Promoting the Joker? The media and gun violence

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        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


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Love to YOU, from Fyodor

by Kathie MM

Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

From: Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Brothers Karamazov

And here is a p.s. to you from me:

Imagine yourself becoming this person.

Find more goodness by following this path.

Invite your friends along the way.

You could do a lot worse.




Posted in Commemorating peace, Ethic of reciprocity, Nonviolence, Perspective-taking, Poetry and the arts, Tolerance | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Newly recognized clinical syndrome: American Dementia

by Display at the My Lai Memorial This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Author: Gonzo Gooner.


by Kathie MM

Dementia is progressive loss of cognitive function, marked by memory problems and confused thinking.”  Although Psychology Today claims that the “most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, a fatal condition that affects more than 5 million Americans,” there are much more serious and  more widespread forms of memory disorder with extremely high mortality rates.

I am referring here to the disease that John Dower labels “Memory Loss in the Garden of Violence: How Americans Remember (and Forget) Their Wars.”  Dower attributes selective memory loss  regarding the country’s role in deadly wars to “victim consciousness.”

To illustrate, he says: “Certain traumatic historical moments such as ‘the Alamo’ and ‘Pearl Harbor’ have become code words…for reinforcing the remembrance of American victimization at the hands of nefarious antagonists. Thomas Jefferson and his peers actually established the baseline for this in the nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which enshrines recollection of ‘the merciless Indian Savages’ — a self-righteous demonization that turned out to be boilerplate for a succession of later perceived enemies. ‘September 11th’ has taken its place in this deep-seated invocation of violated innocence.”

In his powerful essay, Dower provides appalling evidence of U.S. “terror bombing” around the world.  Regarding the Korean War, he quotes General Curtis LeMay, who acknowledges, “We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both… We killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes…”

As for the infamous  war in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), Dower comments, “’targeting’ everything that moved’ was virtually a mantra among U.S. fighting forces, a kind of password that legitimized indiscriminate slaughter.”

Dower also diagnoses the current symptoms of saber-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea,  suggesting, “To Americans and much of the rest of the world, Kim Jong-un seems irrational, to say the least. Yet in rattling his miniscule nuclear quiver, he is really joining the long-established game of ‘nuclear deterrence,’ and practicing what is known among American strategists as the ‘madman theory’…. most famously associated with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger during the Vietnam War, but in fact. .. more or less imbedded in U.S. nuclear game plans.”

My prescription for treatment: Let’s work on developing an antidote to the dementia enshrouding the country’s military aggression and spreading symptoms of victimization and self-justifying heroism regarding its aggression—from the genocide of Native Americans in yesteryear to today’s bloody flag waving.


Posted in Armed conflict, Genocide, imperialism, Patriotism, politics, Propaganda, September 11, 2001, Terrorism, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Addressing Fractionation: Principles for Arbitrating the “Common Good”

By Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service


1. Fractionation

There is an urgent need for healing the divisive separation of people, societies, and nations. A continuation of the present intentional and unintentional “fractionation” forebodes a tragic future. Humans and the institutions they have created for collective living, now threaten life and lives as they assert selective group domination and control.  While unity should be an aspiration, population “fractionation” across virtually every societal status marker is producing chaos and havoc. We reap what we sow.”     

“Fractionation” among population sectors across the world has brought widespread local, national, and international violence, conflict and destruction. Toleration of separation, division, and detachment for selected population sectors has promoted a cascade of “populist” ideologies, now threatening to destabilize existing social, political, economic, and moral orders. While these orders have often failed in their expected noble purposes, and while they are now the very seeds of narrow xenophobic and rabid nationalist “populist” movements, it is essential responses be guided by principles promoting justice and equity.

Brexit, Trumpism, and scores of similar populist movements across the world are promoting intense “nativist-alien” competitions for power. The fate of entire nations (e.g., France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Poland) is now in play. Widespread fears, anger, and rage are endemic in populist movements. Globalization is considered the fault and the enemy.

