The Atomic Child

It seems every summer, Hollywood rolls out an Armageddon scenario–an over-dressed apocalypse-driven popcorn vehicle for the masses. And every summer, I watch the fucker. That the Aurora massacre has not hurt the box office of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ tells us much about ourselves. If we are optimistic, it tells us we are resilient; that we’ll not let a mad man keep us from living out lives and seeking our entertainment where we want to. The more cynical will blame the movie and the culture of these kinds of movies themselves. I actually love these kinds of movies.

I loved ‘The Dark Knight’ and have probably watched it 30 times. Part of the appeal for me is just how great Chicago looks in it. I never can help liking to watch our city on film. The other part is Heath Ledger as the Joker which is one of the greatest performances by anyone I’ve ever watched. Another element is all of the action bits, and shit blowing up.

Yeah, sadly, I’m that guy. I love when the Joker walks away from the hospital in a nurses uniform and then blows the building to kingdom come. I laughed my ass off. These are one of the kinds of movies I like. It may have something to do with when I was born, roughly a decade or so after the dropping of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, that’s how long these awful weapons have been with us. As a kid, I remember the Vietnam war on the T.V. news every night at dinner time; the horror somehow muted by the small black and white television and the idea that this was happening on the other side of the world. Before I was 12 years old, there had been the brazen and public assassinations of JFK, his brother Robert and the Rev. Martin Luther King.

In my lifetime, the world has never ceased to be a violent, scary place, full of unexpected and varied mayhems. It is not a mystery to me where the entertainments we choose come from. Does movie violence beget more violence? Years ago, I’d have told you, “no,” that movies get their ideas from people and not the reverse. Now? I’m not so sure. I’m aware that there are numbskulls out there who are way impressionable. A few months ago, the cops would have us believe that three knuckleheads here to protest the NATO conference were planning to toss a molotov cocktail at Mayor Emanuel’s, and then, President Obama’s residences. They were really going to make a day of it. The three, including the requisite ‘white-guy-with-dreadlocks’ revolutionaries, had beer bottles full of gasoline and Kung-Fu stars with which to penetrate the police presence, which was roughly that of a Cecil B. DeMille epic.


You can’t make this shit up. But it does make one wonder which video game logic informed the bong triplets that such an idea was feasible. It seems to me that THESE might be the guys who get their ideas from movies or video games. I wish the rest of it were this comical. The other nuts seem to come by their idiotic ideas via whatever tin-foil hat political tract they happen to believe.

Last year when Congresswoman Giffords was shot in a massacre in Arizona, the Tea Party moved with the speed of a bullet to disavow Jared Loughner, even though their particular brand of hate was among his texts. In fairness, this whackjob read many extreme tracts, not just theirs. If I had to guess, I’d say the culture of poisonous political discourse creates more of these drool cases than anything else. The angry white guys spewing venomous crap on cable news and radio: Hannity, O’Relly, Limbaugh, Savage and for some reason, Ted Nugent, finds himself parsing the unappetizing Tea Party line with ugly hints of assassination. . .for whom? What possible good can come from this kind of speech? I’ll defend to the death his right to it, but I’ve come to resent defending vile speech for the sole reason that we must defend even those whose ideas we find most repugnant.

Fuck, I’m getting old. I can’t quite defend the principles that protect assholes the way I used to. Politicians are always quick to blame movies or popular entertainment for acts of madness and violence rather than their own over-heated rhetoric and that of their acolytes in the cable news world. The pro and anti-gun people will bray long and loud about guns. The truth is, were there not guns, this guy would have used hammers or a can of gas. One cannot orchestrate or understand the behavior of psychopaths.

Must there be tougher gun-laws? Absolutely.

Should we outlaw Automatic weapons? Absolutely.

But this guy merely wanted a body count and his tool of choice is not the real problem here. I was looking forward to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’–the gadgets, the explosions, the cool bad-guys–all of the stuff I go to the movies for. Spectacle. Then I turned on the news and the story of one fucked-up American, with unfettered access to automatic weapons and ammunition, annihilating 12 people and injuring nearly 60 others became an unrelenting news loop; reminding us that, perhaps, we have the world we deserve.

Published in: on July 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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  1. I live in Idaho – not too far from Arco aka “the First Atomic City” (to be powered by nuclear energy). I’m also an environmental scientist who supports nuclear energy – a rare bird in my field of work. As with all things, human kind either uses up what we have or we set out to destroy it – vilify it or allow the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction. Nuclear energy is safe but the U.S. buries the waste instead of reusing it, causing more harm to humans and our environment. Nuclear weapons are the evil seed child of this amazing, world-saving scientific discovery. I also feel the same way about guns. I support our constitutional right to own guns. What I don’t support is the use of guns to kill innocent animals for sport, wipe out a theatre room full of people there to enjoy a great movie, or forever deny us the leadership and enlightenment activists like Martin Luther King, jr. brought to generations or music Kurt Cobain will never sing or words Hunter S. Thompson will never write. And I’m troubled by how many “kids” think video games they play in their basements or living rooms translate into real life “games” where real people get killed but they’re desensitized because it’s all been just a game to them. I think I’m getting old too because I can remember when the first case of a parent blaming rock music and “record-playing backwards” was “sending messages to her kid – making him go crazy and kill people”… Now I find myself saying the same thing about television and so-called “harmless” video games. I do agree with you. If it’s not guns, it would be something else – like a brick used by a homeless man to kill a woman in Seattle several years ago. Today was the second power outage in India in 2 days, affecting 600 Million people. It’s massive and it’s also a predictor of where we’re headed, very soon. We definitely reap what we sow. I have to say, Heath in a nurse uniform makes me giggle too. And Chicago looks good in “The Fugitive” – A movie made in the good ol’ days when we were troubled by one-armed bandits, not machine-gun-armed ones.

  2. My 17 yr old had made plans with some friends to go the the Batman movie in Aurora, but had to work early the next morning, so decided not to go at the last minute. His friends also didn’t go. He does know one of the shooting victims, who is now paralyzed. It’s given me nightmares knowing that he could have been there, but I absolutely agree with you that better gun control laws would have not prevented this at all. A psychopath is a psychopath. Whether they use box cutters to hi-jack airplanes or fertilizer to blow up buildings, these people will find a way to do as much damage as possible. And I refuse to hide away in my house, watching nothing but “Little House on the Prairie”, listening only to classical music, making my kids play only Disney video games and hoping for false safety. That would probably make me psychotic.

  3. Hope, there is always hope that someone – you, me, everyman – won’t let it keep on like this.

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