“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blowing up, nobody panics because it's all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die...well, then everyone loses their minds.”
These are the words spoken by the iconic comic book supervillain the Joker during a pivotal scene in the film “The Dark Knight.” The Joker soared to astronomical levels of popularity in 2008 thanks to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the villain as well as the success of the film. But the Joker has more recently returned to infamy. On July 20, James Holmes, a psychologically disturbed college student, walked into a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” carrying four guns, a tear gas bomb, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. According to reports, he announced to the crowd, “I am the Joker,” and proceeded to wound 59 and kill 12 in a brutal massacre.
The shooting made headlines across the world. Naturally the incident became the conduit through which people expressed their opinions on American culture and society. Gun control law dominated opinion pages and debate floors as politicians scrambled to defend or attack America’s generally relaxed attitude towards the proliferations of guns. Violence in American films, television shows, and video games became a hot topic of discussion when the mother of a victim announced that she was going to sue the cinema where the shootings took place.
But the issues that came to light as a result of the tragedy are not as disturbing as the issues that did not. The shooting at the movie premiere was a prime example of how American culture revolves around “shock stories” which distract from real issues at hand or other newsworthy topics.
Did you know that 82 people were killed and 180 wounded by car bombs in Iraq on the same day as the shootings? It is highly unlikely that you did. After all, who wants to hear another report about the Iraq war? This eerily ties into the Joker’s analysis of how we ignore important issues because they go “according to plan” and instead turn our gaze to shocking, superficial news stories.
Many use the shootings to argue about problems in American society while completely missing the bigger picture. Twentieth Century Fox has started a fund to cover the medical bills of victims of the shootings, which is a nice gesture to the 71 people were injured or killed in the shootout. But why is there so little discourse on the way that the appalling state of the U.S. health care system makes such a fund more necessary than it would be elsewhere? How about the 8,755 who die from gun violence every year who do not have funds opened for them by well-endowed movie studios?
Barack Obama visited Aurora to express his condolences for the victims and their families. Did any high profile politicians visit Chicago, America’s most dangerous city, during Memorial Day Weekend, during which there were more than 40 shooting victims in 72 hours? Not a chance. Clearly, American society chooses to ignore rather than address problems if those problems occur too often. America does not care about the culture of gun violence in this country. America only cares when shootings happen during the premiere of a famous film.
It is easy to dismiss the Joker’s perspective as the deranged ramblings of a psychopathic madman. But doing so is an example of the way that American culture demonizes opinions that cut too close to the bone in order to shield itself from systemic social problems. Trying to understand what is at the root of many of American society’s problems does not make one an extremist or a radical. In no way do I wish to diminish or detract from the horrifying incidents in Aurora, but the manner in which we fail to pay attention to key underlying problems in American society thanks to our obsession with sensational news stories is worrying. Media outlets are partially to blame, as they mostly focus on “popular” news items in order to attract as much readership and views as possible. But they are only pandering to a terrifying aspect of American culture—that if enough “bad news” happens, it is not worth paying attention to. Sometimes, we should start paying attention to important, underlying issues, even if they are just “part of the plan.”
Heather L. Pickerell ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.