2. Hegemonic Globalization

Rather than globalization, however, “hegemonic globalization,” or globalization controlled by a few powerful nations (G-8; G-20) may be the source (Marsella, 2005; 2012; 2017). Hegemonic globalizations legitimized USA global dominance and a unabashed freedom to invade, occupy, and exploit nations across the world. As this unbridled foreign policy proceeded, the Middle-Eastern and West Asian regions brought mass documented and undocumented migrations of refugees and immigrants seeking relief from civil wars in  Iraq, Syria, Libya, Turkey, Nigeria, Congo, and other African nations, and “terrorist” assaults in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

“Hegemonic globalization” ignores and silences, the “common good.” In contrast to “hegemonic globalization,” the “common good” is driven by equity, equality, democracy, and human and nature rights. “Hegemonic globalization” favors a homogenized global community, subservient to special interests and exploitations, serving wealth, military power, and position. Never before has the term “One World” become such a danger!

In the struggle against the pernicious consequences of “hegemonic globalization,” there must be a commitment to the “common good.” “Common good” must become the global goal. The word “common,” itself speaks against fractionation or separation. Interdependency is an unavoidable reality. Even as the risk of “Black Swan” events remains, efforts must be made to develop principles for arbitrating policies and actions insuring the “common” good will trump fractionation. This is the reality!

Opportunistic foreign policies by USA and NATO powers, produced massive national upheavals in identity, and facilitated “fractionation” within and across population sectors.  As easy solutions to the problems fell beneath the failed recognition of the complex consequences of intrusions and forced regime changes favored by the USA and its allies, the notion of “endless war” emerged.  As usual, these nations concluded their errors revealed the dangerous state of our world, an assertion requiring more global violence, conflict, and destruction, a tragic position favoring only warmongers rooted in government, corporate, and military positions.

Whether by choice, intention, or diabolical impulse, population sectors identified as “different” by status markers (e.g., religion, race, gender, age, gender preference) have emerged as threats, dangers, or risks to the existing status quo. Tragically, the status quo, through media and educational controls, nurtured myths of its “benign” status.

Manichean distinctions became popular among politicians, generals, and war industry mavens. “You are either with us, or against us!” Really! How many Cowboy and Indian movies generated that distinction? Did anyone ever ask the Indians? This in a world of massive population differences! Simplistic solutions from simplistic minds failing to grasp the reality of imposing prejudicial solutions on a world now tired of Western exploitation and dominance, the consequences which now are destroying the West from within!

Unfortunately, possibilities of good, positive, and virtuous changes are denied in the West amid nostalgic calls for a return to the familiar past in which colonization, imperialism, invasion, regime change, labor and resource exploitation, and pollution of the world became rampant. Whether in Africa, Central America, South America, West Asia, or in oceans, earth, and skies, “fractionation” has been the consequence of “hegemonic globalization.” We reap the legacy!

3. Change as Enemy

Change itself has become the enemy! Population sectors considered “carriers” or emblematic of differences have become targets by closed minds who have failed to understand their own egregious role in producing difficulties. The cries of the old status quo echo:

Remember the “good ole days,” when “men were men,” and you knew what was right and wrong! Remember when we used “bathrooms based on our genitalia,” and our genitalia were sources of pride.” “Men and women knew their place, and foreigners worked their butts off for $3.00 hour plucking chickens, harvesting vegetables, and picking up garbage. Sure do miss those days!”   

Many population sectors, however, did not miss those days, and they fought and struggled to change them because of exploitation and abuse. Racial and gender revolutions of past decades, seeking a modicum of equality and opportunity, became labeled as Communist-inspired conspiracies, insidiously inserted into existing stable societies and nations. Unions were considered problems because they pursued equality. Unions, once a voice for workers, became sources of trouble in businesses, schools, and harvest fields.

