Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The Shooting Incident In Colorado

The PopCulteer
July 27, 2012

This week’s PopCulteer is going to be a little bit more serious than usual.  A week ago, tragedy struck in Aurora, Colorado as an armed maniac opened fire in a crowded theater at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  The immediate aftermath of that has been an online explosion of discussions, controversies, rants, and speculation that really hasn’t done anything to add any major insight to what exactly happened.  There have been people trying to exploit this tragedy to further a political agenda and there have been people missing some rather obvious questions that were raised by this incident.

This week, we’re going to try to sort a few things out and add our own layer of rants and speculation to the mix.  Throughout this piece, I do not intend to write the name of the shooter.  We don’t know if he simply did this for the notoriety, but just in case, I don’t feel comfortable adding to his fame any.  In this post, he will be known as “the shooter.”  So let’s dive in…

A Brief History of Midnight Movies

First of all, let’s look at the phenomenon of Midnight Movies.  This is something that used to be a special, cult-oriented event for small audiences of adults.  The very idea of starting an event at midnight would seem to exclude children from participating.  Originally, cult movies were cutting edge art films, gross-out comedies, or grindhouse action flicks.  However, in recent years, the midnight movie has become a mainstream marketing gimmick, a very lucrative one for Hollywood studios.

Mainstream pop culture has conditioned audiences that seeing everything “first” is somehow better than any other movie experience.  Premiering a mainstream movie at midnight is a purely arbitrary gimmick.  Hollywood has created a party atmosphere and for all the trendy moviegoers, it’s more important to be able to say they saw the movie first than it is to actually see and enjoy the movie at all. There is a false sense of urgency that, in my opinion, is actually a detriment to the moviegoing experience, as theaters are packed with people who simply want to be first, rather than being filled with people who will shut the hell up and watch the movie.

The one tangible excuse for seeing the first showing of a movie–the desire to see it before the print gets mangled–is no longer much of a concern. Most movies are delivered and projected digitally now.

Later in this column, I’m going to address the appropriateness of taking children to any midnight movie, but I would like to suggest that since the midnight movie is a completely arbitrary designation by the movie studios and they obviously have the movies finished at least a few days ahead of time, that in the future they consider replacing the midnight movie with a “red carpet premiere” of a highly anticipated movie event at 8 PM on a Thursday night so that it’s more accessible to younger audiences and preserves the lucrative party atmosphere without requiring people to, in the case of “The Dark Knight Rises,” return home at three o’clock in the morning. It’s silly to pretend that a bonus showing at midnight should count as part of the opening weekend, but a sneak peek four hours earlier shouldn’t.

Having said that, the fact that “The Dark Knight Rises” was a midnight movie premiere really had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a madman went on a shooting spree.  It was a convenient target, but he could have just as easily chosen something else.  Had he remained in his native San Diego, he might have opened fire at Comic-Con International earlier this month.

What we know

The crime scene

What we know so far is that the shooter dropped out of grad school, accumulated a lot of weapons and body armor, sent some kind of notebook to his psychiatrist, and opened fire at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  We don’t know a motive and if we ever learn one, it might not make any sense.  We have learned that the shooter was a mediocre student who failed his end of year exams after his first year of grad school, but he was clever enough to very skillfully booby-trap his apartment and knowledgeable enough to acquire plenty of firearms and body armor.

We don’t know of any political agenda.  We don’t know why he chose a Batman movie.  We know he told the police that he was The Joker, but he dyed his hair bright orange instead of bright green, which suggests maybe he wasn’t quite as hip to the Batman mythos as initial reports suggested.  And we know that he looked rather out of it during his court appearance.

What we know about the incident from eyewitness accounts is that he came into the theater covered head to toe in body armor with two handguns, a rifle, and a semi-automatic weapon.  He tossed smoke bombs into the theater and he reportedly, systematically chose his targets.  Police reports also tell us that he had accumulated a vast stockpile of ammunition and probably only used a fraction of it before walking out of the theater.  He then surrendered meekly to police.

