Don't Blame Pop Culture for the Batman Shootings


It took The New York Times a full two weeks back in 1992 to settle on a scapegoat for the horrific shootings at Simon's Rock College in New Barrington, Massachusetts. "When his music changed, Wayne Lo changed, and in time two people lay dead, four others were wounded and a sheltering place had become a killing field," declared reporter Anthony DePalma in a front-page story about the 18-year-old shooter, Wayne Lo, who had arrived in court wearing a shirt advertising the New York hardcore punk band Sick of It All. "As he sits in the Berkshire County House of Corrections in Massachusetts, charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon," DePalma continued, "only Mr. Lo knows what led him to turn away from the classical music he once loved and instead embrace the violent, discordant music known as hardcore, and a surly group of students who were equally entranced by it."

Thus an entire genre of music was smeared by America's "newspaper of record" in the desperate attempt to explain the foul deeds of a deranged person. "Mr. Lo's problems, no doubt, go much deeper than his T-shirt," wrote the members of Sick of It All in an eloquent letter to the editor, protesting the "facile connections" the paper drew between Lo's taste in music and "whatever psychological collapse led him to the acts of violence he committed."

If early reports out of Aurora, Colorado prove true, and alleged shooter James Holmes did indeed tell police "I'm the Joker" after he was arrested for opening fire on a crowded movie theater showing The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 and injuring more than 50, it won't be long before commenters and politicians draw a new round of facile connections between violent entertainment and violent actions.

It's therefore important to state the obvious at the outset: Millions of people enjoy violent forms of pop culture every day, from movies to video games to music to comic books, and they don't turn around and harm anybody. Pop culture doesn't make you pull the trigger.

NEXT: Tea Party Supporters Getting Understandably Irritated at Being Linked to Every New Incidence of Ultra-Violence

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83 responses to “Don't Blame Pop Culture for the Batman Shootings

  1. Pop culture doesn't make you pull the trigger.

    But it influences the, um, feeble-minded.


  2. I don't blame pop culture for the crime, but I do blame the Nanny-State culture for the attitude of passive non-resistance that people display in the face of such crimes. Fighting back even against a murderer is regarded as "uncivilized".

    1. To be fair though, there were other considerations here, the first of which being that the moviegoers were systematically disarmed. Also, many people were -- rightly, in my view -- more concerned with protecting their loved ones than with bumrushing the assailant.

      1. If you don't neutralize the threat you can't protect your loved ones.

        It's illuminating to read the survivor's accounts. Some were so close that they were being hit in the head by spent brass. Given that the theater was dark and the assailant was wearing a gas mask, a counterattack was not nearly as hopeless as many people think.

        This is NOT a "blame the victim" thing. I'm blaming a culture that actively discourages people from developing a survival mindset to get them through emergencies.

        1. Oh I'm not disagreeing with that one bit. I'm just saying that even though my first instinct would be to want to rush the guy, I'd have a tough time leaving my girlfriend exposed to gunfire to do so.

          Those three guys who died covering their girlfriends made the right call IMO -- and it was effective as far as protecting the girls, which I imagine was priority 1 for them, ahead of stopping the attack themselves or making it out alive.

        2. Some were so close that they were being hit in the head by spent brass

          I hadn't heard that tid-bit before. IF true, it does kind of make you wonder why no one took cover, waited for him to walk by, then tackled him from behind and beat the fuck out of him. Of course, it's always easy to monday morning quarterback these things, but unless you've been in a situation like that you never know what you'll do. I suspect that most people, especially those with no LEO, military, or other training of any kind would become frozen with fear. We'd all like to think (myself included) that we wouldn't just lie there and get shot, but the truth is you never what you'll do in a situation like that until you're in one.

        3. Yeah, it's hard to believe that no one would try to jump him from behind as he walked up the aisle, but I guess if you're not overcome with fear, the first instinct is to try to escape. But if you can't escape, you'd think someone would try to go down fighting. Remember that the Giffords' shooter was tackled to the ground and subdued by victims and bystanders.

