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EDITORIAL: Media unfairly blamed for violent acts

Hysteria over new film exhibits communal deflection

The Aurora movie theater shooting of 2012 left 12 people dead.

These moviegoers-turned-victims were watching "The Dark Knight Rises," the third and final movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. While the shooter was not inspired by the film to commit his act of violence, could national rhetoric centered around movies, video games and other media incite violence?

Of course, the Aurora shooting was not the first time that pundits discussed the negative influence of the fiction we consume. As it would turn out, it certainly was not the last.

"Joker," an origin story film dealing with the creation of its namesake, has evoked significant rumbling during recent news cycles. With mass shootings continuing their persistent hold on national politics, and as these shootings compound and clearer intents come to light, a dark movie about an outsider finding solace in violence was bound to stir controversy. 

In fact, the cable news conglomerates — often characterized as sensationalist — were not the only institutions instigated by the movie. “The FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned law enforcement ahead of the movie's Thursday night opening about a number of threats to moviegoers that were posted online," according to CNN.

It cannot come as too much of a surprise that federal agencies were at least a touch careful with this film. Many mass shootings of our current, turbulent times have been committed by white men. Nearly 50% of mass shootings are carried out by white men, with younger people generally as the main perpetrators, according to the Associated Press. Coinciding with these emerging national trends, "Joker" showcases a downtrodden white man.

Obviously, these two pieces of information — mass shootings being committed by many white men, and "Joker" being about an angry white man — cannot, by themselves, draw the conclusion that this film would indoctrinate a generation of mass-shooters.

The ways in which the titular anti-hero becomes what he does in the film have come under scrutiny. A common trope surrounding the modern mass-shooter is a background of being — or at least feeling — rejected by society as a whole. The Joker evidently undergoes such rejection during the film, further sparking fears it could inspire and attack.

Of the movie as a whole, on IndieWire writer wrote, “It’s possessed by the kind of provocative spirit that’s seldom found in any sort of mainstream entertainment, but also directed by a glorified edgelord who lacks the discipline or nuance to responsibly handle such hazardous material, and who reliably takes the coward’s way out of the narrative’s most critical moments.”

Fears of violence arising from over-motivated movie-goers did not begin with Aurora, nor with the relatively recent rise of mass-shootings in general. This hysteria used to be the mark of a classically overprotective parent or hyper-critical conservative in the past. 

People would make fun of people who believed the media we consume could actually cause violence. Now, normal and mainstream society genuinely does.

The film played through its opening weekend without incident. The only event of note was the movie’s phenomenal box office returns, grossing $96 million in the United States and $248 million overall. Apparently, the film’s divisiveness paid major dividends. 

While the producers of "Joker" may be thrilled about the film’s controversy and the new homes it bought them, it is absurd to think that any undisturbed human would ever be driven to commit acts of extreme carnage by two hours of footage. 

In the age of mass shootings, it can be understood why this paranoia is re-emerging, but reactionary responses to anything must quickly be diffused.

Movies became more violent from 1985 to 2015, but overall rates of violence declined during that same time frame, according to U.S. News & World Report. A researcher from the reference study said “media are simply an easy target for people who want to claim the moral high ground. Blaming media gives people a false sense of control.”

The article paraphrases Dr. Michael Rich, a media expert who reviewed the study: “What people experience most is micro-aggressions, like bullying. While (Rich) considers movies a reflection of society, he added that the causes of violence and aggression are numerous.”

A simple argument of personal agency is also pertinent to this issue. Endless incitements can lead to endless potential events, but at the end of the day, the only true cause behind an act of violence is the person who committed it.

It is not up to the artists of our society to bend to the variability of the human race. Rather, it is the responsibility of both the collective and the individual to avoid any semblance of violence — no matter how seemingly inconsequential — at all costs. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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