By now most of you will have heard about what happened in Colorado during the Dark Knight Rises midnight screenings. The gunman does not deserve to have his name mentioned here. He does not deserve any degree of fame or notoriety. He is beyond pathetic. He is beneath contempt.
I'm not going to talk about the victims, the dead and the injured, because even as a writer I don't have the skills to put into words the senseless horror of what has happened. Neither am I going to talk about the friends and families who have lost loved ones. I try not to talk about things about which I know nothing- and I cannot imagine their pain or their grief.
Instead, I'm going to talk about Art, and life imitating Art, and Art imitating life.
This pathetic nobody of a person chose the Dark Knight Rises as the perfect place to make his bid for fame, and so people are going to start laying the blame at the feet of films. And those who aren't laying the blame on films are laying the blame on video games- because they like films, and they don't like video games. The pro-gun control people in the US are already blaming it on the availability of high-powered weaponry, and the anti-gun control people are, bizarrely, complaining that MORE people didn't have guns in that cinema. They appear to want a return to the days of the Wild West, where everyone was shooting at everyone else. Both sides will, invariably, start pointing their fingers at the movies, and at video games, for desensitising their children to violence and being the root of all evil in the world.
And this is not something I'm going to debate here. I've said it before on this Blog- video game violence densensitises children to video game violence. Real life violence is a TOTALLY different thing. It's real, for a start, which is something a lot of people tend to forget.
Let's think about another group of people who have been affected by this tragedy. It may seem shallow to start pitying the poor filmmakers, but as a writer I can at least begin to understand what they must be going through. They've spent the last few years of their lives making this movie. They've spent the last few months gearing up for its release. They've spent the last few weeks worrying and fretting and fidgeting. And they've spent the last few days in shock, after some pathetic loser hijacked a night that was supposed to be a celebration, and twisted it into something disgusting.
No matter what this loser's proposed motivation might turn out to be, blaming the films he watched or the games he played or the books he read is as short-sighted as it is irresponsible. The plain fact of the matter is that the blame lies with one person and one person alone- the man with the gun. The man who opened fire. The man who decided to kill.
Lunatics seize their inspiration from all sorts of places- the Beatles' Helter Skelter and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye stand out most prominently- but inspiration is not the same as motivation. Early reports suggest this loser may identify with the Joker. But does this mean Christopher Nolan or Heath Ledger share even one iota of blame? How can it? If the Joker wasn't an inspiration, then something else would have been. The inspiration doesn't matter. Watching The Dark Knight didn't make this loser kill. Only the motivation matters. Why did he kill? What went so wrong in his life that he did this? What went so wrong in his head that he pulled the trigger?
Whenever I hear about another mass shooting in America, or anywhere around the world, a part of my mind always slips away to wonder how I'd react if I had written something like that into my books. When I was writing Kingdom of the Wicked, I had a sequence in mind for the super-powered teenagers to rampage through their school, killing and destroying as they go. When I got to the sequence, though, I paused.
Do I really want to write about teenagers killing their schoolmates? After everything that's happened? And what if I do write it, and the book is released, and a few months later there's another school shooting in the States? It'd have nothing to do with me or my books, obviously, but I'd still have used a horrible scenario that is all too real in a book that is meant simply to entertain.
What if, in Death Bringer, Melancholia had visited a cinema? What if she'd started killing people at random? After Thursday night, how would YOU, the reader, have felt about that? You'd never be able to see those chapters in the same way again, would you? It'd be forever tainted by life imitating Art.
But does that mean it shouldn't be written about? Should a writer shy away from such things on the off-chance that something similar might happen in the real world? Is there any way to actually answer that question and still consider yourself a decent human being?
Speaking for myself, I wasn't comfortable putting that onto paper. If this had been some other book, a book about these spree-killings, then I would have written it and I'd have been proud that I did. But to use it as an action sequence, primarily to entertain? No. I couldn't do it.
Writers, all artists in fact, have a duty to the truth. Stories are lies- no matter what genre they plug into- but the writer must seek the truth in the lie. They must be honest. And in order to be honest, they must reflect the world around them. Simply by doing that, though, they run the risk of life veering too close to their Art, and they risk being tainted by association. But I genuinely believe, with the whole of my heart, that it's a risk they have to take.
My condolences to the friends and families of those who have been hurt or killed in this evil act.