Did you see the movie Snakes on a Plane? I did. I saw it at a movie theater in Delaware with a group of my friends, people I have known since high school. I like those people, very much. I will get to see them this weekend, after months of being apart. I’m simultaneously happy that we are people who are doing interesting things, even if that creates a geographic distance between us, and that I live in an era in which such distance is not insurmountable.
As the lights dimmed in the theater, I became worried that at some point during the movie, a person or group of people would stand up, and throw buckets of snakes into the audience. I thought this would be scary, regardless of whether the snakes were plastic or living creatures. If they were plastic, the fright that accompanies surprise would take hold of my body, though it would likely dissipate within a half hour (at the most). If they were real, I would have to deal with the aftermath of being in a contained area with potentially life-threatening creatures, in the dark, all of us confused about what is going on (including the snakes) while a twenty-five foot Sam Jackson screamed the word “motherfucker” in front of us.
Thankfully, there were no real motherfucking snakes in that motherfucking theater. The movie was goofy and my friends and I left. We probably hung out at somebody’s house for the next five hours.
I turned on the radio around 10:30 today while making breakfast. I heard President Obama talking at a campaign rally, and he’s the one who let me know that there had been a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. At first, I thought he may have been talking about an international incident with Iran, or one of the several other shootings that have happened recently (one in Toronto and one near Atlanta, Georgia).
I turned on the television and heard much of the same information. I watched statements made via Twitter appear at the bottom of the screen. Most of them seemed to utilize a common foundation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy.” An hour later, I saw some of the same comments made on Facebook.
I just read two essays by Chuck Klosterman from his book “Eating The Dinosaur.” The first was about irony and how several figures, including Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Werner Herzog and Ralph Nader, deal exclusively with literal ideas. The second was about Ted Kaczynski and his manifesto. It said that while what Kaczynski did was terrible, it did not mean that his manifesto was poorly written. In fact, he was quite accurate about how detrimental technology is for our humanity.
Inspired by those essays, I’d like to ask some questions about what happened in Aurora and our responses to it. I am speaking from a literal standpoint, with no desire to rely on irony or insult. Why do so many people use the same words in their responses to events like this? Why make any comment at all? Why do we, people who have never met the people who have done these things, use words that seem to vilify and diminish those people? Are we being sincere in our commentary on these events?
I am often scared when I’m in a theater seeing a movie with a lot of violence. Not because I think that others will attempt to mimic what they see on screen, but because, in a fundamental way, I have no real ability to know what anyone else will do. I think that’s true for all of us. Even the people who we rely on so deeply, our family and significant others, our oldest friends - we are not them and can not really know what they are thinking or feeling. I can’t even really describe what I’m thinking or feeling accurately a great deal of the time.
I’m not asking you to live your life any differently or to change your behavior on the Internet. I just wanted to share what I’ve been thinking today. I don’t have any links to share; I’ll be posting some next week.