Two nights ago I watched Expendables 3 on Netflix. Last night I watched the news unfold as a bunch of wonderful people lost their lives. The Expendables franchise is fairly well conceived, I think. It’s a simple formula–show what’s left of the pool of aging action heroes engaging in witty banter, then show a massive body count, then repeat the cycle. After a few cycles, you have a movie. After a few movies, you have a franchise. The bizarre thing is that it’s not all fiction. In real life if you aim an automatic weapon at a crowd of people and fire, lots of them die. The problem is, they’re not bad guys and they’re not pretend. They’re you. They’re me. They’re just people going about their business.
So now, once again, we start the familiar cycle that follows these events. Gun opponents will seize the ‘opportunity’ to make the obvious point that U.S. gun culture facilitates these kinds of mass shootings. Gun advocates will go on a shopping spree in fear that the government will finally crack down on their Second Amendment ‘rights’. And no one wants to admit that no matter how many current gun laws get enforced, and no matter how many people in the crowd are legally carrying guns, every now and then somebody clever and weird snaps and a lot of good people die.
It’s tempting to suggest a connection between the glorification of mass violence in the entertainment industry and the mentality of folks who commit mass murders. When I was a young child, I chased a girl I was playing with with a hammer. I was going to bop her on the head with it. I knew it wouldn’t hurt her because I was an avid Bugs Bunny fan and I knew that she would just get dizzy and see birdies fly around her head, then shake her head and be fine. I had seen it in cartoons dozens of times. Thank god my mother was there to stop me and explain the gravity of what I was trying to do. I remember another time, watching Bugs Bunny with my mom, when she told me never to shake a baby the way Bugs Bunny was doing. I remember being struck with the thought that it never would have occurred to me on my own that this was a bad idea. Did Stephen Paddock, firing a machine gun from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, think he was Sylvester Stallone the way I, as a kid, thought I was Bugs Bunny? Did James Holmes think he was the Joker? And no, I don’t think censorship of the entertainment industry will prevent mass violence. Crazy people will always find some source for their crazy ideas. But, I don’t let my kids watch Bugs Bunny; and, I should probably stop watching the Expendables.
And, I’m really sad to see Tom Petty go. Somewhere, somehow, I do hope he’s running down a dream.