1. Some things are obvious—not to confute the two, but it was an awful tragedy, and who the hell brings a three month old to a movie, never mind a midnight movie?
2. No one really knows quite how to “take” mental illness as a logical conundrum (Western notions of normal, right and wrong, agency, responsibility, etc.). One of the survivors’ family members noted: “He was pretty crazy looking. There was something not right about him…Justice would be served for him to get the death penalty.” Whatever one thinks of the death penalty (me: it’s barbaric, it’s not a deterrent other than the obvious fact that it deters whomever it kills from killing someone else in the future), one of the justifications for it shouldn’t be “something isn’t right about someone.” Why not goths then, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Hawaiians (they’re just too happy, it isn’t right).
3. Whatever one thinks of Batman films, or Nolan as a director, or Heath Ledger, I wouldn’t blame any of the above for what happened, any more than I would blame Nietzsche for the Holocaust or KMFDM for Columbine. Arguably, the opposite is the case; “dark” art can give someone a home rather than unmoor them further, occupy them rather than throw them out into nothing and nowhere. Goth wouldn’t exist if it truly made people hate themselves and the world; it obviously connects them to something other than nothing.
4. On a related note, I’m reminded (because I’m normally reminded) of the brilliant Frank Zappa exchange with a born-again Christian during the “porn rock” debates of the 80s:
Born-again Christian: Some of those things are not normal sexual relations.
Zappa: It doesn’t mean you have to do them. Information doesn’t kill you..
Born-again Christian: They’re too young to know the difference.
Zappa: Children learn the difference by receiving information which they can store and sort with your help as a parent. If you don’t let them know about this stuff they’ll grow up and be ignorant.
Born-again Christian: I would rather have them ignorant of some things.
Zappa: Anyone who would rather have their children be ignorant is making a mistake– because then they can be victims.
(quoted in Ben Watson’s sadly out-of-print Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play)
5. I wouldn’t blame this on the economy either—we’re all victims of the economy in some way, many much worse than James Holmes. Even schizophrenia doesn’t explain it, since most schizophrenics don’t identify with the Joker, and odds are that the majority of schizophrenics who do identify with the Joker wouldn’t actually want to massacre people in a movie theater. I wouldn’t say there are uncaused events—Dostoevsky’s Underground Man was caused by something; so was Dostoevsky—but sometimes we suffer as a culture not by failing to explain, but by explaining too much. Sometimes the silence is better.
6. Probably the worst reaction I had was: at least he wasn’t a Lit major. The mental illness stereotypes are bad enough without dealing with the “humanities dropout = psychopath” thing; “bookish” can always be derogatory in the wrong hands, i.e. mass America. (Law wouldn’t bother me as much; lawyers have enough other pre-existing stereotypes to deal with that this one wouldn’t stick, whereas the psycho Lit major would be reinforcing something that already exists. Who knows why—Manson wrote poems but never went to college; even Kaczynski was a math major.)
7. Was what Fred Willard did at a movie theater last week really so bad?