In media terms, the first casualty of a tragedy like the mass theater shooting in Colorado is any sense of perspective.
So amid wall-to-wall coverage of Friday’s killings at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” with questions about why and what can be done, there was scant discussion regarding those forces that virtually ensure national paralysis.
Simply put, there are two principal lines of argument here, which happen to fall on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Liberals, a group generally over-represented in Hollywood, tend to favor stricter gun-control laws, pointing out, with considerable justification, it’s hard to execute such horrific, widespread carnage with a mere handgun, much less a knife. Situated primarily in big cities, many see little reason for people to have guns at all, especially not automatic weapons to hunt deer or quail.
By contrast, Conservatives — many residing in more rural areas where gun ownership is commonplace — seize upon such events as emblematic of a spiritual sickness they trace, in part, to the corrosive influence of pop culture.
This produces the familiar “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” rebuttal, as well as responses like that of Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who insisted what we really need is more guns, so someone in that Aurora theater packing a concealed weapon might have taken out the shooter. (Gohmert also cited hostility toward Judeo-Christian values as a cause, ensuring his place as an object of derision on outlets like the Huffington Post and MSNBC.)
Both sides actually have elements of merit in their arguments — insofar as it’s hard to legislate away craziness — but compromise, dialogue and middle ground are so 20th century.
As things stand, neither argument can make any headway. “New gun-control laws are unlikely,” read a Wall Street Journal headline anticipating the call for greater restrictions such incidents inevitably produce, with a gun-control advocate conceding inaction “comes down to political calculus.” Another lamented in the New York Times how they “slog along, from one tragedy to the next.”
The bottom line is Republicans are deep in the pockets of the National Rifle Assn., and most Democrats have concluded attempting to curb gun rights doesn’t help them at the polls.
At the same time, there’s no shoving the pop-culture genie back in the bottle, so railing against Hollywood represents little more than a fundraising tool for those in the outrage business.
It’s worth noting, too, assertions movies or video games inspire antisocial behavior were predated 60 years ago by hysteria about comic-book characters, like Batman, promoting all sorts of perceived societal ills, from juvenile crime to homosexuality (gasp) among impressionable readers.
So what’s the solution? Short of impractical police-state tactics, none with a chance of reaching fruition come to mind. The best one can offer is to note there are mercifully few pathetic loners prone to acting on such impulses, which at a time like this is small comfort indeed.
The public and Hollywood can also derive a measure of reassurance from repeated demonstrations of resilience in the wake of tragic events, whether that involved boarding planes after Sept. 11 or attending the Olympics and other high-profile public venues following the Atlanta Games bombing in 1996.
Initial news coverage rarely dared to suggest any of this, including how the toxic political climate and its most vociferous media champions will point fingers but ultimately achieve nothing one might confuse with action.
The media, meanwhile, go through a process replete with contradictions: They seek to calm frayed nerves, while providing a deluge of coverage sure to frazzle them. They decry the cowardly crime, and simultaneously make the perpetrator’s name better known than the cast of “Jersey Shore.” Finally, studies have shown heavy consumers of such news and entertainment feel far more at risk of being victimized than they actually are.
Soon enough, though, we will move on, putting painful memories behind us as best we can, and going to movies, concerts and sporting events. Because just as there’s no preventing the occasional horror, the darkness is always followed by an eventual dawn.