By Gary L. Maydew

Scene from “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises”

We tuned into the local news at noon Friday, partly to learn more about the tragedy in Aurora, Colo. The coverage on WHO-TV was rather brief, a feed from the national news, followed by the inevitable Iowa connection. What came next, after some local news, floored my wife and me.

“Up next, enjoying the Batman movie at the IMAX,” the announcer cheerily stated in words to that effect. “Surely they won’t run that, given the circumstances,” I said to my wife. “It would be in incredibly poor taste.”

But we watched in astonishment and disgust as Channel 13 ran the segment. I immediately called the news desk. “I can’t believe you are running that segment on the Batman movie,” I said. “It is highly inappropriate.”

“The movie didn’t kill anybody,” he smarted back.

How do you respond to such a combination of facileness and insensitiveness? “You showed people wearing gas masks,” I said.

But I wondered. Is this what we have come to in the United States? Where we celebrate extremely violent movies by celebrating their openings with dress and costume that glorifies the violence? And can we truly expect that there is no connection with the celebration of that violence with the horrifying actions that took place in Aurora and occur with sickening regularity all over the United States.

The pursuit of money and power at the expense of ethical standards seems endemic throughout America, not just in the corporate boardrooms, but in government and nonprofit institutions as well. When such pursuit ruins our finances, devalues our homes and pollutes our environment, that is one thing. But such selfish goals pollute our society, when the movie industry and TV executives produce works that have the effect of tacitly abating and encouraging the violent and insane among us, that is quite another.

It has to stop, lest our society become and adult version of “Lord of the Flies,” a society where violence is endemic and the strong torment the weak with little fear of being corrected. As parents and grandparents, as uncles and aunts, we must demand more of the media. The tautology that the Batman movie did not kill anybody is not a satisfactory answer.

[Mr. Maydew is a retired accounting professor, Iowa State University, Ames. This letter appeared in The  Des Moines Register.]

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  1. Lori on July 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Mr. Maydew makes some excellent points.
    It is a shame that children can’t be taken to movies about superheroes anymore. These movies are not acceptable for children.
    My own 7 year old boys are running around playing “Batman” right now. It is not because they have seen or even heard about the recent movie (they are homeschooled and we don’t own a TV), but because we just visited a Six Flags amusement park, where there is a Batman ride with pictures of the characters. No doubt my husband told them the names of the characters from the comic books as they stood in line for the ride. This was a day before the Colorado tragedy.
    I could tell my boys that their current play isn’t exactly in the best taste, but they are completely innocent, having not heard about the tragedy. It wouldn’t be right for me to do that.
    It’s also not right that the news would run that segment, since they did know better. I’m not saying that that movie is to blame for the tragedy, but I can’t see how anyone in society benefits from watching such extreme violence. I wish I had more power over the media. I can only vote with my dollars, none of which will go to movies that celebrate violence, infidelity, teenage sex or other morally bankrupt themes. I find it disturbing that this is entertaining. Even more disturbing is that I predict the movie will draw in even more viewers because of what happened in Colorado. I hope I am wrong.

    • quinersdiner on July 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

      Well put. John was at the midnight premier here in Des Moines with his friends. Frankly, I want to see the film. But I’m rethinking everything right now.

  2. illero on July 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    We used to say something like, “You can know someone by knowing who (s)he associates with.” Well, I still think that is true, but the term “associates” has taken on a whole new meaning in this age of technology. Today, young people, and many older people, are, at an alarming level, associating with violent games, violent and crude books, violent and crude TV shows, violent and crude movies, violent and crude songs, etc. Is it even POSSIBLE that a constant diet of this stuff does not color our outlook and actions? I don’t think so. It will, of course, affect some people more than others, but surely the greater the input, the more distorted the output becomes.

  3. Karen Quiner on July 21, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I sure wouldn’t worry about your boys playing Batman Lori. It would be futile for you to keep your boys from playing “superhero”. It is hard wired into little boys. The great thing is that they have been wonderfully protected from the extreme violence that is so prevalent in our culture today so it will be a pretty tame version of it.

    Even if it includes shooting each other and playing dead, I would just ignore it. Your boys are nice to each other and nice to others and that is what counts.

    I didn’t buy my boys have toy guns, but they used sticks for their guns and they have both grown up to be gentle and loving souls.