          1. The Giffords shooter wasn't in a "gun-free zone" where resistance gets you suspended or expelled.

  3. I had talk radio on in my car, and on Bill Bennett's show, they were clicking about how modern movies had morally ambiguous heroes, so that why we have the lowest murder rates since 1963, or something.

    1. I'm sure Bill Bennett thinks he's smarter than you and that you should probably just shut up and play along.

    2. He's got a point, what have we become as a society when we allow degenerate gamblers lecture us on morality?

    3. He's got a point, what have we become as a society when we let degenerate gamblers lecture us on morality?

    4. Fuck you squirrels not SPAM:

      He's got a point, what have we become as a society when we let degenerate gamblers lecture us on morality?

    5. Fuck you squirrels not SPAM:

      He's got a point, what have we become as a society when we let degenerate gamb-lers lecture us on morality?

    6. I blame it on morally ambiguous hypocrite radio talk show hosts who have a gambling problem.

  4. It's not about finding who's to blame; it's about establishing greater control. This event is the next excuse to force the American people to conform to someone else's grand design. Because to them, we are nothing but sheep in need of herding to the next pasture.

  5. As far as I can tell, all listening to Judas Priest does is turn you gay.

    1. Tell me about it.

  6. Hollywood on trial. The "duck and cover" aberrant violent incidents.

  7. Classical music? Every time you see a villain in the movies, he or she is listening to some classical opera or symphony.

    And which nation produced the most classical composers? Germany, of course!

    This needs looking into.

    1. When Hitler was trying to take a load off, did he go off and buy tickets to Nine Inch Nails? No, he want to the opera house and watched every Wagner opera like, twenty times.

      1. I read somewhere that Hitler didn't even OWN a Black Sabbath album, and had never even HEARD a Slayer song.

      2. This is actually the most critical observation, so Eduard wins the thread.

        Hitler loved Wagner.

        Alexander the Great loved Homer.


        The man with delusions of grandeur will find an artistic model somewhere to serve as his romanticized vision of himself. You can't possibly stop it, because stopping it would require extirpation of every possible model from the entire culture. And that can't be done.

        Even if you tore up every cultural artifact, Taliban-style, and left nothing behind but the Bible, the kid would just say he was Cain..

        1. Even if you tore up every cultural artifact, Taliban-style, and left nothing behind but the Bible, the kid would just say he was Cain.

          Of course it's Michael Caine's fault. Don't you know the butler did it?

        2. Solomon.

          Most people think he was a nice guy - Solomon the Wise.

          Far from it, the guy was nasty enough that his son would characterize Solomon's reign with the phrase "my father chastised you with whips".

          1. Pretty much every powerful person in the Old Testament is a bloody minded, genocidal maniac by today's standards

            1. also, polygamy

          2. Related to Solomon, I liked Joseph Heller's fictional autobiography of King David, "God Knows." YMMV, but I thought his takedown of Solomon was hilarious.

            For classical music, it's a genre that takes a little bit of musical education to appreciate. IMHO, assigning classical music to villains just goes along with most Americans' (humans too?) distrust of people they suspect are smarter than they are.

            1. To be fair, movie/TV makers use classical music because the composers have been dead long enough for the music to be public domain, i.e. free.

              1. You still need to find someone to perform it, since the performer of a public-domain work has the right to limit copies of his/her performance.

                Unless the performance itself has slipped into the public domain - which is why so many movies use clips from 1920s phonographs of classical performances.

        3. Even Crazy Joe Divola loved Pagliacci. It all fits.

      3. NYT Headline: Christopher Nolan is today's Wagner.

        1. I guess that makes Frank Miller today's Nietzsche?

          1. Nihilists Unite! (cue soundtrack by KMFDM)

    2. Yeah. All those classic nonviolent operas with peacenik Valkyries and stuff.

  8. Saw the new Batman flick last night. It was a pretty fantastic representative of the summer blockbuster comic book movie genre.

