Superheroes in the Seats
Some thoughts in the wake of the Aurora shootings at The Dark Knight Rises showing.
I love a good superhero movie, the kind where the streets of Manhattan are torn apart in million-dollar CGI fights. It’s always Manhattan; super villains are never interested in blowing away Portland. I once committed the unpardonable sin at a film school program I attended by telling a peer, “I am the mass consumer. I’m the person they make those big, showy tent pole movies for.” That kind of talk really lowers your standing among artistic types.
But one thing that’s always bothered me about superhero movies are the…well, humans. The ones running and screaming and waving their arms before they're squished under a hurtling police car. (Always a police car, have you noticed?) Who are these helpless people? Granted they’re being attacked by Godzilla, so there’s a little room for the shock factor, but still - except for one beautiful, charming, smart love interest for our superhero the rest of earth’s residents might as well be earthworms. Window dressing for destruction, something for the superhero to save.
It was probably 10 hours after the horrible shootings at The Dark Knight Rises showing in Aurora when I first heard a news report (later discounted) suggesting that the shooter was “playing” The Joker. In truth, the thought had already crossed my mind, as the chaos and mayhem so beloved by our purple-suited Mr. Twitchy seemed reflected all over the news coverage. I could imagine him in front of that theater, skipping along as easily as he does in the bank robbery scene that opens The Dark Knight.
My next thought when I heard that news comment was “Too bad there was no Batman.” Followed nearly instantly by, “Wait. We are Batman.” We squirmy, pink little humans are the ones who rise up during those unthinkable moments and heroically foil the villain’s plans. We shelter children, give our lives protecting loved ones and take down shooters. Almost instinctually, what we admire in our entertainment is what lies deep within ourselves.
Sometimes, as the dust settles we learn our heroes are complex and flawed, people with secrets and a past. They are Batman. Sometimes heroes are exactly the person everyone would expect to rush into the line of fire, tearing open their shirt to reveal a blazing “S.” No matter our origin story, we are all capable of heroism, which is good because a very few of us are also capable of villainy.
Personally, I like it that our world isn’t teeming with X-Men (though if it were that would be awesome.) God’s cosmic plan requires that to save ourselves we have to work together. In those moments, political differences, religious divides, gender, sex, money and football rivalries are set aside and people behave heroically in the square foot of space they occupy during the scariest minute of life.
More than one single Batman, we are like the grains of a Sandman (a good one) or parts of that creepy People Person in the Prius commercial. Ok, so the analogies don’t work but the point is the same. We don’t need a superhero to save us - we need each other.