Outrageous notions

The public wants to know why this happened and the voracious mainstream media fell all over themselves trying to report facts which they did not yet have verified.  ABC News was so eager to report this story that they found and notified the shooter’s parents before police could.  Other media outlets misreported what ABC News dug up and claimed that the shooter’s mother said, “You’ve got the right person,” in reference to her son being the shooter when in fact she was merely answering the question “Are you the mother of this person who lives in Aurora, Colorado?” This incident parked a cacophonous symphony of bad reporting.

There were other instances of wild speculation and bad reporting.  ABC News reported that he was a member of the Tea Party, then had to retract it two hours later.  Brietbart.com decided to counter that by making up a story that he was a registered Democrat and Obama supporter.  People online suggested ABC News was so aggressive in reporting the story because they wanted to hurt the box office of “The Dark Knight Rises” so that it wouldn’t break the record set by their corporate sibling Disney’s “Avengers” movie.  Many people in positions of authority made public comments suggesting that there might be copycat crimes.  Ultra-religious people tried to hold up the shooting as an example of what happens when our society turns its back on their particular denomination.

This is all pretty much bunk.

The Death penalty

There has been some discussion about whether or not the Death Penalty is applicable in this case.  Clearly, if you believe in any use of the Death Penalty, it is.  My personal belief is that like abortion, the Death Penalty should remain legal, but be rarely used.  There are people who say the shooter is clearly insane and therefore, should not be put to death.  I’ve never seen the logic in that argument.  If somebody is clearly insane and has committed a horrendous attack against society, how does it benefit society to keep them alive?

In this case, I don’t feel that the Death Penalty should be used as punishment or as a detriment to keep others from doing this.  My take is that the shooter needs to be thoroughly examined so we can try to find out why he did what he did.  After extensive psychological and psychiatric examinations, society might best be served if slivers of his brain are examined underneath a microscope.

Gun Control

Many folks feel that the shooting in Aurora should help spur a national debate about gun control.  I didn’t realize that we weren’t already and consistently in the middle of one.  Trying to have a national debate at a time when wounds are fresh and emotions are running high is probably not the wisest thing to do.

The facts are that no gun laws on the books were broken by the shooter.  He did not have a criminal record and we have yet to learn of any previous psychotic episodes.

I do feel that there are reasonable regulations that can be placed on gun ownership.  I think we would be safer if loopholes were closed and the requirements for a background check and a waiting period were uniformly applied.  But none of that would have prevented this incident from happening.  It’s possible that under the expired assault weapons ban the shooter might not have gotten his hands on a semi-automatic weapon.  Even so, he still would have had two handguns and a rifle and would probably have done just as much damage.

And if he hadn’t been able to get his hands on any guns at all, we know that he was at least clever enough to build bombs.  A bomb going off in that theater may have killed and maimed a hell of a lot more people.  This incident was unique and extreme and should have no bearing on the gun control debate.

Likewise, many folks online have chimed in with the notion that if they’d only been in that theater with their concealed weapon, they would have been able to “nip it in the bud” and cut that tragedy short.  This is, quite simply, a big, dumb, macho gun-totin’ fantasy.

First of all, if you have a concealed-carry permit and you think opening fire in a dark, smoke-filled theater is a good idea, you scare the crap out of me.

Here’s what would have happened.  The shooter was ordering people to stand up and blasting them with his rifle.  If you stood up and fired your gun at him and didn’t hit him, you would have gotten his attention and had your head blown clean off.  The coroners would be prying your gun from your “cold, dead hand.”

If, by some fluke, in the dark, smoke-filled theater you managed to hit the shooter, you would have startled him.  But because he was covered head to toe in body armor, you would not have stopped him.  You might have angered him and caused him to shoot many, many more people because he did have quite a bit of unused ammunition on him when he was captured by police.  Also, he would have blown your head clean off.

