Editor's Choice

The world has too many Jokers

Box Office Mojo predicted the greatest opening in the history of cinema for Dark Knight Rises. Has a prophecy ever been more wrong?

Friday’s Colorado killing of a dozen moviegoers has claimed another casualty: the truth.

ABC News’ Brian Ross first impulse was to read politics into the movie-house mass-murder. “There is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year,” Ross reported. “Now we don’t know if this is the same Jim Holmes, but it’s Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.” It wasn’t the same Jim Holmes, but the reckless mention was enough to stir the fever swamps.

And those fever swamps, which do not base admission on any ideological litmus test, spread a competing narrative that the mass murderer toiled for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mass movement. Bloggers cite a YouTube tribute to OWS by a James Holmes (with a different middle name), maintain that OWS claims the shooter as a member (though they don’t), and even note that Dark Knight Rises contains an anti-OWS theme (so what?).

There’s just no “there” there.

We have seen this movie before. It played in Aurora only after it had played in Tucson, where a lunatic named Jared Lee Loughner played a right-wing Tea Partier for scriptwriters Clarence Dupnik, Keith Olbermann, and Paul Krugman. The villains cast—Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin—weren’t neophytes to that role. Like all spectacular movies, the story didn’t mesh with reality. When a classmate described Loughner as a “political radical,” “quite liberal,” and “left wing,” the narrative seemed as grounded in reality as the typical comic book.

In the immediate aftermath of a dramatic event we learn more about the reporters than the story. When the demand for information is greatest but the supply of it is lowest, breaking news acts as a Rorschach test for journalists who often seek to save the world rather than chronicle the known facts. The claims of ABC’s Brian Ross, for instance, that attempted to link the Tea Party with the Aurora tragedy provided viewers a glimpse into the reporter’s psyche instead of the pyscho’s psyche. With few facts to guide them, journalists—bad ones, at least—turn to fantasy.

There is a pathological quality to seeing one’s political enemies lurking behind every great horror. It’s strangely comforting to imagine your ideological adversaries as mass murderers rather than to realistically see them as people who disagree with you on the proper level of taxation or whether there should be a minimum wage. It’s also terribly narcissistic to place what one crusades against at the center of terrible tragedies completely divorced from one’s crusades. Political obsessions so powerful that they compel an assignation of ideological motives to every gun-toting fruit loop demonstrate that when you let politics become all-consuming it consumes your reason before anything else.

Nymphomaniacs will think “John Holmes” when they read “James Holmes.” Political junkies will spot James Holmes in an OWS encampment or shouting at a Tea Party-crashed town hall meeting (depending upon their allegiances). Whether one has sex on the brain or politics on the brain, the brain doesn’t function the way it should.

Sane society is at its most insane when it tries to make sense of insanity. People grasp at reasons to rationalize the irrational behavior of inherently unreasonable people. Madmen have a way of bringing out the sane man’s inner-madman. Crazy is contagious that way.

The world has too many Jokers. Some would say we could use a few Supermen. But who we really need is Clark Kent, Superman’s alter-ego who reports the facts for the Daily Planet rather than saves the planet daily.

The world doesn’t need saving. It needs truth.

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