by Sarah Mensch
In my series for engaging peace, I have explored the possibility that the media, particularly films, can provide models for gun violence that may lead to copycat crimes.
For today’s post, I analyzed The Dark Knight, a popular hero film approximately 2½ hours long; it features 43 different guns wielded and shot by police officers, members of the mafia, and several different trademark Batman villains. Batman himself never holds a gun except to disarm someone else. Batman’s archenemy and the film’s main villain, the Joker, holds a gun in eight different scenes, shoots a total of 20 times, and kills three people onscreen and six offscreen.
My last Engaging Peace article discussed the need to revise the media rhetoric on gun violence to avoid sensationalizing the shooters. The Dark Knight (2008) brings my point home. The Dark Knight was voted the movie with the best Halloween costumes the year of its release. Batman and the Joker were the two most popular men’s costumes, with Joker costume sales far outnumbering Batman sales. Even today, nine years after the film’s release, DC Comics has more Joker than Batman Dark Knight merchandise available on their website.
James Holmes plotted and executed a shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, sequel to The Dark Knight in Aurora, CO, on July 20, 2012. He shot 71 people. When Holmes entered the theater, he said something along the lines of “I am the Joker.” Like the Joker, Holmes had dyed his hair a shocking color and like the Joker, Holmes seemed dedicated to creating an air of chaos to promote his own notoriety.
At the time of the shooting, Holmes was a PhD candidate studying Neuroscience at the University of Colorado. Three years after the shooting, photos were released of Holmes’ apartment. Among the booby traps, bomb setups, and a gallon of gasoline was something particularly interesting: a Batman mask. .
Why did Holmes choose to emulate the Joker instead of Batman?
Could it be that the news media add to the potential for copycatting crimes portrayed in the motion picture media by devoting significantly more attention to perpetrators and evil-doers than victims?
Perhaps if media coverage of gun violence tragedies shifted its focus so that it was the victims and the people who helped the victims whose actions were memorable, troubled people like James Holmes might choose to become like Batman, instead of the Joker.
P.S. from KMM: Did you watch the media trailer at the beginning of this post? If so, what was your emotional reaction to it? excitement? anxiety? horror? disgust? Other? Do you remember the actions of one character more than another?
Frosch, D., & Johnson, K. (2012, July 20). Gunman Kills 12 in Colorado, Reviving Gun Debate. The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/us/shooting-at-colorado-theater-showing- batman-movie.html
Sarah Mensch, Research Assistant, Graphic Designer, is a psychology major at Boston University. She is thrilled to be working on a Directed Study focusing on the effect of the media on gun violence under the supervision of Dr. Malley Morrison. When Sarah graduates, she aims to go on to graduate school to earn an MSW and become a therapist. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys pursuing her minor in Deaf Studies, photography, and exploring Boston