Trying to Make Sense of Senselessness

When I woke up today, I honestly could not believe the news. Actually, it still feels surreal; like such an absolute invasion of everyday life could never happen. Of course, it happens all the time. The whole terror of violence is that it can literally strike anywhere, anytime. I didn’t spend my four years at college terrified of lecture halls that could be invaded by gunmen, but I lived in a post-Virginia Tech world. And I didn’t wake up petrified to go to high school, even though I lived in a post-Columbine world. And frankly, I went to school in an area where guns were probably present at my school, on students, more often than I would ever want to know. It is part of the human condition that we have to push the senselessness of violence out of our minds to get out of bed and go out into the world everyday. But, what happened last night in Aurora, Colorado was a new violation, one that hits home for me in new ways. Violence has found new ground and it is one that I frequent all too often: the movie theater.

And it is honestly something I have thought about. I think it must be the similarity between lecture halls and movie theaters. The vulnerable position you unwittingly put yourself in should something happen. But you wouldn’t think that would happen somewhere you go for just a few hours to lose yourself and escape the outside world. This is the grossest violation of it all: yes, we may go to see a film like The Dark Knight Rises, where villains use guns and bombs to terrorize cities, but it is still escapism and it is usually fiction. We want to set aside our own lives for a brief period and get lost in the life of someone else. To be so savagely ripped out of that world of escapism and back into our own broken, flawed world is unfathomable. And yet, some guy decided to do just that.

For big tent pole films like this, I am usually at the midnight show. I saw The Dark Knight at midnight. There is something electric about being able to share such an anticipated moment with hundreds of other people (even if it includes being squished into queues that condense those hundreds of people into a few feet of real estate). But I didn’t see TDKR last night. So I can’t imagine which is worse: to not have seen it (and blissfully ignorant of what was happening in Colorado, seen the film) or to live in this world now, where I won’t be able to shake this feeling of dread and hopelessness when I do finally see it.

One thing we have going for us now is the prevalence of social media. We are connected like never before, so we have allies in our grief and allies in our sense of injustice and outrage. We can login to Twitter or Facebook and add our sentiments to the masses, being comforted by the notion that this is being felt everywhere. The first thing I saw today was an article by Alyssa Rosenberg over at ThinkProgress, which beautifully captured all my sentiments and more. This quote is particularly stirring: “We are vulnerable when we go to the movies, open to fear, and love, and disgust, and rapture, surrendering our brains and hearts to someone else’s vision of the world.” And that is what is great about going to the movies. For someone to exploit this is unimaginable, but it happened. The other thing that struck me was how social media brings us so much closer to the victims. Obviously the entire event was recorded in real time on cell phone video, via text messages and Twitter (and other means I’m sure). And for some people who are very active on social media, we get to see their final tweets and their final blog posts before, unpredictably, their lives changed forever or were ended.

I love midnight showings. I love being that excited to see a film. And movie theaters are one of the last places left where we can congregate with total strangers and equally experience the same emotions: laugh together, be scared, be stimulated. Sure, some people save money and wait or save money and watch it illegally. But unlike other experiences that new technology has replaced in our lives, the movie theater remains as one of the last vestiges of the free time of yesteryear. A constant in an otherwise changing world. Our world may now include jacked up prices and unnecessary 3D, but for the most part we don’t care. I don’t want to be scared to go do one of the few things I enjoy without reserve in this world. And I hope we don’t lose that social contract with fellow moviegoers that we struck so long ago.


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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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