I was never going to see The Dark Knight Rising in any case. At my age and stage, I’m not really into superheroes, and the sort of films that appeal to teenagers and young adults usually leave me cold. And yet –
Amongst all the tragedies associated with the massacre last weekend in Aurora, Colorado, the future of the Batman franchise seems a trivial matter, but inevitably some discussion has focussed on the relationship between cinematic violence and the real, horrifying thing.
Nobody knows yet what, if anything, motivated this latest in a long line of mass killings. It probably wouldn’t make sense to the rest of us anyway. But amongst the collateral damage, a sure-fire box office hit is now a tarnished brand. In Paris, the distributors cancelled the premiere of The Dark Knight Rising – though only for a day or so.
Meanwhile, here in Australia, where knives and fists are the weapons of choice, not guns, we have been preoccupied with our own outbreaks of violence: a teenager randomly killed when king hit in King’s Cross, incidents of road rage that led to death or injury. Rage in general.
There have been many thoughtful analyses of the relationship between the massacre and The Dark Knight Rising, such as this post here.
Do violent films normalise violence? Does they encourage the idea that violence resolves disputes effectively? Does a Good Superhero conquer an Evil Joker only because he has the biggest and best weaponry? And is this an argument for censorship?
We’ve been here before, blaming films or books for causing violence, or creating an environment in which violence flourishes.
In 1962, the English novelist Anthony Burgess published A Clockwork Orange, a controversial novel dealing with gang violence. The gang and its leader, Alex, beat, slash and rape their way across of an imagined, dystopian world, fueled by drugs – and Beethoven.
In 1971 Stanley Kubrick converted the novel into a film. A Clockwork Orange was full of stylised violence – a carefully choreographed rape scene, for instance, is filmed against a soundtrack of Singing in the Rain. Unlike the Batman movies, there were no guns, for Burgess’s vision was based on England, where gun laws are much stricter than in America.
A Clockwork Orange was controversial from the start. Nothing occurred to rival the Aurora massacre, but during the following months and years, several murders or beatings occurred which were blamed on the film. In most cases, it was the lawyers, not the criminals, who drew a connection with A Clockwork Orange, but there were some unnerving incidents, such as a gang rape in which the rapists sang Singing in the Rain.
In 1974, Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from distribution in Britain. It continued to be shown in other parts of the world, but it was suppressed in the UK until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Meanwhile Burgess’s book gained notoriety as a result of the film. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the first place to withdraw it from school libraries, in 1976, was Aurora, Colorado.
James Holmes wouldn’t be born for another 11 years.
Stanley Kubrick defended A Clockwork Orange, and by implication, violence in art generally, when he said:
To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life but it does not create life, nor cause life.
Kubrick withdrew the film all the same. Nobody blamed Singing in the Rain.