Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Word of the Day: MASSACRE [Part 1 of 3]

By now, you have probably heard of the terrible events of this past Friday, June 20, in Aurora, Colorado.  After four months of preparation and planning, a 24-year-old recently-dropped out Ph.D. student in neuroscience, James Eagan Holmes, booby-trapped his apartment in the hopes of someone detonating a highly-destructive explosion and fireball.  He goes to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora for the midnight screening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and commits one of the worst massacres in American history.  Timeline of events

Before I go further, let me offer a disclaimer.  While I will be discussing a different aspect of this tragedy in this post, I fully acknowledge that the most important aspect in all of this is the senseless loss of life.  That point is not lost on me, but I will focus more on that in subsequent posts.

My parents took me a couple of times to drive-ins when I was very young, but I wanted to go home as soon as I ate and saw the first feature.  My lack of interest in the second feature -- yes, you could see two features for the price of one at a drive-in -- which was usually a western, my dad's favorite genre, did not endear me to him on those two occasions.  Needless to say, those two trips were the extent of my folks taking me to the drive-in movies.  (When I was older, I went to them and loved them...and stayed for both features.)  So, the first time I went to the movies was not in a theater, but I tend to count my being a fan of movies beginning with the first film I saw in a theater, the original The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.

I have been an avid fan of motion pictures for forty years.  Peter O'Toole, when he received his honorary Oscar in 2003, captured my feelings in a couple of lines from his acceptance speech: "The magic of the movies enraptured me as a child.  As I totter into antiquity, movie magic enraptures me still."  While not tottering into antiquity (or even walking zig-zag, for that matter), movie magic has, indeed, enraptured me, too.  It is an art form in which I once aspired to work and has always held a very dear place in my heart.  In fact, in my movie-going heyday, I would see anywhere between 80 and 100 films in a year...not counting films I went to see again.  (And I did, from time to time, go to see films more than once back then.)

While having watched films on television, online, or by playing DVDs on my computer myself, and with many of my friends being technologically acclimated as to watch films via services and websites such as Netflix and Hulu, I am what I might call "old school" or a "movie purist".  Sure, the convenience of watching it at home on your computer means you don't have to get dressed and go out, but nothing, for me, beats the experience of going to the movie theater and watching films on the big screen -- the way they were meant to be seen. 

I have seen movies in theaters that have well over a dozen screens and those that had only one screen.  I have been in some rundown theaters (i.e. ceiling tiles missing, damp smell from a leaky roof, seats that were as comfortable as sitting on mattress springs) and some beautiful theaters (i.e. serving cappuccino, stadium seating).  I even remember an instance during wintertime when one cashier told me that the heater was out in the theater that the film I wanted to see was playing.  (I went in anyway.)  There was one time when I drove to see a film (for a second time) over forty-five miles one way because it wasn't playing anywhere else any closer!  I even worked for a while as an usher in a long-gone theater when I was still in high school.

Not that I think the movie theater is necessarily sacrosanct, as in sacred exactly like a church building, but I have an almost sacred affinity for the movie theater.  The word "sacrosanct" means "to not be tampered with".  I take that seriously.  I never have caused any disruptions and, like most people, I hate it when someone else does.  To me, while being a place where I have been happy and laughing, moved and inspired, deeply touched and crying, and even scared and creeped out, one thing has remained a constant...I have felt safe.  The movie theater was and is my kinda-sorta temple of entertainment where the worst harm I faced was tripping over someone else's feet while I slid past them in the row to get to an empty seat.  (Well, there was that time when I got someone's gum that I didn't notice on the seat stuck to my favorite jacket...which I never fully got out.)

Similar to shootings that took place in churches in Knoxville, TN in 2008 and in Ellicott City, MD earlier this year, which were indeed shocking, this shooting in a crowded movie theater on July 20th is almost like "breaking a sacred seal" that movie theaters are safe havens into which one can retreat.  Who would have seriously thought a shooting would take place in a church or a movie theater? 

Before continuing, it is important to note that July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, was not the first time violence broke out in a movie theater. Here's a list of notable events to that effect:
March 1991: A Brooklyn man is killed in a New York theater, and fights break out in Sayreville and Franklin Township (both in New Jersey) during opening weekend screenings of the thriller New Jack City.
July 1991: More than two dozen violent incidents, including a fatal shooting, are reported at theaters around the country showing Boyz in the Hood.
November 1999: (Here's an example from abroad...)  A gunman kills three people and wounds five others at a Fight Club screening in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
December 2008: A disgruntled movie fan in Philadelphia shoots and wounds a noisy audience member during a Christmas Day screening of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
January 2009: A security officer stabs an unruly moviegoer after a showing of My Bloody Valentine in 3D at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y.
April 2009: An Oregon man commits suicide, shooting himself during a showing of Watchmen. [Source article]

It is clear to see that, while rare but not unique, the sheer scope of what happened in Aurora is what makes it so shocking on a such a large scale.  Keeping in mind how I feel about movie theaters, that this happened in a movie theater stuns me and breaks my heart.  Yes, it could have happened in a church or in a school or in an open field, but its occurrence in a place that I hold dear is heartbreaking, in addition to how my heart breaks for all who were killed and injured.  Keeping in mind how I feel about the magic of the movies, this is an example of how a place of escapism was turned into a place where you had to escape for your very life. That's not what a movie theater should be.  That's not what a movie-going experience should be like.

I admit, I am not terrified to go to the movies now, but I do have some pause.  Even after the events listed above, most of them I had read about when they occurred, I was not deterred from going.  I still believe overreacting is not helpful, either, but something like this is going to cause moviegoers and avid movie fans such as myself to have second thoughts.  I think that is only natural.  True, tragedies can occur at any time, when we expect it or not (usually when we don't expect it), but should we give in and not go?  Do we see not giving in as begging to be killed?  Or do we see it as something terrible that happened unexpectedly and choose to not live our lives in fear?  That choice is yours, mine, and anyone else's to make.

Instead of focusing too heavily on the endgame (the aftermath of the tragedy), put yourself in theater 9 on that fateful night and ask yourself this: How could you have prevented the perpetrator from doing this in the first place?  If your answer is like mine -- "I couldn't have done that." -- then we can try to accept that terrible things happen, to be alert, to hope that they don't happen to us or our loved ones, and to move on.  Or we could just stay home. 

Then again, how safe is that?


P.S. -- Tomorrow, in part two, I will focus more on the events leading up to that night and the night itself, as well as societal behaviors and gun laws.

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