Killing as a cinematic art form

The media seem to move on from mass killings more quickly nowadays than they used to, and within three days of the Aurora, Colo., cinema massacre the killer’s first appearance in court didn’t make the front of The New York Times. Denying him notoriety was fine with me, but once the stories of heroism and sacrifice were told and the dead were memorialized, there seemed little interest in learning anything from the shooting of 70 people who had little in common beyond the movie they had come to watch.

Once, slaying 12 innocents would have touched off a national wave of introspection and debate, and it’s hard to resist the scary conclusion that such horrors have quietly come to be accepted as part of our society’s overhead, a cost of doing business. Still, what’s remarkable is that so little attention has gone to the obvious irony that the killer was acting out much the same slaughter that was being portrayed on the multiplex screen.

Raising the issue of media violence feels like indulging in some ancient controversy from the 1970s, and that’s too bad. I think we need to foreground the pop-cultural side of the killings, specifically the ways that Hollywood has drifted in recent years toward sanctifying firearms as the most powerful means of self-validation in action films, the go-to remedy for most wrongs, real and imagined, the universal vehicle of catharsis, cleansing, rectification.

Face it, the most dangerous promoter of gun violence in contemporary society isn’t the gunmakers or the National Rifle Association, it’s Hollywood. Movies are how guns are exhibited, marketed and sold. When did you last see an advertisement from Glock or Ruger or Smith & Wesson? Unless you read a specialty magazine, never.

That’s because the market for firearms isn’t widened and regenerated through consumer advertising. They’re marketed through lurid, breathtaking portrayals of gun violence, lovingly depicted in harrowing Continue reading “Killing as a cinematic art form”