Category Archives: books

Dark Knight Rises, Colorado Shooting & Violence in Entertainment

I loved The Dark Knight Rises— I thought all 2 hours and 45 minutes of it was gripping and had great twists and turns, surprising even someone like me who has been keeping up with all the pre-release buzz, news and teasers. Overall, it was an excellent finish to an excellent trilogy. (And I hope all the talk about rebooting the series already is just that– talk. Can’t we just take a moment to enjoy the long-awaited arrival of this film?)

However, the recent shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at a suburban Colorado movie theater raises some interesting questions– and not just about gun control. It’s hardly worth a “spoiler alert” to say the movie contains a lot of violence– if you’ve been paying any attention to all the press for the movie, you’ll know the much-advertised, primary antagonist of the film is the diabolical, masked Bane, one of the most violent, cold-blooded and ruthless villains in the DC universe (and the wonderful Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the character is much truer to the comic book and therefore, much more frightening than the almost farcical version in 1997’s Batman & Robin). As comic book fans know, Bane’s intelligence and cunning only make him that much more terrifying and dangerous– after all, he’s the only man to have “broken the Bat”*. His role in the story and the sheer scale of his nefarious plans up the ante considerably when it comes to violence.

So, there was one particular scene in The Dark Knight Rises where guns are being wildly shot in a crowded place during which I couldn’t help being reminded of the shooting in Colorado (there’s more than one of these scenes in the movie so I can’t even remember which specific one it was– just my immediate reaction). I don’t really subscribe to the much-debated idea that violence in entertainment somehow promotes violence in real life, especially among young people (think video games like Doom and Marilyn Manson being blamed for the 1999 Columbine High School massacre), but those who do often blame and point out the popularity and commercial success of movies like those in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy or, little more than a decade ago, The Matrix films. They say that, in addition to the large amount of it, the way in which that violence in such entertainment is depicted glorifies it and thereby promotes it. For example, Batman may have a strict “no guns, no killing” rule, but certainly those around him don’t always follow that rule, so there’s always plenty of both– and often more. And though Batman isn’t an alien or superhuman– ridiculously athletic, highly trained, and combat clever as hell, but still just a “normal” human being– he’s still kicking a lot of ass and taking a lot of names. After all, despite their efforts at diplomacy (how many times have we seen the “Superman achieves global nuclear disarmament” storyline?) and the admittedly key ability to outwit their opponents, superheroes ultimately win through the use of physical force– not non-violent protests, marches, or civil disobedience. And in the end, watching superheroes like Batman– the very definition of the “good guys”– beat up a bunch of bad guys is incredibly violent, but also incredibly satisfying (hello, they’re the bad guys?!) so there is certainly some glorification in that.

But long before there were riveting “Army of One” commercials, even before someone hit someone else for the first time so they could steal the Coke bottle to mash up their vegetables, humans have been telling fantastic tales of battles, wars, and ultimately, warriors– both fictional and real. And while violence continues to exist as part of the human condition, we will need warriors– in fact, heroes– to meet those challenges to not just protect themselves, but those around them as well. They fight so we don’t have to and certainly, there is and should be glory in that and those stories should be told, including on the screen. Of course, not every movie is so cut and dry on X being good, Y being bad, and therefore, standing on moral high ground when it comes to X having to beat the crap out of Y, not to mention all the collateral damage. And of course, with media, a lot of it has to do with context and tone: do we see at least some of the ugly, bloody, grotesque side of violence or do people bounce back like cartoon characters? Is the music– or any music at all– appropriate for what’s happening on screen? A violent rape is graphically depicted in the 2002 French film Irréversible, but I don’t think anybody who has seen it– and it is so powerful that many cannot tolerate just watching it– would say the act is in any way glorified. Even in comedy, violence can be put into a context in which we know not to take it as seriously, that we don’t have to be realistic here because the entire situation is absurd.

I suppose the real question is whether highly increased, repeated exposure to such violence in media– all of it or just the stuff you think glorify it– desensitizes us, especially people like teenagers who are either too young or otherwise so impressionable that they become swept up in romanticized depictions of violence and suddenly, moral high ground isn’t so important anymore. How exciting was it to watch Neo and Trinity blow that building and those Agents to pieces to rescue the beloved Morpheus? Yes, even in the fictional sense, they didn’t really do that since they were in the Matrix and nobody really died because those Agents were just computer programs, but that kind of goes along with my point, right? Such key plot points allow us to justify and reconcile such violence by “good” people. So, if we consume more and more of such violent media, does that subconsciously encourage us to lose touch with the horrifying reality and consequences of such events, thereby, if not promoting, at least justifying and distancing ourselves from the reality of more and more violence?

Yet, as I watched The Dark Knight Rises, rather than distancing myself from it, I felt like the realism provided by the high quality of the production intensified the seriousness and impact of what we were seeing. Perhaps more than any news coverage short of actual footage of the shooting could, the added drama created through movie magic somehow makes up for the fact that you’ve temporarily suspended your disbelief. You know it’s just a movie, but what you’re seeing is such a well-made dramatization that the terror of such a moment is really driven home and has the added benefit of not requiring the exploitative and tasteless showing/viewing of the tragic and ugly deaths of real people. Essentially, just the news of the shooting still fresh in my mind changed my visceral reaction to seeing the fictional presentation of a similar event– while I might have been more apathetic or, for the most part, unaffected by such a scene before, the experience and perhaps my outlook on such violence were fundamentally changed, much like how most of us felt and perhaps still feel about anything related to airplane/air travel safety and terrorism in the wake of 9/11 (think how sensitive Americans were about just seeing or not seeing the Twin Towers in the New York City skyline in movies released shortly after the attacks).

