The recent Colorado shootings hit me hard. Not because it was a senseless and tragic loss of life. Of course it was. But we live in a world of such senseless loss. Every day people die who shouldn’t. And because of the speed of digital media, death is always there to confront us. I can’t bring myself to differentiate between a dozen dead in Colorado versus thirty dead in Afghanistan or Syria or Somalia. So, I do what I’m sure most of us do. I keep my empathy at a distance. I shake my head and say, “Those poor people”, but I do not mourn. I cannot. I’m afraid if I start, I won’t be able to stop. If we let ourselves feel every brutality, every tragedy, every painful loss the world presents us with, we’d be simpering puddles on the floor. No, I don’t hate James Holmes for killing those people. I think he should be punished for what he did. But I hate him for what he’s done to Batman.
I remember saying, the morning after the shooting, “I just hope he didn’t dress up like the Joker.” Turns out he did and thus the usual recriminations began. In the media, on Facebook, in conversation, the same old refrain of violence in the media translating to violence in reality. And in this, I heard an important distinction: It isn’t that violent media inspires violent acts but it gives violent people something to aspire towards. And that’s what got me thinking about Batman and how it goes both ways.
When I was a kid, I didn’t have a Dad around, no older brothers, no super-cool uncles, no one to teach me what it meant to be a man, a good man, a hero, nothing except comic books, no one except Batman. As sad or silly as that might seem, here was someone who did right, who sacrificed himself to protect innocence, who stood up against the darkness, no matter how wicked its form. As a grown man, if I now possess any moral compass worth noting, it was those Batman books I read as a kid which helped shape it.
So, when I see DC suspending publication of some of its Batman comics or Netflix removing all Batman titles from its available selection, it makes me mournful. Because I promise you I’m far from the only one. Somewhere, right now, there are kids reading Batman or watching the movie or just tying a towel around their necks and pretending like their backyards are Gotham, and do you know what they’re doing? They’re fighting the Joker.
Batman taught me there will always be evil in this world. Our choice is only how and if we confront it. If James Holmes imagines himself The Joker then there will just have to be more of us who imagine ourselves as Batman. It’s true these stories inspire people, but it is our choice as to how we are inspired.
Jared Thomas is an author and scriptwriter living in Brooklyn. His works include The Street Dreams of Electric Youth, The Last Amesha, and Gre & The Devil. An FP staff writer, his recent pieces include the Top 10 Korean Pop Videos of 2012 (So Far), an account of drinking 100 rieslings in one day, and a mythological analysis of the Avengers.