It's true logistical answers may clarify the perception of violent acts. They may clarify grief. They may even help people take future precautions to forestall such terror. However, the why of shooter James Holmes' actions will likely always remain murky. Because what has happened beggars understanding on a basic level. How could someone attack children? How could someone meticulously premediate something so horrible?
I am certain I will never know. But my thoughts took an odd turn today. As I checked numerous news outlets, I started wondering: is this violence somehow connected to the particular movie being screened, outside of providing a large possible target? Would a Spiderman movie ever become the stage for such an awful attack? I can never know, because the attack lacks sense, as many smart writers are pointing out (especially here and here).
Thinking back, at its heart, the Batman character is unknowable. That is part of the original draw. We can imagine ourselves as Batman, because unlike Superman, he is human. In early Detective Comics issues, he is shot and bleeds, proving his vulnerability. And if he can train himself to be "a weird menace to crime," who's to say the reader can't? That is where the wish fulfillment in Batman lies. (The fantasy also doubles in Bruce Wayne, a rich playboy -- but I won't get into that here.) However, the Dark Knight's eyes are white slits that betray no feeling, no anger or fear. He looms in shadows. He is violent. He is grim. He makes himself into a creature in appearance and legend. He is an unknowable, unpredictable entity. That is what makes him terrifying, to criminals and innocents alike.
Eventually, a why was provided for Batman. Creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger were asked by DC to craft an origin for the guy inthe early-going, and they did: Bruce dresses up like a bat because his parents were murdered before his eyes. In his autobiography, Kane surmised that only something so traumatizing could generate the determination, obsession and likely mental instability that fuels Batman. Anf it suffices for the resulting stories told, particularly for a 70-plus years saga about a caped avenger.
But stories aren't life, and of course life can never be boiled down to a story. So Batman remains unknowable -- a violent figure who uses brutal tactics to bring about peace. The conflict inside such a character reflects a human inability to craft a perfect answer. To society's ills. To solving problems. To tragedy. And I would never posit that Batman exists for any other reason than to serve as telling escapism, or that the movie had anything to do with this shooting, even if I wondered as much all day long. We tell stories in controlled environments, on the page or on the screen, in order to make as much sense as we can of the triumphs and tragedies of our daily existence. And to have those environments violated in such a way is horrendous, and the cost inexplicable. We lose faith in reason, in our ability to understand and emphatize; we lose faith in the why of things.
Yet I do still find myself wondering about the why. Why do we crave answers to violence? Why does our first jump seem to be wondering if violence begets violence (as violence once gave birth to Batman)? Can any story help us understand that? What is the story we will end up telling ourselves about this day? And will the escapist nature of a Batman somehow ease that pain? Or will it make things worse?
Right now, I can't know. I'll likely never know. But I can't stop asking the questions. Maybe that says something. As for now, I sent my prayers to the victims and loved ones of this tragedy, and hope things become clearer in time.