Connecticut Community Copes With Aftermath Of Elementary School Mass Shooting
Memorial to the dead.

Yes, the killings in the Connecticut grade school were horrifying. As was the theater massacre in Colorado, the shooting in a house of worship in Wisconsin and the brazen take down of a Congresswoman in Arizona. That the Sandy Hook event was beyond terrible is unquestionable.

But one thing this latest rampage was not is “unthinkable.” Not only was this crime utterly thinkable it barely qualifies as surprising. Let’s face it. Guns and scary people are relatively common. Put the two together and, well, we see the results.

In some respects I think it is denial of plausibility that keeps the door open for these terrible acts to continue. Stop thinking naively and maybe we’ll get somewhere. Aren’t you tired of hearing that these atrocities never happen in theaters and schools and churches? Christ almighty that’s where they always happen.

Alas, we cannot rid the world of weapons and crazy people. They define the human condition as much as anything good in the world. In some ways even more. Every culture is and has been fascinated by evil. While it is true most of us deny it exists in our homes we mythologize it everywhere else. Case in point the last three movies I saw were Skyfall, The Expendables and the latest iteration of The Bourne Identity. Chances are you saw one or two of them as well. These films are about nothing if not scary people and weapons. Lest you think I’m launching into a sermon about violence and popular culture, there’s no need. Of course there is a connection. Crazy people act on dark impulses. Less crazy people don’t. And since we’re all a little bit crazy shit happens.

Whether you believe evil exists menace most certainly does. I can’t know but I’m guessing most of the nastiest crimes ever perpetrated were committed by people who did not consider themselves evil. Scarily, just the opposite. Including Sandy Hook. That’s menacing.

In the face of such conditions even the wisest among us are torn. We debate gun control. Mental illness. Crime and punishment. Whatever our stances, the big picture reveals violence in society is inevitable. Horrifying acts take place in real life all the time. Let’s stop calling them “unthinkable.”

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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