An excited and happy crowd bought tickets to the first showing of one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the year, “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora, Colorado. A half hour into the film, a man in a gas mask and a bulletproof vest came in through the exit door, threw out a canister of tear gas, and started shooting. At first, some members of the audience thought he was connected to the film in some way. But his guns were real. At this writing, twelve audience members are dead, including a six year old and a baby, and others are hospitalized. The suspect is 24-year-old John Holmes. It seems clear that he acted alone and was not connected to any terrorist groups and there is no indication that any other theaters or audiences will be at any additional risk. Warner’s has cancelled the high-profile premiere of the film in Paris and police are adding extra security in some locations.
The predictable immediate responses are coming in already — vague expressions of sympathy and support from politicians, statements from both sides about access to guns. It is another powerful reminder of how vulnerable we are. If we cannot find a way to keep weapons out of the hands of unstable people, we may find going to the movies or the mall is like going to the airport, with scanners and searches.
It is also a reminder of how vulnerable even the most well-established brands are. Batman has been around for a long time and this incident will not prevent the film from becoming one of the biggest box office hits of the year. But the storyline concerns massive terrorist attacks and audiences may find it harder to enjoy the comic book pleasures of the more destructive action sequences and brutally heartless villains. Next week’s action comedy release starring Ben Stiller was originally titled “Neighborhood Watch,” but has been re-named “The Watch” to minimize any connection to the Treyvon Martin shooting by self-styled neighborhood watcher George Zimmerman.
It would be nice if there really was a Batman to come to the rescue and prevent these tragedies. Without a superhero, we will need to have some difficult conversations about what we can do to make sure that the scary things that happen when we go to the movies are only on the screen.