Another scenario would be that using your concealed carry permit and firing blindly in a dark, smoke-filled theater, you would have struck innocent bystanders and could have possibly been gunned down by police who thought you were an accomplice.

So while this incident is not a good starting point for a debate on gun control, it’s equally silly to think that it is in any way a justification of people carrying concealed weapons.

Bad Parenting and Infants In Movie Theaters

One of the compounded elements of tragedy in the Aurora shooting is the fact that a three month old infant was wounded and a six year old girl was killed.  Clearly, you have to have compassion for the parents.  No reasonable person expects that an armed madman is going to burst into a midnight movie and open fire.  However, the fact that a three month old and, to a lesser extent a six year old, were even AT a midnight showing of a movie has shocked the hell out of a lot of people, myself included.

What I find more shocking is the extremely vocal and aggressive defense of the parents in this case.  I had people tear into me online because I dared to ask the question “Who the hell would take a three month old to a midnight movie?”  My friend, Karan Ireland, who contributes to The Mommyhood blog at the Daily Mail was so offended by my question that she wrote an entire post based on the question I asked.

Like I said before, I am not without compassion.  But I still find myself somewhat incredulous that anybody would think it appropriate to take a three month old infant to a midnight showing of an extremely loud and violent PG-13 movie.  Since none of the parents in question have access to my Facebook posts, I don’t think I was out of line asking the question I did when I did.

Yet many of my friends online felt the need to “correct” me because I dared to question the parenting skills of those involved.

Allow me to answer those charges with another question.  How the hell do you not question the parenting skills of people who do remarkably stupid or reckless things with their children? “Oh, the kid will probably sleep through the whole movie” is NOT any kind of excuse or defense. The kid might sleep through a drag race in a stolen car, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to bring junior along for the ride.

Let’s forget about the shooting incident for a moment.  We’ll look at this purely from a parenting and movie-going standpoint.  If you have a three month old infant, you’re probably a young parent.  I understand that it’s very stressful for you and you may need an occasional break.  But as a parent, you have to make sacrifices.  Some sacrifices are great.  Some sacrifices are minor.  Not being first in line to see a Batman movie is a minor sacrifice.  Your life is not going to be ruined because you had to wait a day or two to see the movie at a time when it might be safe to have your child out.

I understand that there are reasons why someone might take a three month old infant to a movie theater.  I don’t agree with ANY of them, but I can understand.  Maybe you can’t afford a babysitter, maybe you have to breastfeed, maybe you just can’t stand to be separated from your little bundle of joy.  You know what?  Maybe you don’t need to go to the movies.  Maybe caring for your child should take priority over your fleeting personal enjoyment of the cinema.  And if you do feel the NEED to take your infant with you to the movies, why on earth would you pick the most crowded showing of a loud, violent movie that starts at midnight?

Infants are known to cry, particularly when startled by a loud, Dolby 5.1 surround-sound explosion

Let me explain this to you.  If you decide to take your infant to the movie, there are some things that you need to know:  First, infants are known to cry, loudly and often.  They’re babies. It’s only natural for them to do that. Second, theaters are dark places and it’s easy to trip over things, especially when you’re carrying an infant.  Third, other customers of the theater are paying for a movie experience that does not include interruptions or loud outbursts.

If you choose to take your infant to the movie theater, you are demonstrating that you don’t care about the quality of the moviegoing experience for your fellow patrons.  You are selfishly putting your personal gratification ahead of any consideration for your fellow customer or for the safety of your child.

I had people say to me “I took my babies to the theater all the time when they were young and if they cried, I hustled them out of there and hushed them up.”  Well you know what, folks?  When somebody’s watching a movie and there’s loud crying, followed by the hustling out of an infant, their moviegoing experience has pretty much already been ruined.  And in the process of “hustling” your kid out of the theater, you could trip and fall and injure your baby.

You have to remember: nobody NEEDS to go to the movies.  You do need to make sacrifices when you are a parent.  If that means not going to the movies for a few months while you’re breastfeeding or waiting until you can afford a babysitter, then you’ll just have to suck it up and make that sacrifice.  You’re a grown-up now with a child for whom you are responsible.  Dragging your baby around like an accessory is selfish, immature, and irresponsible.

