Early last Thursday evening, as Kathy Collins and I chuckled about the impending opening of the new Batman film, a 24-year-old man in Colorado was getting dressed to go to the movie.
His wardrobe for the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" was basic black with armor all over his body. He also reportedly had four weapons, ammunition and canisters of gas. In his helmet, gas mask and flak jacket, when he entered the theater, members of the audience thought he was part of the show.
Kathy and I were recording our weekly "What's Playing" segment that airs Fridays on Mana'o Radio. I joked about the hoopla surrounding the rollout for the much anticipated film. Scalpers were getting hundreds of dollars for tickets to the midnight openings. Rush Limbaugh was claiming that the villain's name, Bane, was Hollywood anti-Romney propaganda, even though the character had first appeared in a Batman comic book in 1993. Film critics who had given the film early lukewarm reviews were getting death threats from fans.
All the hype struck me as ample evidence of how far our culture has traveled down the get-a-life highway.
Our show aired the following day. Now the jokes have a nauseating aftertaste as I stare at last week's cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was printed before the Colorado massacre, but it's dated July 20-the day of the tragedy-right above the headline, "Batman's Killer Finale" on its blood-red cover.
Several years ago, when I wrote about the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, I didn't identify the perpetrators, even though their photos were on the cover of Time Magazine. I didn't want to be part of the media bestowing that cherished mantle of our culture-celebrity-on their unconscionable acts.
Now we're a week into deja-vu. It has become a sickeningly familiar national exercise, probing the psyche of yet another previously invisible sociopath, as though some sort of "understanding" might emerge from uncovering the evil demons who live there.
It won't. All that will happen is that the demons will spread like a virus until they find another host.
Why the irresistible fascination with wanting to get inside the accused killer's head? Probably because it's easier than hearing the stories of the innocent victims killed that night. One. After another. After another.
The media have brought us images of children dying in war zones and regions of starvation elsewhere on the planet. But our killing field was a movie theater. The victims had come there excitedly, in pursuit of that most basic of American rights: to have fun.
I don't want to fall into what my friend Ron Youngblood calls "woo woo and voodoo," but it's hard to ignore that it was Batman leading us to the tragedy...again. In 2008, it had been Heath Ledger's overdose death after playing The Joker in "The Dark Knight."
Born in comic books as the weird guy with pointy ears and the cool car before becoming a parody of himself on TV, Batman-and his billionaire alter-ego, Bruce Wayne-became a moodier embodiment of darkness in director Christopher Nolan's films, proclaimed by many critics as works of genius.
I never got it. And watching "The Dark Knight Rises" the day after the Colorado tragedy felt creepier still.
It's not that it doesn't unfold on a grand scale, playing out themes of terrorism, class warfare and impending nuclear annihilation amidst the skyscrapers of a New York barely even pretending to be Gotham City. Christian Bale once again grapples with his agonizing ambivalence about putting on the suit; loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) frets over "Master Bruce;" Anne Hathaway is a class-conscious cat burglar scoping the domain of billionaire socialite Marion Cotillard; Joseph Gordon Levitt and Gary Oldman play good cop-bad cop; Morgan Freeman is the brains of the Wayne economic empire; and Tom Hardy wears a hideous hissing mask as the archenemy intent on leveling Gotham City with a nuclear blast.
For all the special-effects battles in the streets and skyscrapers as the nuclear clock ticks down, what Batman is, and has always, been about is loneliness.
On some level, that's what the Colorado shooter was about, too.
No wonder Warner Bros. didn't initially release opening-weekend box-office totals. Profit and loss for what Hollywood calls "fun" has just become much harder to calculate-but the reckoning is overdue.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.