I was watching ABC News last night, and it was talking about the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado. One of the stories featured interviews with some who thought that Batman movies and comics appeal to people because of their moral ambiguity and can inspire acts like what occurred in Aurora. After all, did not the shooter, James Eagen Holmes, tell police that he was the Joker? Did he not booby-trap his apartment, thereby imitating the Joker, who set destructive booby-traps?
While I was watching this story, I thought about a documentary that I watched about Batman a couple of years ago, as I asked myself if the Batman stories indeed were morally ambiguous. The documentary was comparing and contrasting Batman with the villains whom he fought. According to the documentary, the similarity was that both had experienced pain. Batman’s parents were shot by a robber when he was a child, and he saw that happen. And the villains had their own painful experiences. (The part of the documentary that I watched did not provide details on this, but I think about the Joker’s different stories in The Dark Knight about how he got his smile, or the Penguin in Batman Returns being abandoned by his parents when he was little.) The difference, however, was this: Whereas the villains sought to inflict pain and chaos on society to collect some debt for the trauma that they experienced, Batman’s pain led him to become a hero and to help others so that people would not have the same sort of trauma that he had. As Joyce Meyer (who herself had traumatic experiences and struggled throughout her life with bitterness and resentment) said in a series, our painful experiences can make us bitter, or they can make us better.
I do not know what went through the mind of James Eagen Holmes when he shot people in a movie theater and booby-trapped his apartment. From what I have read and heard, however, it seems to be that he felt powerless. He graduated with high honors, yet he struggled to find a job. He was quiet and reserved and thus he was left out of social cliques. He entered a Ph.D. program in neuroscience, but he began to withdraw. Did he shoot those people in the movie theater to assert power? Did he booby-trap his apartment to give the middle-finger to the authorities of a society in which he felt powerless, a society that he did not think cared about his plight? Possibly.
Perhaps James Eagen Holmes could have learned the moral lesson from the Batman stories—-that we can use our pain for constructive rather than destructive purposes. But, then again, maybe that didn’t happen for him because he went off the deep end. In any case, I think we can all learn from this the lesson of how it is important to try to create a society that cares rather than a society that is cold. There were stories of heroism at that theater, as people risked their lives to save others. If only that sort of compassion characterized our society on a continual basis.