Batman, theater violence, and more…

Wilson by Dan Clowes

From “Wilson” by Dan Clowes

So, I did bother trekking out to the movies at midnight Thursday to see the newest Batman at the first possible moment. Much to my displeasure, some selfish jerkoff brought his 4 month old baby to the screening. Bringing a baby to a midnight movie on a Thursday night (when you can most likely wait ’til Saturday afternoon and get a sitter, and, yunno, NOT EXPOSE 300 OTHER PEOPLE TO YOUR CRYING BABY) is unimaginably selfish to me, and I groused about it. However, I didn’t get too much of a chance to really bitch about it the next day, as the concept of “infant at midnight Batman screening” suddenly became a hot button topic after some lunatic shot up a screening in Colorado and one of the victims was, you guessed it, a 4 month old baby.

In a relatively slow summer news week, this shooting has been a jumping point for a lot of different conversations. The President has called for gun control, a lot of people have made really unfunny jokes about movie theaters, and some people are actually scared to go see the movie.

All of this is really stupid. First off, if there’s a movie worth getting shot for, this is not it. It’s almost 3 hours long, has an unnecessarily complicated plot, 2 romantic story lines (neither of which are believable), and Batman is on screen for about 20 minutes total. At least 50% of the characters seem to know Bruce Wayne is Batman, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t have to bother putting the suit on. The plot really felt like some Tom Clancy intrigue movie that someone dropped Batman into.

Also, does every single Batman movie have to involve criminals getting free from jail en masse and running amok? It’s getting to be a little stale and predictable.  Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly an enjoyable movie, but it just seemed to retread many of the plot elements and themes of the other two movies, and those movies tackled these ideas in a way that was both more manageable and believable. Before I complain too much, I should see it again in IMAX, though…

Anyways, in light of this shooting incident, which was clearly a one-in-a-million occurance carried out by the proverbial lone gunman, some dummies are actually now scared to go the movies. First off, they caught the guy, he’s not out there in his supervillian lab making plans to shoot up your 7:55 screening, ok?

I understand we live in a hyperfast media culture now, where new content is always needed and where the comment section on most of the articles posted on major news sites could be “who cares?”, but this is just dredging the bottom of the barrel. I don’t care if in the deepest recesses of your heart you are now scared to go to the movies, why would you want to quoted for attribution in an article about it?–abc-news-health.html

When Emilie Yount was in her 20s, she used to spend five days a week huddled in Chicago movie theater seats, “banging out” film reviews and blogs for publications like Reel Reviews and Being alone in a darkened theater with hundreds of strangers facing the same direction never fazed her.

But on Saturday, Yount, 30, gave away her tickets to see “The Dark Knight Rises” even though she’d bought them in advance because she loved the second Christopher Nolan “Batman” film so much. She said she couldn’t face going to the theater in the wake of the Colorado shooting on Friday morning that left 12 moviegoers dead at the hands of a stranger.

“My nerves have peaked,” she told “To have something like that happen… I can’t think of anything worse, to be honest.”

Yount said she has no history of anxiety or problems with small spaces, but she thinks it will take her a few months to head back to the cinema.

I think before this incident, the last movie theater shootings I heard about were at screenings of Boyz N the Hood or Menace II Society.  Besides the fact that those shootings were 20 years ago, I doubt that someone who spells their first name “Emilie” would be going to the movies in the type of neighborhoods where those shootings took place anyways.  So, chances are she can safely return to movie blogging.  Those of us with long memories remember when shootings at movie theaters weren’t a freak aberration but a fairly regular occurrence at inner city theaters. They usually happened when an “urban” themed movie like Juice or New Jack City played, as this article at notes. But, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, movie shootings could happen at any movie, from the Godfather part III to Batman.

Most likely these young shooters were toting saturday night specials and not the AR-15 assault rifle the Colorado shooter had. Whether there is a legitimate reason for the the public to have access to what is essentially a military grade weapon is certainly a matter worth discussing. But, very rarely is legislation that is passed quickly as a knee-jerk reaction to a single event good legislation (hello Patriot Act!).

I think we can all agree that your chances of being shot at in a movie theater are about the same as being hit by lightning while scratching a winning lottery ticket. You have a higher chance of being killed by a poisonous snake, hit by a car, eaten by a shark, and spontaneously combusting than you do of being shot in a movie theater. And, again, the guy has been caught. I’d understand if this nutjob was still roaming the streets with a basket full of guns and a Fandango account, but he’s not.

Imagine living in New York City in the 1940’s and 50’s, when George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” was planting bombs in movie theaters and other public places for 16 years before he was caught. He put pipe bombs in Radio City Music Hall, Grand Central Station, the New York Public Library, Macy’s, and more. From 1940 until his capture in 1957, he planted at least 33 bombs and injured 15 people.

An article published in Collier’s magazine in 1956, before Metesky’s capture, contains a description from the police about his methods:

The shadowy figure sits in an empty section of the orchestra, away from other persons. In the darkness of the show, he reaches to the seat next to him, slits the bottom with his knife, and slides in both the bomb and the knife. Then he moves to another section of the theater and watches the show. As the theater fills up and the early customers begin to leave- and the time for the explosion draws near- the (infernal) machinist gets up, tags along behind someone who is leaving, and vanishes.

Now, I get this is on more of a small scale in terms of body count, but imagine every time you go to the movies for 16 years, having it in the back of your mind that you are sitting on top of a pipe bomb. That is a fear with a little more legitimacy. Even if the bomb was discovered before it went off, that entire part of the city had to essentially be shut down while the bomb squad came in and dealt with it. In most cases they would use long poles to place the bomb inside a steel mesh bag, where it would then be placed inside a specially designed steel mesh container truck so it could be driven to a bomb range to be detonated.

A really excellent article in the New York Times from 2004 captures the fear of that era:

On the evening of Dec. 2, 1956, 1,500 people were at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater watching ”War and Peace” when a pipe bomb beneath a seat exploded at 7:50 p.m. Six people were injured, including Abraham Blumenthal, who was lifted out of his seat by the blast. The next day, Police Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy ordered what he called the ”greatest manhunt in the history of the Police Department.”

It is one thing to live under a cloud of fear — the Soviet Union’s nuclear warheads threatened Eisenhower-era New Yorkers, and Al Qaeda’s suicidal warriors threaten Bush-era New Yorkers. But it is another thing altogether when lightning strikes again and again.

There were notes with some bombs, but they did not explain the motives or locations. ”The Mad Bomber never gave a reason,” Mr. Gelb said. ”That’s what made it so scary.”


About peter

musings about music, culture, food, and more... twittering, tumbling, and instagramming: @PgunnNYC
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