Like many Batman fans my 16-year-old nephew and I waited in line to be some of the first in the country to view the much anticipated film, The Dark Knight Rises. In line outside the theater we enjoyed talking and watching the spectacle of fans dressed in capes and cowls and just the general excitement and buzz that filled the air.
At 3:02 AM this morning we joined the exiting mass of fellow movie-goers engaged in the collective chatter of sharing impressions and favorite scenes. By 3:15AM we had arrived home and I climbed into bed, too amped up to sleep I browsed the Reddit website for other fan’s impressions of the film and that’s when I first heard about the tragic shooting that had just taken place 60 miles south of us in Aurora, Colorado.
At first I assumed it was a publicity stunt and a quick Google search confirmed the worst – that this was indeed a real incident. Like most fellow Coloradans thoughts of the Columbine atrocity were immediately invoked. I was overwhelmed with emotion, both saddened and angered and even relieved that this hadn’t happened at the theater in Greeley where we had seen the movie.
Even though my nephew and I weren’t directly involved or affected first-hand I felt a sense of connection to the incident as this could have happened anywhere. In any town. In any theater. I felt a sense of surrealism, as did many of those who were directly involved in the shooting. The reports indicate that witnesses in the theater initially thought the incident was an elaborate special effect, as the the shooter’s demeanor and appearance mirrored that of the film’s lead villain, Bane.
As an anti-violence educator I often teach media literacy skills to both parents and kids. While I know that media such as film, television, music, and video games can have an affect on our socialization process and thus our general outlook and orientation to ourselves and others, I have also believed that most individuals possess the capacity to discern fantasy from reality and make healthy choices about their media consumption.
Last night I found myself questioning this belief. Was the media to blame? Worse yet had I contributed to the problem just in supporting the film and similar types of media? Had I failed in being a positive role model for my young nephew? Was I normalizing the violence and in effect a permissive by-stander allowing it to thrive by my own inaction?
The initial tweets and Reddit posts regarding the incident I read last night posted by direct witnesses suggested that perhaps the shooting was gang related. In my heart I knew better, and by early morning the media had confirmed that similar to other shooting incidents that the gunmen was indeed a young white male, acting alone.
I worry about my nephew. He fits the profile of so many of these gunmen. Young, white, middle class. No father, bullied at school. Reclusive and awkward. Entrenched in a fantasy world of violent video games and horror movies, with little supervision in regards to his media consumption. A good kid, but hard to reach and preoccupied with his own internal darkness.
The day has been filled with watercooler discussions, checking in with social and news media updates, prayers and positive thoughts directed towards the victims and their families. And an overwhelming urge to respond, reflect, and process the impacts of this tragic event.
What will I say to my nephew when I get home? How will I help him process this? How do we make sense of the tragedy?
Do I urge him to retire his violent video game collection? Do I tell him that was our last superhero movie together? Do I tell him that although far removed from the tragedy that I feel like I’ve failed him as an elder and as a positive male role model for participating in the enjoyment of the depiction of violence as entertainment?
The response to this mornings tragedy has quickly divided and polarized our communities, both here in Colorado and across the nation. Gun rights and gun control advocates are already hashing out the implications of this incident. Right vs Left conspiracy theories have been hatched. The media has been blamed and recanted. Now is not the time to polarize our discussions or to use these tragic events to promote our own agenda. That’s about as unproductive as arguing DC vs. Marvel, Batman vs. Superman.
Perhaps, like the residents of Batman’s mythic Gotham City now more than ever we need to embrace and wrap our support around our heroes. Not just the Bruce Waynes who overcome the darkness to become a beacon of hope, but perhaps more importantly the less flashy but equally important Alfred The Butlers who through their nurturing and caregiving provide guidance and hope to young men who are struggling alone with their own internal darkness.
Like Batman, none of us possesses superpowers, but we have a choice in how we respond to the darkness, how we use our resources for the greater good. Despite criticism of the comic and the film’s portrayals of violence, Batman’s character has never advocated killing. In the film he tells a vengeful Catwoman, “No guns, no killing.”
In the coming hours and days and months we will all be called upon to help the community of Aurora and Colorado heal. You can start by helping your kids and those close to you process the tragic events that have unfolded today.
Here’s a great link for some tips on how to talk to your kids about the shooting:
I’m heading home to have a heart to heart with my nephew.
Tyler Osterhaus, Colorado Men Against Domestic Violence