Culture Clashes: Armond White on Dark Knight Rises and the Aurora Shootings

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film.


Via City Arts

The Christopher Nolan Batman movies are not exactly life affirming, so why do pundits refuse to connect those films to last week’s Aurora, Colorado, massacre at the midnight showing of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises? Instead, the problem of the films themselves has been swept away by a torrent of political distraction over gun control. After this clash of cinema and reality, have we forgotten that culture either dooms or defines us?

Over-smart responses to the shooting resemble the mindless state of most contemporary cultural commentary. It takes escapism–whether in movies or journalism–to a maniacal extreme by uniformly ignoring the causal relationship between the Christopher Nolan franchise and the murderous actions of James Egan Holmes (12 deaths and 70 injured persons) whose disguise resembled the role that Heath Ledger played in 2008’s The Dark Knight; even referring to himself as Ledger’s character, The Joker.

Holmes’ joke made the connection plain. Yet, standard-setting media consistently ignores the effect of movie content and idly promotes film as product. (See Charles Hurt’s marvelously blunt denunciation in The Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jul/24/hurt-letter-christopher-nolan-sean-penn-warner-bro/?page=2)

In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, confusion began with Roger Ebert’s misleading reaction in a New York Times Op-Ed on July 20. Evincing sociological and cultural denial, Ebert turned “I’m not sure there is an easy link between movies and gun violence” into a meme for his followers. Once again, tolerance for movies without substance or morality bled into social discourse. Another publication defended Nolan’s franchise, claiming Holmes “was not driven by those movies to slaughter…His actions needed no model in a fictional monster.” But facts, such as Holmes’ guise and diabolical plotting, prove the exact opposite.

Even before the film’s opening, a mainstream outlet’s essay broke the “embargo” studios usually impose on critics so as to prepare the movie’s social and political Pop status. That critic made facile, specious analogies between the tent pole event and the upcoming November Presidential election, a favorite tangent for Left pundits but a disastrous one for critics to risk unless a film has actually made an impact on the world. It’s difficult to assess this impact when Obama went to see The Dark Knight on vacation during 2008’s primaries; the publicized event sanctioned the film as a culture choice. This authorized Batman as a cultural totem and, eventually, one reviewer’s glibly mixed adjectives of improbable, genre-defying interpretations: “He is savior and destroyer, human and beast, the ultimate radical individualist and people’s protector. Yet as the series evolved, this binary opposition has grown progressively messier, less discrete…[it] further muddies the good and-evil-divide.”

The only thing that critic got right (she’s probably embarrassed now) was her blurb that “[Nolan’s] timing couldn’t be better.” Holmes might have been reading–along with customers of that fateful midnight premiere.

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For years now, we’ve all read movie reviews that justify a culture of death and destruction. Can we ever recover from movies’ spiritual decline over the past few decades? Standard praise for “dark,” “wicked,” “twisted,” “subversive,’ “transgressive” dramas or comedies has lowered film culture. Can we continue to pretend this has no effect? That it doesn’t influence the already deranged? That legislated gun control answers a spiritual and aesthetic crisis?

The crisis begins with filmmakers who are not conscientious. A new hierarchy of Archnihilists holds sway: Nolan, Soderbergh, Cronenberg, Haneke, Tarantino, Fincher, Aronofsky, Winterbottom plus a newsmedia that indulges the fashion for anti-humanist entertainment.

A bizarre twist of cultural values could be felt in reports that endlessly repeated a catch-phrase describing The Dark Knight Rises as “the year’s most anticipated film.” By whom? Mainstream media fails to identify or particularize the audience that is susceptible to Batman hype; it perpetuates the idea that the series’ appeal is universal. Intrinsic to that fraudulent notion is an attitude that absolves Hollywood of any artistic or moral responsibility. Film critics who dared hold forth on the Aurora catastrophe all demonstrated a simplistic boosterism: “No matter what, don’t blame Hollywood.”

To draw a connection between Holmes’ killings and Nolan’s negativity requires rigorous critical thought which media pundits, quack psychologists and politicians are reluctant to do. Attributing this catastrophe to lax laws overlooks the effect that popular culture has on individuals and how it might eventually lead to a broader, dangerous social effect.

Ebert’s unhelpful commentary continues his box-office-friendly, Pulitzer-prised film reviewing. This links to the absurd Dark Knight Rises hype just before Holmes’ rampage–the media’s embarrassing trifle over the Rotten Tomatoes website’s commentary pages where routine insults and death threats were exploited to further promote the film’s release. RT’s prominence derives directly from the careless approach to film that Ebert instituted on television, nullifying critical response to grades, ratings, sound-bites–thumbling.

This popularized, non-evaluating approach is the basis of the Internet free-for-all that has been declared as “democratizing” criticism. But it essentially minimizes the insight and sensitivity and taste that ought to be brought to cinema. Here is where fanboys rule, especially their juvenile hostilities. (Death threats have been posted at Rotten Tomatoes for years, especially following negative reviews of Toy Story 3, Inception, District 9, so it’s no surprise that their viciousness is eventually reflected in James Holmes’ gruesomely realized death threats). This anarchic, indiscriminate approach to criticism parallels film culture’s laissez-faire permissiveness and pseudo-sophistication.

To read the full article at City Arts click here.

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