    Strangely, nobody grabbed a gun and started shooting people. Go figure.

    1. Strangely, guns aren't used very much in the movie. It's a lot of fist-to-bat cowl pounding with some reference to endurance-building pain killers.

      1. I should say that there is one very pro-"right to bear arms" quip by one female character.

  9. I blame pop culture. But I don't blame Batman or violent movies. I blame Ken Kesey. It was him and the success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next that started this idea that no one was really crazy and it was cruel to lock up the psychotic. Fifty years ago the guy who did this would have been locked up in a mental hospital when he started claiming to be the Joker. Now we don't do that. And sometimes the psychotic do things like this.

    1. what, you want to lock up all the Furries, Bronies, Klingons, Trekkies, and HR contributors?

      1. Not necessarily. I am just saying there is a price to be paid for not doing so.

      2. Well, maybe the bronies.

        1. okay, I'll make an exception for the Bronies.

    2. It is better that a thousand bipolars be locked up than a single psychotic roam free.

    3. Isn't that taking Cuckoo's Nest a little too literally? I suppose that's your point. But just to be clear, I've always thought of it as an Orwellian allegory for oppressive and capricious regimes, bold dissent, and institutionalization and collectivization of the masses.

      1. I think Cukoo's Nest had a real cultural impact. People took it literally whether Kesey meant it that way or not.

        1. But the people in Cuckoo's Nest were all voluntarily committed.

          Except for Jack Nicholson, who had been in prison first and was faking.

          1. McMurphy. That was his name. I remember now.

            1. McMurphy is a Christ figure complete with twelve apostles, sermons, misunderstood message, and an "execution" by the authorities.

              1. You're bitching about a fictional character. Fuck, are you stupid, shrike.

          2. That is a point that is not really made in the movie. Moreover, it is something that would never happen in real life. The criminally insane are never mixed with people who voluntarily commit themselves. They are two separate institutions.

            1. Yes, it is. McMurphy has an awakening at a group session when they tell him, one at a time, they are all there voluntarily. It's one of the most important points of the book / movie, so they could not have left it out.

        2. It was a bit before my time, though I have seen the movie, but which had the greater cultural impact: the book or the movie? I suspect the movie, as Louise Fletcher's portrayal is one of the best villains in all of cinema.

          And you can't really go after Cuckoo's Nest without also going after the defunding of mental institutions/adult care centers that happened around that time.

          For Holmes, unlike Loughner, wasn't Holmes maintaining fairly well before the shootings? Other than getting kicked out of his doctoral program, but it's not like we can quarantine every PhD student who bombs their orals. I didn't think he was getting himself committed, or anything like that. Why did the gun range not take him on as a member?

    4. Fifty years ago the guy who did this would have been locked up in a mental hospital when he started claiming to be the Joker.

      That's not a society I'd like to live in: the guy who did this had been high functioning. He was, from what I hear, doing well in grad school; hadn't hurt anybody (until he entered a theater and started firing); could care for himself, etc.

      The fact that his mom immediately said "they have the right man" gives me pause, and it's possible there will be some huge WTF revelation like in the Sandusky case.

      But, the abuse of the eccentric, or the use of involuntary commitment to put inconvenient relatives out of the picture makes me leery of going back to the old days.

      1. That is a fair point. Perhaps the cure is worse than the disease. But the fact is, if we don't have ways to institutionalize psychotics, this kind of stuff is going to happen. Freedom is not free. Sometimes there is a price to be paid for it.

        1. I think that if we want to be free at all, this sort of thing is going to happen sometimes, and there is nothing to be done about it (outside of encouraging people to be prepared to defend themselves in a pinch and private encouragement of psychotic people to get treatment). People are allowed to own guns. Crazy weirdos are allowed to go free until and unless they do something to threaten or harm other people. And if you care about freedom, that is how it should be.

