The dark nightWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s funny how one insect can damage so much grain.”
— Elton John, “Empty Garden”
About 30 minutes into the 10:15 p.m. July 20 showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” a man left his seat in the front row and headed for the exit door. I, and scores of people in Theater 1 of the MJR Theater in Adrian, Mich., audibly and visibly tensed. I had mentally rehearsed the movement it would take to throw my wife to the floor and suspend myself between the seats to shield her from attack, but in that vague mind-movie way that rarely becomes reality. When the man took an abrupt left turn for the lobby, there was palpable relief. When he returned a few minutes later with popcorn, there was muted, “What were we afraid of?” laughter.
Of course, what we were afraid of was that the man was going to copycat his way into the 24-hour news cycle by opening fire on the crowd of moviegoers as hellbound 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes had allegedly done less than 24 hours before in Aurora, Colo.
Do you remember the first time you boarded an airplane after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks? That same low-thrumming anxiety that defies intellectual analysis and sharpens the senses accompanied many to the dark theater that night. I love going to the movies, as I love traveling by plane, and I resent the intrusion into normalcy such capitulation represents.
Cowering does not honor the dead. Bowing to the wishes of madmen does not provide shelter. But it seems that when these slaughters take place, there is a swift reaction taken to ward off the grief, helplessness and terror, that is tantamount to throwing a feather at a raging rhinoceros.
So, as bodies are prepared for burial in Colorado, our freedoms and choices are also corroded. The limitations on choice may be temporary, but once yielded, how many freedoms fully bounce back?
Before Sept. 11, 2001, family members could accompany each other all the way to the departure gate, or wait for them at the arrival gate in airports. One of the indelible images of my life is silently walking through the Fort Lauderdale International Airport in October 2001, focusing on the rifles cradled in the arms of military personnel as passengers checked bags, bought magazines and generally acted as if they were preparing to walk the Green Mile, not fly the friendly skies.
Those rifles and soldiers are gone, but the security measures and intrusions on freedom are likely permanent.
It is too early to say how the Aurora shootings will impact one of our most popular and compelling entertainment habits, but the immediate surrendering of normalcy in the name of “safety,” happens with a swiftness that indicates a frightening willingness to abdicate freedom for “protection.”
MJR Theaters canceled midnight screenings. AMC Theatres chain banned the wearing of costumes to showings. Whether you have ever donned a Jedi robe or brandished a Harry Potter wand at a screening is not the point; many people do, but for now at least, they no longer have that option.
As the nation shook its collective head in denial and grief, Warner Bros. pulled its “The Dark Knight Rises” ads from TV. The film industry announced it would not release its daily box office numbers, a trivial pursuit followed by millions of people. DC Comics postponed the delivery of the comic book Batman Incorporated because it contains “content that may be perceived as insensitive in light of recent events.”
“Recent events?” The Penn State punishment? The Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce? The casino opening? Are we so sensitive, easily offended and unable to deal with reality that DC couldn’t even directly refer to the massacre?
I understand all of these reactions to an event that shook and shocked us. But there is a line between honoring the victims and giving in to the psychopath, and every time a horrific event takes place, that line increasingly takes the shape of a noose tightening itself around normalcy and our freedom of choice.
Which path best preserves the honor of the victims? Shutting down or standing up? Twisting reality to appease or living life as normal? As this strain of murder invades more sanctuaries (schools, churches, army bases, restaurants, now movie theaters), the reactions become more frequently geared toward protection via surrender.
Remember the now-cliché line that if we give up Freedom X, the terrorists win? That’s not such a funny concept when our society is increasingly eager to hide its collective head in the sand. And while some may find comfort in that cocoon of darkness, they may not realize just how prominently exposed their asses are.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.