    I also agree with what Mr. Maydew says. We can’t blame it all on this movie but movies like this contribute to the culture of death and violence. I think we should all think twice about what we read and watch.

  4. Bob Vance on July 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    My heart goes out to all those affected by this horrendous act of violence.

    I guess I have mixed feelings on showing some of the people dressed up for the premiere. There were thousands of theaters where this was a positve event (like so many midnight premieres before it). To allow one lunatic to wreck that for everyone seems wrong.

    Sort of like 9/11. No matter how many we bring to justice, on some level, the terrorists won because they forever took away a layer of our innocence.

    As for our current media: Shortly before the Martin / Zimmerman case hit national news, I saw the trailer for Ben Stiller’s new movie “Neighborhood Watch”. I remember thinking that there was no way they would show that now. Except for revamping the trailor, it will be hitting theaters soon.

    • quinersdiner on July 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      I like Ben Stiller’s movies. I don’t know anything about “Neighborhood Watch,” but it seems like it might be smart to hold off a little longer. The Martin death is still too raw.

  5. J on July 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    The trick with tragedies like this is to keep perspective. It’s easy to develop a snap reaction that is too extreme. Do enthusiastic depictions of sadistic violence in media dull some people’s empathy for their fellow human beings? I would say the answer is obviously yes. But we must also remember that not all movies, books, or games with violence in them are evil — some of them, in fact, are excellent.

    It’s tempting to want to ban creative works that do X or Y (indulge in gratuitous violence, deviant sexuality, etc.), but that can easily become a slippery slope that leads to counterproductive censorship. The real problem lies not in lax laws but in a degraded culture. The true solution to problems like this isn’t censorship, but transforming culture one person at a time so that producing smut isn’t profitable because people don’t want to see it.

    • quinersdiner on July 21, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Eloquently stated. I agree.

      • Lori on July 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm

        Absolutely. I would never want government to say what is or is not socially acceptable.

    • illero on July 22, 2012 at 6:22 am

      The “slippery slope” mentioned by J, and Lori’s comment on government involvement, got me to thinking – always a dangerous thing – going out on a limb, here —

      Just to play devil’s advocate – in reality, SOMEone, or some entity, must declare what is socially acceptable. Otherwise, we have chaos.

      Traditionally, these entities range from the inner voice, to the family, to the church, to the community, and, yes, to the government.

      One could argue that ANY influential force helps set social beliefs and behavioral norms. And sometimes, yes, they do it through ordinances, through laws. Smoking bans, gun control laws, laws against slander and libel, laws against assault, rape, murder, and robbery, against revenge, against beating children and spouses, against stalking, about inappropriate uses of public spaces, dress codes, laws against pornography, against threatening public officials, laws determining who can see what-rated movies, about using child restraints in cars, about abortions, about euthanasia, etc., ad nauseum.

      One person can say these are public safety issues, but then someone else will say “that’s a slippery slope” to the establishment of unreasonable control, and the corrossion of liberty. Sometimes I think we use the term “slippery slope” to define where our own personal belief in constraints ends – we’re ok up to a point, but beyond that we are “on a slippery slope”. Unfortunately, the next guy’s slope gets slippery at a different point than ours.

      In a manner of speaking, the censor is always at work in our lives. Our utterances and our behaviors are censored — by law or by norm — by our government, our society, our associations, even down to our small groups.

      One might even say that a “society” has a responsibility to censor. As much as we hate the word censor, isn’t censorship necessary in a society to maintain civility and order? Like the term “slippery slope”, “censorship” is one of those words that implies badness inasmuch as censorship gets applied in a situation that is beyond our own personal or collective comfort zone – for example, “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” gets censored by some, praised by others.

      I even wonder if our fear of the slippery slope, or of censorship – our fear of losing certain freedoms – actually, over time, inevitably leads us to a degraded society, one in which we suddenly open our eyes to find that we wish someone had called evil by its real name – “EVIL” – and stopped us years ago from going down the “slippery slope” of NOT censoring when we should have.

      Might the ultimate irony within a “free” society be that the LACK of wisely-applied constraints/censorship actually leads to its moral and ethical collapse and its loss of the very freedoms we thought we were protecting?

      But I hear the response already – entrusting anyone or any group to apply these constraints would put us on a “slippery slope” to losing our freedom.

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