“I thought the violence was a publicity stunt.” Telling remark heralds new element in age-old violence/media debate.

July 23, 2012

A dark night indeed…

When it comes to horrible tragedies like the one in Aurora, Colorado, where a lone gunman opened fire on innocent movie-goers killing at least a dozen of them, the old debate about violence in the media being partially responsible always comes up. Especially in this case, given the massacre took place during the midnight debut of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. People and critics admire Chris Nolan’s hyper-violent Batman series precisely because it’s so real and bloody, a far cry–and I mean far- from the goofy 60’s era Batman TV show and, more relevantly, from just about every other super hero franchise popular right now. For example, in this summer’s other big comic book movies (The Avengers and The Amazing Spiderman) hardly anyone gets shown being killed. I counted two in Spiderman (Uncle Ben and the Police Chief). And with them, it’s a huge part of the story. Not random at all.

In Nolan’s Batman movies slews of people get destroyed, viscerally. In many respects the carnage plays like a horror movie, modern video game or some brutal You Tube clip, thus the inevitable and uncomfortable comparison to fiction mirroring real life. The fact that the Aurora tragedy took place in a movie house showing Batman smashes the comparison home. Factor in videos of the tragedy replayed on You Tube and in the mass media and it’s almost impossible not to consider the validity of violence in media causing the same in real life. Inside Edition created a name and logo for their top story: “The Batman Theater Massacre” and it’s scary how well the iconography of the movie syncs up with the sensational copy.

Yet, I don’t buy it. Lone assassins are thankfully rare but hardly new. They existed before You Tube and the movies, even before guns.

Ambient (Terrifying?) marketing for Batman

Being in advertising, I was struck by a new observation, however and one that can now be added to the debate. Many of the survivors from Theater 9 claimed to have thought the gunman and his bloody rampage was a publicity stunt. “At first,” one of the audience said, “I thought the chaos was part of the movie.”

This is a modern phenomenon, not possible without the advent of flash mobs and You Tube. In the few years since advertising has embraced “street theater,” it has become part of our popular culture. Interactivity and user experience are expected elements in the marketing mix and, in turn, by society. The more “real” these stunts are the better. If Warner Pictures had staged the gunman and the gas and the guns, had paid actors to run out of the theater bloody and screaming, had anticipated the smart phone videos, then we likely would have had a completely different view. It would have been labeled an ingenious spectacle, entered into creative award shows and won.

Think about that…

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One Response to ““I thought the violence was a publicity stunt.” Telling remark heralds new element in age-old violence/media debate.”

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