*Like much of the nation, I’ve been knee deep in the television coverage of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. The segments, the specials and the breaking news, all conjure some of the fear and anxiety I felt while glued to the TV after both the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.
Yet, I continue to watch. I watch in the name of being informed; I watch out of morbid curiosity. And I watch to feel better about myself.
For example, I put myself in theater 9 of Aurora’s Century 16 cinema. In my mind, I’d have made it out alive. Witnesses say the shooter entered through the emergency exit, near the screen, at the front of the theater. Well, chances are good I would have been near the back. For me, the inconspicuous exit is among the simple joys of life; I like being able to leave when I’m ready, unnoticed. Already in the back, when the trouble started, I’d have been among the first out of there. At least that’s what I tell myself now.
As it usually does in these cases, the media quickly gave the tragedy a face. Like the young lady who aspired to be a sportscaster, who a month earlier had avoided a mall shooting in Toronto Canada. Or the guy who was wounded in the leg…while trying to help the young mother whose boyfriend–they escaped the theater with their young son, uninjured–was moved to propose marriage the next day.
Or the dazed, short-haired young woman, one of the first to be interviewed on TV after the shooting, talking nonstop about the horror she’d witnessed. Or the youngest fatality, a six year old girl.
Meanwhile, I curse the TV as politicians, pundits, so-called “experts” and assorted talking heads debate, once again, as to whether or not another U.S. mass murder is a gun control issue. When those who go on killing sprees can legally arm themselves to the teeth and purchase a reported 150 pounds of ammo to do so, no matter what else it might be, it’s a gun control issue.
Not being discussed nearly as much is the fact that this heinous act also speaks to a nagging detail of American society that is central to the national presidential campaign: health care. Specifically, that of mental health.
The headline-grabbing meltdowns of the privileged, the famous and infamous overshadow the plight of everyday citizens from all walks of life–including, apparently, a 24 year old honor student with a B.S. in neuroscience and no prior criminal record–who, with or without health insurance, make up the millions who go undiagnosed and untreated.
But something like the Colorado shooting can take a toll even on the emotionally sound who weren’t there. As a culture, we’re already perpetually stressed out, depressed, amped up, overworked and let down. And then a national crisis comes along and somehow compounds our personal woe, causing us to ask, “What next?”
The answer to that question lies within the story of yet another Theater 9 patron whose post-shooting profile I caught on TV. The young man told the reporter that he escaped without injury from the movie mayhem and, shaken, went home and reflected on how close he’d come to death at the hands of a madman.
Then it occurred to him: he still hadn’t seen the movie. He’d been waiting for months to see it and in an instant, one man’s evil, murderous deed ended lives and forever altered the lives of others.
And so, several hours after surviving the massacre, the young man put on his Batman T-shirt, recruited a willing friend and they found a theater outside Aurora showing “The Dark Knight Rises.” It’s called facing your fear. The man conceded that what he did was scary, but he did it anyway.
Your personal bogeyman might be the dreaded first of every month. Or a marriage that appears doomed; problems on the job or a difficult relationship with family. Or the haunting notion that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Whatever it is, you got to stare it down, deal with it.
I didn’t learn the above from that Batman fan, but it was reassuring to be reminded of it while being entranced by all that darkness. I want to walk that kid’s talk. However, the first thing I’m going to do is turn off this damn TV.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]