name of someone who listens to Radio 4 and whose only real immorality is cheating on his wife with a string of younger veterinary clinic receptionists. None of this makes sense, dammit.
But then unreality – the failure to distinguish between what’s true and what’s make-believe – is the crux of this tragedy.
When Holmes first opened fire, using some of the 6,000 rounds of ammunition he had bought online, cinema patrons said they didn’t notice. They thought it was part of the film.
This is impressive work. Already, by the end of the first paragraph, we know what lies at the heart of this tragedy. It's probably because of films, right? There's violence in films, now there's violence in an actual cinema. That's where they show films! You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure out the link. I guess the police can discount the theory that he just went on a gun rampage because of the extortionate price of lobby-bought soft drinks and wine gums now.
And there was something else that was hard to grasp. Tragically, among the dead was a six-year-old, Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
What was a six-year-old doing at a midnight screening of such a violent film?
Yes, why WAS a child at a cinema at their parents' discretion to see a film about Batman? Watching a film they were legally allowed to see? What's up with THAT? Isn't that the real issue here? Frankly, if you're going to take your child to a PG13 certificate movie after, ooh, let's say, 9pm at night, then you can't very well complain when that child is shot to death by a masked gunman. Everyone knows the dangers of sitting quietly in a movie theatre. Would you push your child down a razorblade-filled rubbish chute into a shark tank? No. The same principle obviously applies to going to see a film about a funny-looking superhero who never kills anyone.
What kind of adult would subject a tired little girl, with a highly plastic imagination, to the deafening horrors of Christopher Nolan’s movie? 
Perhaps someone who believes that it's impossible to shield your child forever from on-screen violence, and instead allows them to see it under supervision and explain to them that it's just a film? I don't know, to be honest. But I sure as shit know that the decent thing to do in this situation is pour cauldrons of molten-hot judgement over her grieving parents. If Telegraph columnists aren't gonna step up and blame the parents of a six-year-old child who just wanted to see a film, then who will?

In many ways, the child's parents most fatal mistake was not knowing about Allison Pearson's own entirely made-up classification system beforehand. I reprint it here in full, so that tragedies of this nature can be avoided in future;
Well, I went to see The Dark Knight Rises last night and, I tell you, the innocent or angelic should be kept well away. In my house, we have our own film classification system. There’s SFG – Safe For Grandparents. And then there’s MA – Mummy Appropriate. The Dark Knight Rises would not get an MA rating
If we could adopt this rating system universally, then maybe the next time someone decides to murder innocent strangers at random at a film screening, they will at least only end up executing grown adults, ones who aren't 'mummies'. It'll be a better world.
...please don’t tell me that certain warped minds, minds like that of James Holmes, don’t sup full of the horrors they see on screen and develop a taste for it. Can it be coincidence that Holmes boobytrapped his apartment with explosives to kill police – the same wicked trick played in Speed by the maniacal Dennis Hopper?
Normally I'd argue the point here, but to be fair I've just watched four seasons of Breaking Bad and decided to embark on a career in the field of RV-based meth labs and disposing of the bodies of my enemies in acid-filled bathtubs. And it's fair to say that watching the 2001 movie 'The Hole' taught me the life lesson that a lot of problems could be avoided by having sex with Thora Birch, something I will keep at the back of my mind if I'm ever trapped in a disused underground bunker with her and her annoying underage friend. So, yes, we can learn things from movies. But does that mean the movies are to blame? I don't know, because I'm not the esteemed writer of 'Admit it, chaps – you just prefer other chaps' and 'Is Pippa Middleton all about bottom line?'.

Pearson moves on to briefly touch on triflin' shit like gun laws, but quickly returns to her theme;
We need to ask what kind of a system allows a six-year-old to watch such a frightening film. 
A terrifying system of informed consent, where allowing kids to watch certain films is left to the viewers' discretion? Pearson pauses thoughtfully to deliver her final verdict, and somehow just nails it;
Batman himself flew into Colorado yesterday to pay his condolences. “It’s amazing to see Christian Bale,” said one fan, “he was stepping into reality.” So the actor who plays a fictional hero visits the scene of a real crime committed by a real student who thought he was a fictional villain and enemy of Batman, but who murdered real people who had gone to see a movie about a fictional hero who has the powers to defeat evil. Confused? We all are. And that confusion is a breeding ground in which dangerous minds can bloom and grow.
Alternatively, 'a real person shot some other real people with a real gun in reality', which is less confusing. I read this paragraph a few times, trying to determine some kind of point. I'm now pretty sure that Pearson's argument is that unwieldy and convoluted sentence structures which add unwarranted complexity to descriptions of events may lead to confusion and, eventually, murder. Either that, or, that the six-year-old would probably grow up to be a killer anyway, having been inappropriately taken to a violent film. So we can take some small comfort in the fact that someone came along to snuff out her no doubt budding death lust.

The moral of the story is this; we can't stop this epidemic of movie premiere-related gun massacres, but we can protect our kids from it by sending them to bed early. Spread the word. For a brighter tomorrow.