“We are being screwed!” became the cry! “Take back our society!” “This is not my nation!” “Get out!”  In the confusing haze of change, governments, corporations, military, and educational institutions became tyrants oppressing change.  Populism became the only salvation for many filled with discontent, fear, and anger.

Ultimately, whether for political, economic, and/or moral reasons, “demonized” population sectors are now being forced into past marginalized statuses. “Fractionation” is omnipresent. Without Constitutional, legal, or moral protections, marginalized population sectors become easy targets for blame ostracism, and justifiable violence. Tensions mount as dominant societal sectors seize power and impose barriers and burdens upon marginalize sectors. “We want law and order!” “We have a right to carry guns anywhere, all the time.  Remember the OK Corral?”

In its extremes, ethnic cleansing, genocide, imprisonment, and other forms of social ostracism and isolation become consequences of seemingly “just” effort to protect society. Tragically, the concentration of wealth, power, and position in the minds and hands of a few seeking to perpetuate a past enabling them to maintain positions of power and influence limits and prevents rising protests among marginalized populations sectors (e.g., women, race, gender preference, immigrants, peaceniks, and the elderly).

It is essential concepts and principles for “arbitrating” the “common good” be identified and applied to proliferating local, national, and international policies, regulations, and laws. The latter are seeking to increase separation under nuanced and ambiguous terms. Spin!

Foreign Policy Bias

Monopolistic concentrations of economic, political, social, and ideological power across the world today assure “hegemonic” control (e.g., Big Ag, Big Media, Big Pharmaceuticals, Big Military, Big Education, Big Business, Big Medicine) (see Marsella, 2015). This concentration shapes government foreign policy actions resulting in invasions and occupations destroying national histories, traditions, religions, stability, and identity.

Within this context, “regime-change” has become a reflexive foreign policy option for the USA and allied Western powers. Consider the vast destruction of Middle-Eastern nations (e.g., Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Afghanistan, and likely, soon Turkey and Iran). These nations are “imagined” threats to USA, UK, and Israel hegemony and imperialistic ambitions.  In the foreign policy room, however, “imagined” has become real as the perpetrators have forced justification of destruction and war.  “Bomb them, accuse them, vilify them, demonize them, and eventually they will respond with anger; at that point we have them where we want them and we can run rampant over them.”


1. Diversity

The issue of “fractionation” is rooted in the contentious ideas and ideologies of diversity, political correctness, and multiculturalism. The world is caught in pressures for cultural and national homogenization versus multiculturalism (e.g., Marsella, 2016). Many government, corporate, and military power sources seek homogenization, because the uniformity will assist in control and domination.

Tragically, “fractionation” is a social, political, economic, and moral distinction and discrimination rooted in differences and diversity.  Diversity is the essence of life itself! Diversity reflects the life impulse; the infinite impulse to evolve alternatives.

Chart 1 displays examples of population sector “fractionations.”  Current political movements directed toward electing or imposing “conservative,” “neo-cons,” “right wing,” and “fascist” governments and national identities are omnipresent. “Fractionation” is strengthened by competition for limited resources (e.g. financial, education, health). There is a need for justice; not only the perception of justice, but an accepted and established template for arbitrating policies and practices.

Chart 1: Examples of Fractionation Sectors

chart 1

Chart 2 lists proposed concepts and principles for arbitrating public and private policies and actions for the “common good.” Chart 2 concepts and principles are founded within the recognized need for compromise and acceptance rather than imposed force. The issue of “diversity,” so apparent in Chart 1 on “fractionation,” is best resolved, not through “power” politics, but through establishing an equal playing field.  How much diversity can a society or nation take before it looses coherence and the ability to function as a whole?  The answer is both complex and simple.

“A society or a nation can tolerate as much diversity as it is willing to establish equal opportunities for access to shared society or nation rewards.”

Arbitration principles and concepts displayed in Chart 2 are well known. The challenge is to use them.  Consider the reality that science, religion, philosophy, and all other anchors of moral codes speak of these principles on a near daily basis. They are no longer sources of debate, but rather sources of hypocrisy. The world agrees “justice” is essential in arbitrating legal and regulatory policies and procedures, but “justice” becomes ignored by the time its meaning is tarnished through debate and argument, especially at the hands of those who value injustice.