        2. But the fact is, if we don't have ways to institutionalize psychotics, this kind of stuff is going to happen.


          Freedom comes at a cost, and it's worth it.

      2. There's a teenage kid of a friend of the family who I already see this in. High functioning Asperger's and no social skills to speak of.

        The wife-unit gets mad at me when I predict how he'll the creepy-loner-stalker in college. I can see it in his eyes and hear it in his flat, unaffected voice.

        1. he doesn't comment here yet?

          1. Touche.

            His dad is a full derp progressive, so give him some time to rebel.

        2. Did you tweet this to Scarborough?

          1. Did I what this?

            I should add that his parents have never done anything to mitigate the disorder with any kind of occupational therapy, though the mom suspects it. Still, she never does anything about it and dad is checked out.

            His sole form of amusement is to deliberately annoy other people, because it's the only power he has. Oh, and he'a already abusing animals and endlessly harasses his toddler sister. My kids, who played with him from an early age, don't want anything to do with him any longer.

            This will not end well.

    5. I blame Ken Kesey.

      Really? I was looking for the /sarc tag on your post, but I don't see it. You certainly must be kidding.

    6. Ken Kesey, seriously? I think you mean to blame Thomas Szasz. Not that that's fair, either.

  10. James Holmes did indeed tell police "I'm the Joker"....Pop culture doesn't make you pull the trigger.

    Of course it doesn't. Crazy eyes make you pull the trigger.

  11. "Only" 12 people died in Aurora, CO. THIRTEEN died yesterday near Corpus Christi, TX when a pickup truck smashed into a tree. Where is all the moral indignation about the right to keep and drive pickup trucks?


    1. Right on! There is absolutely no reason for civilians to possess technical vehicles.

    2. The Geography whiz kids at CNN identify Goliad as SE Texas. Fucking morons.

      1. I'd go with south, though if you divided Texas into four quadrants it would probably fall in the SE one.

        1. But noone divides Texas up that way. If it were to be divided into quadrants, it would be South TX, vs North (Dallas), East (Jasper, Vidor, piney woods), or West (El Paso, Midland, Lubbock).

          1. People who don't live in Texas apparently do. And you leave out Central Texas, which a lot of people here consider pretty important. And no one from Texas would mix in Midland or especially Lubbock with El Paso.

            Like I said, I'd call Goliad south. Houston would be southeast, but barely since what people in Texas consider East Texas is a pretty narrow range, typically where the pine trees start (as you said).

            I don't think called Goliad SE really gets into fucking moron territory.

    3. Out of 23 in the vehicle. I grew up in farm country---and am used to seeing 10-15 people crammed in a late-70s GM sedan---and even I am wondering how in the hell you fit 23 people in an F-250.

      Sad. Naturally, most of the comments in the local paper are focusing on the immigration status of the dead and injured.

  12. Still dreaming of the day someone goes on a killing spree wearing a shirt that says, "I love legislators!"

  13. Violent media makes you violent like Michael Cera movies make you shyly smile and stutter adorably.

  14. Holmes should have a fair and speedy trial and then a quick execution.

  15. Don't Blame Pop Culture for the Batman Shootings

    Stop calling them the Batman Shootings then!!

  16. Its hard to tell from the angle of the photographs, but does it look to anyone else like he had quite a bit of weight loss in the second (orange haired) photo?

  17. It saddens me that not one single movie goer was carrying a concealed firearm. Had Just ONE person been carrying, they could have stopped that lsoer in his tracks!

    1. he was wearing kevlar, center of mass shot wouldn't have worked.

      we would have needed atleast 4 shooters from differing angles.

      1. I read somewhere he also had a ballistic helmet and throat protector....

        1. Well, then someone should have brought their deer rifle to the theater with them.

    2. It was yet another "gun-free zone" as posted by corporate headquarters.

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  19. I'm still wondering if Holmes was on psychiatric medication.

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