Friday, July 20, 2012

Life, Interrupted

I’ve been working 9, 10, 11 hour days this week. I’ve been trying to prepare for a surprise work trip and a planned vacation and I’ve been running nonstop, running myself ragged. I haven't been getting to bed until 1:30, 2 in the morning. I’ve barely been online the past few days, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’d had the first few of my Vegas recap posts pre-scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have much to show this week on the ol’ blog.

I haven’t been online. I haven’t been aware of what’s happening in the world.

I got a text message from my sister this morning about a shooting in Colorado at the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie – 12 dead, 50+ injured. I stared at it for a minute and all I could reply with was: “holy shit.” It took a while to sink in, and it wasn’t lunch that I made it to the Internet to check out the news. I texted my friend that lives in Denver to make sure she was okay. I became a cliché: clicking link after link and reading countless news articles, trying to comprehend what had happened and why.

There was a paragraph in the lead article that wasn’t particularly graphic in its wording, but the visual images it conjured made me ache. I could feel the horror that was present at that theater.
The gunman, who was wearing a gas mask, reportedly set off a smoke or tear gas bomb then walked up to the front of the screen in one of the theaters and opened fire. 

When the movie patrons realized the attack was real and not part of the movie, pandemonium erupted and they began to flee. The film continued to play on the screen as bloodied customers took refuge outside. According to witnesses on the scene, some of the bullets also went through the walls of an adjacent theater, injuring patrons.

“There was this one guy on all fours crawling. There was this girl spitting up blood. There were bullet holes in some people’s backs, in some people’s arms. There was one guy who was just stripped down to his boxers. It looked like he had been shot in the back or something,” Donovan Tate, who escaped from the packed theater with his girlfriend, told CBS4.

I thought about the midnight screenings I’ve been to. At both The Hunger Games and The Avengers, there were people in costumes, complete with weaponry. Lots of bows and arrows (for both movies). Hammers and swords and not all made of foam and cardboard. At one of the movies (I can’t remember which), the person I was with even remarked that they were surprised the theater staff had let them in with that stuff. It was harmless – or so it seemed. The majority of midnight screening crowds are good-natured – the hard-core fans, the dedicated, the committed. They’re there to see the movie.

But what happens when it turns into one of everyone’s worst fears?

You’re a sitting duck, in a movie theater. It’s a recipe for disaster – which is why the concept of yelling “fire!” in a movie theater has become such a ubiquitous metaphor. Chaos, pandemonium, people being trampled. Now pair that with gunfire.

Every time I’m at a large event, with a lot of people, I can’t help but be slightly anxious. Groups of people make me anxious anyway – they always have. Perils of being an introvert. But in a Post-9/11 world, I’ve been taught to fear every situation that could lead to something tragic. Large groups of people – no matter where – will always feel like a target, to me. That’s what terrorists are looking for, right?

Not all terrorism comes in the form of foreigners with bombs, people with political agendas or religious motivations. I’m sure all terrorists – domestic or foreign – have a motivation. It’s human nature – you have to have a motivation for everything you do, whether that motivation is well-intentioned or coming from a place of malice and hatred. Some people are just sick. In what is probably the most ill-placed quote attribution – and yet eerily ironic and hauntingly prophetic – in “The Dark Knight,” when Bruce Wayne tries to understand what is behind The Joker, figure out what makes him tick, how anyone could be wired that way, Alfred simply says to him: “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Violence for the sake of violence, chaos for the sake of chaos. Because they can. Because it makes them feel powerful.

I don’t know. I don’t understand that side of human nature.
I can't help but wonder what I would do if I found myself in a situation like that. Would I panic? Would I be able to think rationally enough? Would I be able to escape? What if I was confronted by the person wielding the gun – would I say, or do, the right thing, that they would spare me? Would I become one of the tragic statistics, a photo that makes the rounds on the news circuits.

I’m sitting here, now, with an empty, aching feeling. It’s amazing to me, in a way, that I’m not entirely desensitized by all of the violence in our society, in the news. What I think is really hitting home for me is one story that I followed a link to, a tribute that a Denver Post sportswriter wrote to a friend and aspiring sports journalist, a 20-something girl named Jessica Redfield. Seeing her picture, following a link back to her blog…she’s just like me, just like us. She’s one of our people. And if it can happen to her, it can happen to any of us. Jessica went out to see a midnight movie, presumably one that she (and countless others) had been looking forward to. She probably expected to come home, sleep a bit, and maybe even blog about it the next day. Nobody expects to leave their house and never come home again.

