Saturday, July 21, 2012

Milking “The Dark Knight" Massacre

Joker, Harley, and Riddler
"Joker Harley Quinn, and the Riddler at Dragon Con 2011." Photo by Robert Williams via Flickr.  Photo is used to illustrate the fun of dressing up like a fictional character. Obviously no connection is implied between the motives of these individuals and that of the Aurora shooter.
“An entire dimension of human reality is therefore suppressed: the dimension which permits individuals and classes to develop a theory and technique of transcendence by which they might envisage the ‘determinate negation’ of their society.’
– Herbert Marcuse, “From Ontology to Technology: Fundamental Tendencies of Industrial Society,” in Critical Theory and Society (1989)
I feel cold, not physically cold but emotionally. It’s wrong to feel cold when 12 people are dead and 58 more are wounded for the “crime” of attending a midnight movie premiere.
I’m analyzing why I feel this way.
There’s a superficial answer – why does this tragedy get coverage, and not others equally as bad (if you can compare) or worse?

Why is the Batman movie massacre generating so many headlines? Frankly, because it’s a tragedy that people want to talk about. There’s the brand element – the popular “Batman” movie series; the fact that it involves “mainstream” (read White, middle class) victims; the fact that the alleged shooter is clearly a “bad guy” that we can all condemn who conveniently fits the “mad scientist” stereotype. Plus it’s interesting how he booby-trapped his apartment. Isn’t it?
Cold. But it’s better to be honest, though it’s horrible if true: Headlines aren’t about justice but making money. People will watch, click. Promoting and publicizing the details is about exploitation, and not the search for meaning amidst evil.
The old newspaper saying: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Somebody smells blood.
The "Batman" character of "The Joker" was clinically antisocial. His behavior showed "pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others” including harming society through illegal or deceptive behavior, aggression, impulsiveness, recklessness, irresponsibility, and worst of all lack of remorse. He was a psychopath, too – meaning he possessed “underlying traits that contribute to antisocial behavior patterns.”
The psychopath is charming; grandiose; a liar; manipulative; lacks guilt or remorse; has no empathy; needs constant stimulation; doesn’t care about social norms or behavioral self-control; and is irresponsible with “unrealistic long-term goals.”
In what way is “The Joker” different from the typical marketer, exactly? Do we not possess so many of the traits listed above?
Are not consumers in many ways similar to “The Joker?” (Headline in today’s “Wall Street Journal” – “The Customer As A God”)
What we can’t really talk about, but perhaps ought to, is the hypocrisy of our collective professions of emotional despondency over this tragedy. Because facing it might force us to change, when we sort of like things just the way they are.
Though we undoubtedly do feel pain for others’ loss, on some level we are also exploiting the loss as an opportunity to – talk about something that people find worthwhile. To sell a website or a TV station or a particular reporter or agency or whoever can get in on the action to sell their brand.
In a world where“a lot of the people thought the gunshots were a part of the movie” or “a publicity stunt” – meaning that consumers are as savvy as those who market to them, that we are not all that different from marketers ourselves, that the shooter is perhaps not as far from our own brains as we like to think – in this kind of world is it not our responsibility to discuss the possible hypocrisy of our discourse about tragedy?
Whatever we cannot talk about, we collude in perpetuating. We ought to examine the motives behind making much of this particular tragedy, and little of so many others. 

Why there is a sense of coldness even as people act like they care so very much. 
And why even those who feel the hypocrisy are not immune from using it. 

In the end there is a very fine line between recognizing a problem, and using it to generate attention for yourself. 

Nowadays that line is almost indistinguishable.