The Dark Night Rises

The Dark Night Rises
Everybody knows the culture is poisonous, and nobody expects that to change.
By Peggy Noonan · July 28, 2012

Did “The Dark Knight Rises” cause the Aurora shootings? No, of course not. One movie doesn’t have that kind of power, and we don’t even know if the shooter had seen it. But a million violent movies have the cumulative power to desensitize and destabilize, to make things worse, and that’s what we’ve been seeing the past quarter century or so, the million movies. Each ups the ante in terms of carnage. Remember Jack Nicholson’s Joker, from 1989? He was a garish, comic figure and he made people laugh. He was a little like Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook in the old TV version of “Peter Pan.” You knew he wasn’t “real.” He was meant to amuse.

Compare that with Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008’s “The Dark Night.” That Joker was pure evil, howling and demonic, frightening to see and hear. If you know what darkness is, you couldn’t watch that Joker and not be afraid. He looked like the man who opens the door when you get off the elevator to enter Hell; he looked like the guy holding the red velvet rope. That character was so dark, and so powerful, he destabilized the gifted actor who played him. Ledger died of a drug overdose six months before the movie opened.

About 15 years ago, a TV interviewer noted my concern at the damage I thought was being done by the highly violent, highly sexualized nature of our culture, of our movies and TV and music. It will make us more brutish, I’d argued, and some will imitate what they see.

The interviewer was good-humored but skeptical: Hollywood makes a lot of comedies. Why don’t we see the country breaking out in laughter?

Violence is different, I said, because there are unstable people among us, and they are less defended against dark cultural messages. The borders of the minds of the unstable are more porous. They let the darkness in. You can go to a horror movie and be entertained or amused: “This is scary, I love getting scared, and I love it because I know it isn’t real.” But the unstable are not entertained by darkness. They let it in. They are inspired by it. Sometimes they start to live in the movie in their heads. “I am the Joker,” the shooter is reported to have told the Aurora police.

Carl Cannon, in a thoughtful, deeply researched series on RealClearPolitics, this week gave a measured, tempered look at our entertainment culture and its role in the Aurora shootings: “A hundred studies have demonstrated conclusively that viewing violence on the screen increases aggression in those who watch it, particularly children.” Ignoring the problem hasn’t made it go away. He quoted Jenny McCartney of London’s Daily Telegraph, after she had seen 2008’s “The Dark Knight”: “The greatest surprise of all — even for me, after eight years working as a film critic — has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.” The movie begins with a heist by men in sinister clown masks. “As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown — the Joker — stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth.”

What effect might a scene like that have on a man who is mentally or emotionally ill and beginning to have violent fantasies?

Mr. Cannon noted the different ways Hollywood executives have attempted to rationalize and defend what they produce. At first they claimed TV and movies had no impact on the actions of viewers. Then why, they were asked, have commercials, and why have characters who don’t smoke? Next filmmakers claimed violent movies not only don’t increase violence, they probably decrease it by letting audiences vicariously blow off steam. “Legions of social scientists lined up to test” the catharsis theory, says Mr. Cannon. They discovered the opposite: “Violent programming desensitized young people to violence, made them more likely to hit other children, and often engendered copy-cat behavior.”

Some of the sadness and frustration following Aurora has to do with the fact that no one thinks anyone can, or will, do anything to make our culture better. The film industry isn’t going to change, the genie is long out of the bottle. The genie has a cabana at the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The movie market is increasingly international, and a major component is teenage boys and young men who want to see things explode, who want to see violence and sex. Political pressure has never worked. Politicians have been burned, and people who’ve started organizations have been spoofed and spurned as Puritans. When Tipper Gore came forward in 1985, as a responsible citizen protesting obscene rap lyrics, her senator husband felt he had to apologize to Democratic fund-raisers. If some dumb Republican congressman had a hearing to grill some filmmakers, it would look like the McCarthy hearings. There would be speeches about artistic freedom, and someone would have clever words about how Shakespeare, too, used violence. “Have you ever seen ‘Coriolanus?'”

The president won’t say anything — he too is Hollywood funded — and maybe that’s just as well, since he never seems sincere about anything anymore.

A particularly devilish injustice is that many of the wealthy men and women of the filmmaking industry go to great lengths to protect their own children from the products they make. They’re able to have responsible nannies and tutors and private coaches and private lessons. They keep the kids busy. They don’t want them watching that garbage.

Jim in Alabama
July 28, 2012

Cultures rise and fall, but they rise again, from a remnant of the rational and faithful. The only good news about evil is that it is self terminating. The practitioners of debauchery all, ultimately, “do a Ledger”. It is amazing how clear a perspective Ms. Noonan has on the culture and the evil forces driving it, and yet misses by a moral mile the insidious intent of Obama and Company. She should revisit the most telling political poster from the 2008 election, in which the Joker make-up, that Mr Ledger wore, adorned the visage of our now fearless leader. Hollywood merely produces the mythology that spins our downward spiral. Obama’s crew are the actual perpetrators, luring each consecutive fool or set of fools into collusion with the theft and murder of a nation, and then discarding them when they’ve served their purpose. Start with the Most Reverend Wright, then Oprah, then the Kennedy’s, then the Crony Capitalists, then the Blacks, then the Hispanics, then the Catholics, then the Heterosexuals. Each clown completing its flattering part before getting the bullet. But the worse thing Ms. Noonan sees is that Obama, regretfully, seems increasingly insincere, which might, perhaps, limit his effectiveness as the healer she still, seemingly, imagines him to be. You’re an interesting study in brilliance and blindness, dear Peg of our hearts. May God bless you. And may he open your eyes, to not only the seeming of evil, but to the fact of it.