The other unsettling part, of course, is that she’d already experienced a near-miss at a mall shooting in Toronto. She had written a post reflecting on that night, how shaken it had left her, how unsettled. How lucky she felt to have walked away. (Someone on the sportswriter’s page made a reference to the Final Destination movie(s), and, I’ll be honest, it crossed my mind too. Which raises a whole slew of other questions about fate and destiny and all of that, but that’s not for today.) Ironic, in the worst way, then, that she was one of the twelve victims in Aurora.

I’m twenty-seven. I’m well past the years of feeling invincible and infallible. I’ve had to deal with the death of close friends, of thoughts of mortality and how short this all is. And it all came rushing back to me again this morning. Jessica Redfield’s picture, smiling back at me. She wasn’t safe. None of us are. Life is so very, very fragile and if you stop to think about it, it can be dizzying, overwhelming.

There are rumors that Warner Brothers might pull the remainder of the screenings. It’s a pity, given how artfully Christopher Nolan has reimagined the franchise. It was dark and gritty and sometimes horrifying – but so is reality. As we’ve seen today.

What would it serve, if they did? Is that the right thing to do? The motive of the shooter is still unknown, and maybe “Batman” had nothing to do with it, other than being a prime opportunity to maximize publicity, to build his infamy. Does the show go on? Or would it be respectful to quietly close down shop?

Some corporate exec, somewhere, is cursing fate and worried about his bottom line. You know it, I know it. They were set to make a lot of money on this film. Is it “the right thing” to pull it? Some people’s livelihood may depend on it (no, not the principals – but the sound guy, or the boom technician, or the guy that’s going to write the blurb on the back of the DVD case). One facet of terrorism is to disrupt economy, and ours is already in a fragile state as it is. Given the age and demographic of the shooter, I suspect his motive was not along the lines of economic turmoil and bringing down the USA, but I suppose I don’t know that for sure. I suspect it’s closer to the things that drive the school shooters or those who go on murderous rampages. Again, I don’t know. I don’t understand it, I don’t claim to. My psychology studies never went that far.

This trilogy almost seems cursed, in a way. As we all know, Heath Ledger died shortly after the second installment wrapped – several sources say it was because playing the role of a sociopathic madman affected his very core, his very psyche. Perhaps it was just a tragic accident. Perhaps it’s neither here nor there, but I couldn’t help but think about it. The Batman reboot seems to be marred with tragedy and death – an unsettling parallel to the fictional world of Gotham City, and the actual world that we live in every day.

I had no immediate plans to see The Dark Knight Rises, given my current schedule, but I wonder what I would do, if I had. Would it feel wrong, to go? Would it feel like a betrayal of the victims? I would hope that a decision to skip the movie would be made out of respect to those affected in Colorado, not out of a sense of fear or foreboding.

Some people will pay no mind, they will see the movie as planned. Should they be bothered? Why? It was certainly tragic, but the world doesn’t stop. The world doesn’t stop in the face of a tragedy. It keeps spinning on, insensitive to what is happening within.

I don’t know if this is an unpopular opinion or not, because, quite frankly, I haven’t really interacted with that many people. (The only real opinion I’ve heard is that everyone wants to metaphorically see this guy hang, lock him up and throw away the key. Personally, I’ve stated several times that I hope they charge him with domestic terrorism. Terrorism in general. I don’t know if there are different degrees.)

I think they should continue. If we live hostage to our fear, then what are we? What happens to us? We break down. We need to focus on our collective strengths, something that’s been so sorely missing the last few years, especially as we dive deeper into yet another polarizing election year. Fear is a silent weapon, an invisible weapon. It’s fear that will tear this country apart – not guns or bombs, but human nature. We’ll turn on each other and tear each other apart. Maybe not because of a movie theater shooting, but because our humanity is breaking down.One is evidence of the other. Hate begets hate. We're making things worse, not better.

The world doesn’t stop – but should it? Does that let the terrorists win, when we put our lives on hold? I’m not saying we shouldn’t pause, reflect, remember, mourn. But I’m saying we shouldn’t give in to fear. Once we do, there’s no going back, and then… we lose.

1 comment:

caryn said...

This is such a well written piece.i applaud you for putting into words what I really haven't been able to yet. My mom asked me if i was afraid to go to theaters now but we can't live in fear and stop living our daily lives. But that isn't to say we won't think about it when we enter a theater. i agree with you completely - terrorism is not just bombs or international targets. It is also people like this who alter our sense of security and safety all to be powerful and in control. My heart goes out to all the families of those involved in this tragedy.