Thursday night, at the Dark Knight Rising opening in Aurora, Colorado, James Eagan Holmes opened fire on the crowded theater, killing 12, and injuring another 59. This was a horrific tragedy, and the ramifications of this killing spree will echo for months.
One of the reasons this tragedy will have a such a big impact is because we all can see ourselves in the faces of the victims. Any senseless death is a tragedy, but society tends to avoid facing tragedy when it can get away with it. In 1991, there was a string of shootings surrounding the movie Boyz N the Hood, and before that there were outbreaks of violence in 1979 with the movie The Warriors. But because society could other the violence as occurring among gangs or scary minorities, it could write it off. But with this tragedy, there is no othering, no hiding, and no avoiding the reality of the violence, and that scares us all. Now that we have been awakened to this frightening reality, we have an opportunity face some of the darker truths of our lives. But because it is so terrifying, the natural inclination is to wish it away again, by forcing a convenient meaning that allows us to other again, and allows us to disconnect it from our selves.
For the Geek culture, this was not just a tragedy, but it was also sacrilege. For Geek culture, this night was to be one of our few cultural holidays. Sacred or secular, holidays are about coming together as a community. The rituals of the day, the communal meal, shared songs, joined congregational action, etc., are all designed to merge the mass of individuals into a common body where there are no strangers. For Geeks, our holidays are ours faires, our cons, and our movies. The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated of these events to date. The internet was abuzz with analysis and speculation. People assembled friends and even planned for various pageantry. Millions were set to enjoy the final act of an epic poem featuring one of our greatest heroes. But then one sick individual had to destroy the night to get the attention for himself.
But what Geek culture may not want to admit is that we have people like Holmes permeating our little society. We call them trolls. Holmes is a new mutation on the classic troll. He took the normal verbal violence and brought to a new level. For those who don’t know, a troll is an individual who hijacks an internet discussion for the purpose of angering or belittling others. Usually, the troll’s violence verbal, consisting inflammatory comments, insults, ad hominem attacks, or general taunts. The general motive is attention; either they want to elevate themselves by denigrating others, or they are just willing to make do with negative attention. Trolls hide behind the faceless anonymity of the internet; they feel they can’t be held accountable because they are not face to face with those they hurt, and they are shielded from seeing the harm they do because they cannot see their victims. Of course, many trolls just also don’t care.
Holmes is the next evolution. Instead of an internet thread, he went for a physical gathering. Where others hurt with words, he upped the ante and hurt with bullets. But his motive is the same. hurting people to feel good about himself. We need to face that, or we will just create more like Holmes.
But before you blame the Geeks, and try to write Holmes off as a geek gone bad (completing the process of othering to reestablish safety), look at the trolls that permeate society as a whole. They are our angry political pundits, the vicious gossipers, the school yard taunters, and derogatory comedians. They are that dark part of ourselves that wants to shed the restraints of civilization and indulge that inner child that lashes out when he can’t have his way. They are our narcissistic shadows, and we love them vicariously because they voice our frustrations, self-centered desires, “righteous rage,” and our temptation to be seen as instantly special by removing the humanity of another.
We love them enough to ignore the reality of the beasts we are feeding. beasts like James Eagen Holmes.
You will hear a lot of discussion around this tragedy. The problem is not that there is violence in the media, the problem is that we like our media violent. The problem is not that guns are accessible, the problem is that we feel entitled to our guns. The problem is not that there are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Atheists, Theists, Tea Partiers, Occupiers, Geeks, or Mundanes, the problems is that we are so self obsessed that we would rather violently attack our differences than live with them.
The problem is that we all tire of wrestling our inner troll, and secretly cheer on those who give in… until we are forced to see the victims they leave in their wake.