Uncle Bill in Pittsburgh, PA
Monday, July 30, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Gregory, please learn something about guns before you enter a debate on gun control. Learn that the Pentagon defines “assault weapon” as any weapon capable of FULLY AUTOMATIC fire, and that this class of weapons is NOT available to the general public unless you go through extensive paperwork to get a special license, pay a $200 fee to the ATFE, and pass a background check. They are therefore rare and already all but banned and not generally associated with crime. What the aurora maniac had were NOT assault weapons. What he used were SEMI-AUTOMATIC weapons (find out what that means, please…) that are generally legal for hunting in most states. Even that ugly scary-looking black “military style” rifle you can buy in any gun store IS NOT AN ASSAULT WEAPON. It is a legal semi-automatic rifle definitely NOT used by the military. It uses the exact same 100-year-old technology as a semi-auto hunting rifle- except that it has a plastic, rather than wooden stock.

A.R. Nash
Your points seem to cover the subject quite well, but in fact they don’t.  The heart of the killing power of an AR15 (“A” stands for “Assault” I believe, and “R” stands for “Rifle”) is not in its firing mechanism, but in its bullet.  Its bullet is an especially designed military bullet capable of great killing power because of its high velocity.  It’s a perfect combination of size, weight, composition, and quantity of gun powder.  It hits at such high speed that the slug fragments on impact with a body, resulting in multiple internal wounds.
If one used a fully automatic weapon that only fired low-velocity pellets then no one would be fatally wounded, so the issue isn’t automatic vs. semi-automatic, it is instead an issue of what type of ammunition one is struck by.  Playing games with semantics is foolish.  Do you not realize that a century ago, before automatic rifles were mass produced, an AR15 would definitely have been considered a very deadly assault rifle?  The meaning of what is an assault rifle is not written in stone but has changed as technology has changed.  Two hundred years ago an AR15 would have been the deadliest rifle on the planet, capable of decimating entire enemy ranks.

Citizencal in SoCal
Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Peg does it again – another insightful observation of our culture – with warts and all! Interesting to see how the Libs want to jump to attack – with their baseless rhetoric, as usual. Fortunately, truth and common sense will prevail. Now, on to November with the battlecry: Elections matter! Kick the bums out! Back to the Constitution. No more liars!

sunforester in left coast
Saturday, July 28, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Ever notice that we always look at every place for blame for bad things happening except the place where it truly belongs? We went through this whole exercise when Jared Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Anything that could have a finger pointed at it was blamed for Loughner’s violent acts, except for Loughner himself and those around him who knew and were responsible for him.

Loughner had a long history of mental illness and aggressive acts, and our law enforcement refused to send him where he could be treated adequately and kept out of harm’s way. Our culture didn’t produce Loughner, but it sure made a great opportunity for everyone to take shots at our culture with no constructive result, just like now.

Like Loughner, Colorado shooter James Holmes was an accident waiting to happen. He was a adopted son of a demanding, achievement-driven father, and was under long-term psychiatric care to help him adjust to this overwhelming pressure before he broke and started acting out his rage.

A.R. Nash
What’s wrong with you?  Your subjective bias bends the light of reason in your mind.  “to help him adjust to this overwhelming pressure before he broke and started acting out his rage.”
What rage?  He wasn’t angry.  He was psychotic and delusional.  He identified with madness.  He gloried in imitating it.  If “he broke” then why didn’t he finish the job of alleviating himself of his “rage” and kill himself?  It’s because he wasn’t driven by rage, but by the siren song of megalomaniac power, i.e., the thrill of playing GOD.
“Now comes another pundit happy to take shots at our culture”
“Happy”?  Really?  Her principle motive was the happiness of questioning the values and perverse creations of today’s slimy world?  That’s what motivated her?  I suggest you check you personal smear tendencies at the door before embarking on a rational analysis.

“We need to be aware of our fellow humans who are close to breaking down”
So….we all need to be professional psychologists and diagnose the people we know who might simply seem odd?  How in the world can you propose that ordinary people should catch, report, mitigated, or alter drives and actions that even his psychiatrist was unable to prevent?

Gregory Spearing in Yakima Washington
July 29, 2012

This is a bloody and violent culture and easy access to quick firing weapons is irresponsible.

I have owned many rifles, shotguns and side arms and have been a member of the NRA. I’ve never been aware of a need for quick firing weapons with high capacity clips to suit any legitimate purpose.

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