In the end, it’s a bit of a “chicken or the egg” problem– does watching “glossy” depictions of violence in popular entertainment and media promote violence in real life? Or do such realistic and/or dramatic depictions discourage such violent acts by giving us a “harmless” way to experience the severity and horror of such events? Considering all those “bombs bursting in air” in the lyrics to our national anthem alone, from music (in addition to the obvious, think lyrics to the popular French-Canadian children’s song “Alouette”) to movies, from books to TV (they get away with showing some truly sick stuff in countless police procedural and “true crime” shows), from Internet videos to even commercials (think the heavy amount of cartoonish violence in Super Bowl commercials), one thing is certain: depictions of violence are an essential part of the human art of storytelling. While some may like to think of violence in entertainment and media as something new– an unfortunate sign of modern times– we’ve actually been riding this cycle of violence from the very beginnings of human history and culture.


* On the name “Bane”: the film’s timing provides a nice little accent to the amusing coincidence that the character’s name is a homophone of Bain Capital, the frequently mentioned center of the Romney news story that just won’t die– with a pre-emptive apology for the pun, some might say one of the “banes” of the Romney campaign.


Wanna Be Like Mike

Reading Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress again and find myself identifying with Mannie and appreciating Mike perhaps a little too much. If only all friendships could work like this:

“Man my only friend… Many months ago I decided to place any conversation between you and me under privacy block accessible only to you. I decided to erase none and moved them from temporary storage to permanent. So that I could play them over, and over, and think about them. Did I do right?”

“Perfect. And Mike– I’m flattered.”

And remember, Mike can both recall and forget perfectly by request.

New Moon Volturi Fight

I have watched this clip about a thousand times, every time they show a clip of the movie on a talk show, etc. I finally slowed it down on the TiVo (if only YouTube had slo-mo!): watch the completely unnecessary flip starting at 0:25. Edward flips Bella over, only to have her land facing the same direction, and then turns her around, this time out of the way. I love Twilight, but this is a little ridiculous.

And, by the way, do you know how hard it is to fix marble? That you would have to basically replace everything damaged here? Even if I was immortal and unbelievably wealthy– thus, having both the time and money to do it– I would be supremely peeved at the damage done to the steps of the dais, never mind how stupid the dais and thrones are. (That part of the fight isn’t in the clip, but you can see part of it at 1:50 in this featurette. I know, I have too much time on my hands right now. At least I tell you how to cut to the chase with the video.)

Robert is Bothered

I love Twilight (really, almost to an unhealthy degree…) and think Robert Pattinson is great– loved him first as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. More recently, check him out in Little Ashes and How to Be to appreciate him fully as an actor, not just ridiculously good-looking, brooding, “good” vampire Edward Cullen.

Having said that, I love Jimmy Fallon too and these spots he does are hilarious. Here’s the one on Snickers Ads:

Check out more at Robert is Bothered.

Casual Relationship

While watching The Rules of Attraction, went online to look up the complete details of Victor’s monologue about Europe (read the transcript here, skip to text “Victor:”). It’s great, as is Kip Pardue when he’s delivering it, and was let to the Wikipedia article on the book, which I’ve also read and, like most Bret Easton Ellis books, found it, in a word, “interesting.” Also found it interesting that, while describing Dick and Paul’s relationship, there’s a link for “friends with benefits,” which leads to this article on casual relationships. Wikipedia really is trying to catalog everything.

Back

So, I haven’t had a substantive post here since last August, but I’m back now (hopefully). There’s lots of reasons I’ve been away– first off, I had a bout of pancreatitis last summer, which despite over a week in the hospital, was followed by repeat instances of pancreatitis (or some similar illness) for months after, resulting in a few more hospitalizations. After getting over my GI problems (sort of), I’ve been suffering from constant migraines, threw out my back (I have no idea how, but I could barely walk for days), and just had a car accident. It’s been a long nine to ten months and I’m trying to dig myself out of this hole. As my Facebook status reads, I am recovering from life. And with that comes a return to blogging, including my continuing coverage of IdeaFarm (the truck is back, alive and well parked on the corner of Castro and El Camino in Mountain View) and other random stuff, like my teenage infatuation with the Twilight series as well as my continuing love affair with Depeche Mode (I’m re-watching 101 as I write).

So, stay tuned.

Vonnegut on Love, Men and Women

From Timequake, talking about Kilgore Trout (who you might consider Vonnegut’s alter ego):

In the only love story he ever attempted, “Kiss Me Again,” he had written, “There is no way a beautiful woman can live up to what she looks like for any appreciable length of time.”

The moral at the end of that story is this: “Men are jerks. Women are psychotic.”

Remembering Vonnegut, or God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, one of, if not my favorite, authors, passed away last night. An incredible loss. Discovering Vonnegut was bittersweet– I received Cat’s Cradle as a gift from a guy I’d sometimes rather forget— but for a few years in there, I was obsessed with reading everything by the author and I was constantly lost in the pages of Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Galapagos and others. If there was one author out there that truly shaped the person I am, the way I think, the way I view the world, I would have to say it was Vonnegut. And even years later, after I’d put the worn paperbacks away on the shelves for some time to explore other realms of literature, when I would pick up Breakfast of Champions from time to time, it was both comforting and refreshing. Familiar, but like all good fiction, new things discovered with every subsequent reading. And with his later works, with Timequake, with Man Without A Country, I felt the same way– same old Vonnegut, but still fresh and relevant and his words resonating with me as always.

And most importantly, I always find myself smiling when I read Vonnegut. He was snarky before we knew what to call it.

The NY Times article says how some dismissed him as a “comic book philosopher.” Well, if that’s not the voice of a great American novelist, I don’t know what is.

Check out this post from September 2005 about when he was on the Daily Show. Video clip included.