Chart 2: Principles for Arbitrating “Common Good”

Chart 2

Institutions and professions speak daily of ethics and moral codes, and yet they fail to se human rights as the foundation of any ethical or moral code they advocate. Why not begin with the United Nations statement on “human rights?”  This universal statement, UNHCR should be read by all professions and specialty services; it should be read by school students either before or after the various pledges of allegiance. Will this provoke controversy and discomfort? Yes, of course, but political and religious codes and pledges are at best attenuated to an institution’s favor.

Or consider “complexity!”  Rather than propose simplistic solutions favoring a particular positions or group, acknowledge the situation is complex and will require a consideration of the many complex variables needing to be considered, and appropriate multidisciplinary models. What about “activism?” While authorities seek to contain activism, and even to label it as a crime or terrorism, fundamental principle of citizen activism is enshrined by law and history. Repression of activism rights and privileges to offer counter opinions and to protest is the hallmark of fascism. Addiction to control and dominance in fascism destroy the human spirit and erode choice.

These principles for arbitrating the “common good” stand as a bulwark against the forces of fractionation.  When these principles are advocated and used, the “common good” will survive and thrive.


The challenge of addressing “fractionation,” is in essence, simple. As Sister Joan Halifax said, “There is no other!”  There is only one. Addictions to actions and policies of “separation” represent a pull from primitive instinctual impulses when recognition of differences were considered essential for survival.  This was a need in ancient times when perceived differences were considered sources of risks and threats to security and survival.  But that was then, and this is now!   Evolution has demonstrated primitive instincts can yield to reason. Recognition that “differences” are, in fact, expressions of essential evolutionary life expressions is gaining acceptance.

The cosmic principles of “fission” and “fusion,” which characterize and describe the very creation and evolution of the universe itself, contain the message:

“Separation is essential. It offers variations and differences. At the same time, fusion of connection and unification of differences is also essential because the fused creation contains emergent properties yielding yet new opportunities for creative evolutionary possibilities.”

That is life! It is time to accept a new code: “Lifeism.” (Marsella, 2011). To do less, guarantees destruction. To life!


  1. “Globalization” is the process and product of transnational and trans-border policies in communication and information technologies; financial transactions and controls; social, economic, and political dependencies; military pacts and alliances; laws; treaties, transportation; and mega-corporations (Marsella, 2012, 2017).


Marsella, A.J. (2005) “Hegemonic” globalization and cultural diversity: The risks of global monoculturalism. Australian Mosaic, Volume 12, #4, 15-22.

Marsella, A.J (2011). Identity beyond self, culture, nation, and humanity to “lifeism.”…/identity-beyond-self-culture-nation-and-humanty-to-lifeism”/  

Marsella, A.J. (2012). Globalization and psychology. Journal of Social Issues, 68, 454-472.

Marsella, A.J. (2014). War, peace, justice: An unfinished tapestry. Alpharetta, GA: Mountain Arbor Press.

Marsella, A.J. (2014, December 1). The epic ideological struggle of our global era: Multiculturalism versus homogenization.…/the-epic-ideological–struggle-of-our- global-era-multiculturalism-versus-homogenization,

Marsella, A.J. (2015 May 11). A template for our global era.…/a-template-for-our-global-era-the-lexical-nexus-of proportion-process-ideology 

Marsella, A.J (2017; in press). Globalization. In F. Moghaddam (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Political Behavior.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Emeritus Professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa Campus in Honolulu, Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu.  He is known internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 21 books and more than 300 articles, tech reports, and popular commentaries. He can be reached at

Posted in Armed conflict, colonialism, Democracy, Donald Trump, Environmental impacts of war, Human rights, Media, Perspective-taking, racism, Terrorism, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment