Guns, Moms, And ‘The Dark Knight Rises’: Playing The Blame Game In The Face Of Tragedy

What I Learned After Aurora

PITNB’s NEW popCULTURE CLUB: theoretically putting the “culture” back in “pop culture,” one post at a time…

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This past weekend we all pointed fingers in one direction or another. Most of us pointed at a 24-year old gunman who took lives which were not his to take. Some of us pointed at guns and gun legislation. Others pointed at mothers– mothers who took their children to a midnight movie showing at a theatre in Aurora, Colorado and a mother who may have seen something important in her child that she did not address soon enough. Even a movie, The Dark Knight Rises, saw its fair share of blame. Inadvertently or otherwise, many of us referred to the Colorado massacre as ‘The Dark Knight Rises shooting,’ and headlines made note of the killer’s references to himself as The Joker. When we cannot comprehend an act (either of beauty or malice), it’s natural and important for us to figure out the individual person or thing responsible. Children want to know where babies come from, adults want to know where humans come from, and we all want to know how a tragedy occurs. But in seeking that knowledge, I find that we inevitably participate in the blame game which is– perhaps– how our society arrives at certain tragedies in the first place.

I know it’s been said been said before, but I think it bears repeating: guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Of course it should go without saying that it should not be so ridiculously easy for someone to carry a a gun. And the fact that many people cling to their right to bear arms as a means of protection is not a testament to the occasional “goodness” of guns, but another reflection of huge problems in our society. Guns are not the answer and they are not the problem. If we blame them then we miss the point– a person, a fellow human being (yes) killed 12 people and injured 59 others and horrified a community. A person did that using a firearm, but I’m far more afraid of what was going on in his mind than what weapon he decided to use.
 


 

This is not to say that the method is arbitrary– but because it cannot be blamed entirely, pointing our fingers at guns (alone) is an exercise in futility. Again, I say something that we amy not want to admit: a person did this. And I won’t qualify the word ‘person’ with adjectives like “psycho” or “disturbed”– though he may be those things I think we use those words to distance ourselves from the human being who may be more like us than we’re willing to admit.

One of the first conversations that I had about the Aurora, Colorado massacre was with my good friend Michelle. We immediately began addressing the shooter’s mother, as I found it very telling that she knew right away that her son was involved. As I began to blame his mother (for clearly knowing something and clearly doing nothing about it… so I assumed), I realized that I was doing what many people and many media outlets were going to do in this situation. I was picking my own target, and– quite frankly– firing away. I told my friend that good mothers, mothers who pay attention to their kids, know very early on everything they need to know about their child’s personality and disposition. And as I admitted to certain things I saw in my own children (things that have worried me, perhaps without reason and perhaps for good reason) I remembered that it’s extremely hard to really look at your children and be honest about what you see. Much like it’s hard for people to look at themselves and be honest about what they see.

The difference is that we know people are flawed, but children and mothers are assumed perfect. Even though we know that countless people spend years in therapy over mistakes their mums made (and what they chose to make of those mistakes), we still live in a culture based on the image of Madonna And Child: a perfect, virginal mother and her perfect, all-loving child. Anything other than that image (a mental health problem, for example) is a deviation, and we have to find ways to reconcile this.
 


 

Because we exist in a culture that requires us to see our children as perfect angels (not people), it’s difficult to discuss their true qualities. And because we exist in a culture that often assumes (though it knows better) that we are all naturally perfect mothers who are entirely responsible for the nature of our children (which is, really, ridiculous on a certain level– for we are responsible for their upbringing, not their personalities), our inclination is to shy away from the things that might make our children different… or dangerous. Afraid of being blamed by others, we blame ourselves (for not being the impossibly perfect Madonna And Child) and do ourselves and our children a great disservice as we try to perpetuate a lie. In this, the blame game is killing us.
 


 

I’ve read a few things online that have spoken to the horrible effect this massacre will have and has had on the movie-going experience. Chris Nolan (director of The Dark Knight Rises) spoke to his own sadness, that this happened at a place he calls “home.” A journalist and screenwriter lamented that we go to the theaters to get away, to “let go” of it all and to be purely entertained and engaged. Somehow, we’ve lost some of that. While others have come forward and attempted to draw a connection between the violence of the movie (and other movies), I think most of us know that no movie could be blamed for these events. Still, will we ever forget which movie was playing when all this happened? I think not. I want to remember The Dark Knight Rises for the amazingness that it was, but something has happened, and my memory of one of the coolest experiences of my life (seriously, loved this movie!) will be complicated by two horrific events. The first event is the Colorado shooting. The second is a far too personal event to share that involved my children, and a bad decision I made as I went to see the film.

I align these horrific events because, if nothing else I learned that we as individuals are completely responsible for the decisions we make and the worlds we create for ourselves and our children.

That said, I dare all of us to take responsibility for what happened in Colorado. To point the finger at ourselves and to say, I once committed a crime. I once ignored a person who needed help. I once made a stupid decision that affected– or could have greatly affected– my children. I once acted out of anger or lost control of my emotions or felt like I needed some kind of professional help and did not seek it.

We cannot change what happened but if we continue to play the blame game then we’ll end up right where we always end up–still pissed at someone or something and with few answers. Did we learn anything after Columbine? Do we ever learn anything after tragedy occurs? We can honor victims of the Aurora massacre (and those innocent lives lost everywhere) by learning to be better individuals, by starting with the self and truly believing that one single improvement in our own lives and in our own homes can incite change everywhere.

And in doing so, we Rise.

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  1. MoNate

    Well said Shannon. Well said

  2. I think to a degree we all need professional counsel in our lives. Be it a psychologist, doctor, pastor, etc… Yes, there are plenty of happy people who don’t struggle with negative feelings but if it were more socially acceptable and encouraged to talk feelings out I believe dramatic crime like this would diminish. Whether it is apparent or not, mental illness is not accepted. That said, it should be. I’ve never been to his level but there are days I have gotten angry at thought that I’d love to see someone pushed down a cliff. Yet I recognized even that basic anger appearance with my therapist and was able to create a positive life affirming lifestyle. On to another point, I look at the gun control here and there is none. Guns are sold like toys. They aren’t toys. They are pieces of machinery capable of causing death. Yes, there is responsible people in this world. I believe that a large portion of gun owners don’t understand exactly what they sign up for. I’m definitely not about taking guns out of our country. However, look at Japan. Tight restrictions have all but eliminated gun crime. I have had friends stay there for long periods and say returning to America from there is deeply unsettling. I’d like to see tighter more comprehensive checks of owners mental states, bigger fees for maintaining gun ownership, yearly, bi-annual safety courses and the ability for investigations to be performed if someone feels someone isn’t mentally/emotionally stable enough to maintain their weapon safely. The fact this guy was able to buy four guns in two months is something that should’ve been flagged. It just frustrates me.

    • AmandaMarie, thanks for commenting. You’re one of many people to bring up Japan on this site and yes– it looks like we could learn a thing or two (or more) from them.

      “mental illness is not accepted.” — I think you’re absolutely right.

    • As the mother of a mentally ill child it is NOT always the childs fault or the parents fault I’m so sick of society blaming parents and children,I do understand that a parent has a sever impact on how the child is raised and to teach right from wrong ,but what if that child has brain injuries and as a result has sever behavior problems like my 11 y0 son I have had him in therpy and Meds AND YES YOU READ RIGHT MEDS since he was 4 and he has never ben locked up or displayed strange behavior so who do we blame when a child cant help a natural brain injury and leaves them with behavioral/mental disabilites.Society and Parents that think they are too good to put their kids on meds or in therpy or the parents are to self centred and worry about what other people think if they go and get their kids the REAL treatment they need half theose parents need to be in therpy and on meds themselves,Meds are out there for a reason to help cure or controll a condition that the child cannot SOCOMMON MOMS AND DADS DO YOU JOB FOR YOUR BABIES THEY NEED YOU AND CANT DO IT ALONE I love my son and he is a better person because of love and unselifsness

  3. Chris

    The type of guns for sale in this country are ABSOLUTELY part of the problem. He killed or injured 71 people in what? A minute or two? If he’d had the type of gun available when our forefathers guaranteed our right to bear arms, he could’ve shot maybe four. Gun control does not have to be an either/or proposition. I think it would be wonderful to have a vote on the legality of semi-automatic weapons.

    • Chris, I hear you. And of course I understand that gun control is an issue, I just don’t think it’s the root of the problem here. But yes, we should be talking about it, along with all of the other factors at work here.

      Thanks for weighing in here.

    • Shannon I TOTALLY agree with you its the person behind the gun not the gun itself,a gun cant load and fire itself I think it’s an honor for americans to have the right to bear arms and protect themselves than mabey someone in the theater could have used one in return on the shooter

  4. amanda

    I almost didn’t click on this article because of how hard this whole thing has hit me, but I’m glad that I did.

    I’m not exactly sure why this tragedy has affected me more than any of the unfortunate dozens I have heard about in my adult life, but it has. Maybe it’s the universality – it could’ve happened anywhere. All three of my siblings went to see TDKR together at the midnight showing and even though we live in Houston, Texas, it could’ve been them.

    To me, I think finding the culprit in this is important, and I don’t mean just the guy who did it. It’s important to find out why he did and not to just assume that he’s “crazy,” or that his parents did anything wrong, or that guns are too accessible, or that the media is too violent. All of those things may play into this, but we can’t just place the blame on the easiest target(s).

    In the end, there’s a lot of things that this event should cause us to really think about, to reconsider, and to work on. And I agree, Shannon, that we should start by working on ourselves – that’s all we really have control over anyways.

    • amanda, I hear you. I almost didn’t write the piece because I didn’t want to contribute to the sensationalism of it all so I tried to make it about a possible bigger picture, I guess.

      Thanks for commenting– I agree. There was something very universal about this tragedy. SO many of us were at a late screening, we all go to the movies. It’s scary and it absolutely could have happened anywhere.

  5. SittingPat

    “…this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent. We owe it to the people whose lives were ended and ruined yesterday to insist on a real discussion and hopefully on some real action.” -Jason Alexander. http://www.salon.com/2012/07/22/jason_alexanders_amazing_gun_rant/

  6. Drew

    Very well written, Shannon. Although you have me incredibly curious about that personal event you described! I hope everything has turned out OK for you and all involved. Well wishes!

    • Drew, thank you. You know, I’d written the entire ordeal out in the original post but removed it because the truth is, if somebody wanted to, they could report the family member (and maybe me too) who left my kids at home alone for 40 minutes+ while she went to ‘run an errand.’ I was at the movies (in the middle of the night) and found out later. I’m writing it to you because as a reader, I would be “incredibly curious” too. So that’s basically what happened. It was MY mistake though, because I’ve seen this family member do things like this with her own children and I should have known better.

      This is a post about (among other things) personal responsibility in the face of tragedy or very bad things (like finding out your 3-year old and 23-month old were alone in a house with a 7-year old). Of course we can talk about the role of guns, mothers, and the movies in this. Of course I can talk about this family member’s role. But, for right now, I’d rather see how my own actions and decision play into these things.

      But yes, everything is fine and I’m working on making better decisions over here. Thanks for the well wishes Drew!

  7. Krissy

    The reason I feel it is important to address the gun issue is that we haven’t for DECADES. These tragedies, all similar in nature using the same type of weapon, keep happening and we have done nothing to address it (Columbine, Viginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabrielle Gifords event, CA hair salon, and now Aurora). What action was taken after those tragedies other than a few kind words????

    I think that we desperately need to have a discussion about mental health and how to get people the resources they need. I also think we need to talk about the ways that rapid-fire, hundred bullet, and unchecked internet weapons get into the hands of the mentally unwell.

    I don’t think it is playing the “blame game”, and frankly, I think that phrase condemns those that are trying to figure out the “why” in all of this. Maybe if we had spent more time reflecting and then taking action in the past, we could have saved some lives by now.

    • Krissy, thank you for this comment. I think when we isolate a single culprit (guns alone, mental health alone, mothers alone, movies alone) we play the blame game. What you’re talking about is a variety of issues, which makes perfect sense to me.

      Also, although I didn’t say it in the post, I think “blame” to me is indicative of a certain inaction. When you asked “What action was taken after those tragedies other than a few kind words????” I thought EXACTLY! Blame is, to me, pointing to guns and other things or people and naming them as the culprits and then doing nothing else. So that’s an issue too. But like I said to Drew this post is about encouraging more individual responsibility which is in NO WAY the one and only, final solution.

      Thanks again for commenting Krissy.

  8. Amanda

    I dissagree with a lot of what you have stated Shannon, bottom line is it would have been significantly more difficult for this man to orchestrate such a large scale and horrifying act if it hadn’t been so easy for him to get the high capacity killing machines he needed mailed conveniently to his door step. Nothing will get done if we all sit around and blame ourselves, bottom line a very small group of people are capable of committing acts on this level of atrocity, this mans actions were all his own, and seeing as none of us are mind readers it can’t be blamed on anyone person, so why go blaming ourselves? We NEED to get to the root of the factors that enabled this man to do what he did and do the best we can to prevent events like this from happening in the future. It is simply impossible to monitor every persons behavior, and if an individual is as clearly sick in the head as this guy was, he likely wasn’t in the right mind to “seek help” as you refer it it.

    • Amanda, thanks for an honest comment. I guess in a strange way, I don’t think it’s completely “impossible to monitor every persons behavior.” In decent society, adults would pay close attention to themselves and then very close attention to their children. That’s everyone! If we were allowed to really be honest about who we are and who are children are (which is what that whole Madonna & Child bit was about) I think we COULD do a better job of monitoring everyone.

      Early on in the commentary I said ” Of course it should go without saying that it should not be so ridiculously easy for someone to carry a a gun.” I think that’s a given and changes should be made accordingly. But this has already been said, and I wanted to say something different; which is why I “dared” everyone to take personal responsibility for this moment (abstract though it sounds) because I do think we are all responsible or implicated in some way or another.

  9. Shivers

    Just wanted to say that this is a very well written and insightful piece Shannon.

  10. Rani

    When I first heard of the event I just couldn’t believe it, how can a person be so damaged, craving for attention that he had to do that to other people, during the whole day I was in shock, I’m from Mexico, and though the violence is increasing everyday we’re kinda (And not in a good way) starting to get customed to violence between fighting groups. But that another person, killing other ones in an enviroment and a space, that for me is, full of joy, hopes and love for the hard work of the film maker, I think it’s just a reflect of this guy’s circumstances, and if it was his intention to do harm, he would have done it, with or without easy access to fire arms.
    The only thing I hope, is that society never looses the capability to be impressed by this awful events, because this will only mean that we are loosing our empathy and then we will stop doing something to avoid and try to change for better.

  11. amanda

    Im from Canada , and this is a small tid-bit i found reading the USA news today :

    In Colorado, the shooting has prompted a sudden surge in gun sales.

    In three days, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm. That was 25 per cent greater than the average Friday-to-Sunday period in 2012, and 43 per cent greater than the same period the week prior.

    Could putting 2887 guns out on the street help ???

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