If you really, really want to go see a movie, go to a matinee.  It’s less expensive, the theaters are not as crowded, and you’re not returning home at three o’clock in the morning the way you would if you went to the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Taking an infant to the midnight showing of a highly anticipated movie is simply beyond the pale.  It’s midnight, for God’s sake!  The theater is packed. You’ll get out in the middle of the night. If you’re driving, you’ll be on the road when most drunk drivers are out.  And if your baby starts crying uncontrollably, you’ll be ruining the movie experience for the most rabid fans who most want to see and enjoy the film.

Like I said earlier, midnight movie premieres are big, loud parties. Do you really think it’s wise to take an infant to a big, loud party that starts a midnight?  Babies grow up pretty fast. It’s not like you’ll never be able to go to a midnight movie party again. But you’ve got a kid now, and you have to put their best interests first.

I’m not a person who hates babies. My mother ran a day care center, and for 25 years, if I was in the house, I was probably helping out with the kids. I’ve had friends and family call be for baby advice. There are very few places where the presence of a child disturbs me. But when I pay good money to see a movie in a theater, I want to enjoy the movie. I don’t want to hear your cell phone conversation. I don’t want to listen to you crack jokes about the movie. And I don’t want to hear a baby crying for several minutes before the exasperated parents noisily make their way to the lobby.

So you’ll just have to excuse me on this.  I have been accused of being overly judgemental and not having any compassion for the way I feel, but if I walk into a midnight movie and I see somebody with an infant, I can’t help but think “that is one selfish, immature, irresponsible parent.”  I would feel the same way if I saw somebody taking an infant bungee jumping, bull riding, or dangling it off a balcony.  Common sense dictates that there are certain things you don’t do with an infant. Attending midnight showings of violent movies should be on that list.

The Wrap Up

I guess you can see what issue struck me the most in this incident.  I was almost more shocked by the fact that a three month old was in the theater than I was by the fact there was a shooting.  This type of incident is tragic and unpredictable, and we can never really know in advance when somebody is going to go off the deep end.

The shooter in this case lived at the intersection of clever and evil.  He obviously planned this down to the most minute detail.

Christian Bale visited victims of the Aurora shooting. An act of kindness.

Of course we have compassion for the victims.  This was a case of sheer terror.  Nobody expects to get gunned down at the movies.  Every time something like this happens, it eats away at a little piece of our personal security. Kudos to Warner Brothers for starting a fund for the victims and to Christian Bale for visiting some of the victims. Those were acts of kindness that may help soothe some of the pain for the victims.

All we can do now is hope that the justice system works and that we are able to find some answers to why this happened and possibly prevent it from happening in the future.  This incident does raise a few valid questions, but I don’t think any of them are related to gun control or concealed-carry.

I think we have to decide whether or not midnight movies are even a good idea.  Why do they have to happen at midnight, particularly with a movie that’s almost three hours long?  If they keep having movie premieres at midnight, should children even be admitted to the theater? I’ve been to theaters in major cities that don’t admit children under the age of three to any movies, let alone PG-13 films.

As for reforms, changes that could take place in the wake of this incident, I could really only think of one.  Emergency exits in the backs of theaters should have alarms on them.  If, in this case, the shooter opened the door and set off an alarm, he may have simply run away screaming, instead of calmly propping open the door and returning fully armed and armored.

Criminals are a cowardly lot, after all.

3 Comments

  1. Don

    Just a small correction. The shooter was NOT wearing a bulletproof vest.

    http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Retailer-who-sold-to-Holmes-getting-backlash-3730881.php

  2. Debbie

    I enjoyed your story and agree with it completely!

  3. rudy panucci

    Actually, Don, reports are that he was fully-armored. He may not have purchased a bullet-proof vest from that one retailer, but reports are that he was indeed wearing one.

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