Why Hollywood will turn the Batman shootings into a night at the movies

Murder suspect James Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder on Monday for his alleged role in the Aurora, Co. massacre.   Though the charges are satisfying to many, several debates still surround this case.  Whether prosecutors should pursue the death penalty is to be decided, and a deeply entrenched debate regarding gun control has dominated the media since the shooting occurred on July 20.

While America searches for answers, an even more difficult question has recently crossed my mind: how many years will have to pass before Hollywood turns the Aurora massacre into a major motion picture?

Somewhere, Quentin Tarantino lets out a sigh and mutters to himself “Did that.”

That question (and the above picture) may seem insensitive, and that’s because they both certainly are.  But one must step back and look at Hollywood’s long track record of capitalizing from real-life tragedies before jumping at my throat for making these observations.

The early days of cinema were practically fueled by movies depicting events based on real tragedy and suffering.  The Birth of a Nation, arguably Hollywood’s first and most important blockbuster, was essentially a film that depicted newly-freed slaves as unstoppable rapists, while America’s only white knights came in the form of the Ku Klux Klan (Pun).  Was it wrong for Hollywood to portray a violent, bigoted group like the KKK as heroes in a time that real-life African American citizens were being assaulted and murdered by said group?  Probably.  Regardless, the 1915 film earned $10 million upon its release, which is like a gazillion dollars in today’s money, and totally reshaped the way storytelling was done in film.

From there, basically every movie released for the next 30 years showcased American wars or the Wild West.  Massacres, racism, slavery and genocide were box office gold.  Western films made light of Native American genocide, and battles from the American Civil War, WWI and WWII provided endless motion picture fodder, despite the millions who actually died those horrible deaths.

Another brave soldier sacrifices his life for a John Wayne film.

Don’t get me wrong; I love a good war movie.  There are many tasteful war movies that depict the fighting solemnly and hold reverence for those who died.  But just as Hollywood got good at that, disaster films hit the scene in the 70’s, a genre often guilty of exploiting actual disasters.  From there it was a complete cinematic smash and grab.  Film producers latched onto any subject so long as it had audience drawing potential, despite the risk of offending real-life victims.

Here are some films from the past 20 years that turned harrowing real-life events into box office bucks:

Films based on actual serial killers are popular (Zodiac, B.T.K., The Black Dahlia, Monster, From Hell, Dahmer, Ted Bundy, etc.), and so are ones depicting tragic national events (Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Philadelphia, Titanic, Munich, Bloody Sunday, Chernobyl Diaries, etc.)  Thirty Minutes or Less received criticism for its apparent similarity to a failed bank robbery that occurred in Erie, Pa. in 2003, and a film depicting the Oklahoma City Bombing is currently in production.  Hell, Hollywood portrays tragic events that haven’t even happened yet (Day After Tomorrow, any of the shitty 2012 doomsday movies, etc.)

Then there was the holy grail of Hollywood middle fingers in the face of victims and their families: United 93 and World Trade Center.  Though I was still young when these movies came out, I was mature enough to know that no film could ever match the horror many Americans experienced while watching the events live on TV.  Did we really need a dramatized rendition of an event that happened only five years prior?  Were those earth shaking moments not vivid enough in our minds that we needed two films to remind us of the senseless tragedy?

The mustache of a thousand Nic Cages couldn’t fill the void left in America’s heart.

I recently read an article about how internet memes have gone too far by poking fun at the Aurora shootings.  Success Kid, Condescending Wonka and Y U NO are only a few memes that approached the massacre with a calloused and irreverent jab.  A community of bloggers who mimic James Holmes’ traits, known as “Holmies,” is also making headlines.  But this is to be expected on the internet, which is basically run by childish assholes (such as the author of this blog).  So while sweaty bloggers and Reddit frequenters are being condemned for poking fun at tragedy too soon, Hollywood only has to wait a few years before it is acceptable to exploit death and destruction.

So who’s the guiltier party: the insensitive Lulz crew that joked about a massacre too soon, or Hollywood producers who will inevitably profit from the massacre by turning it into a riveting metadrama examining violence, entertainment and Hollywood’s worship of the almighty dollar?  If the latter seems oddly specific, that’s because I am currently working on a script called “Fire in a Theater,” a film loosely based on the Aurora massacre.  Anyone interested in a spec script is urged to contact me via telegraph.


2 Responses to “Why Hollywood will turn the Batman shootings into a night at the movies”

  1. August 4, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Personally I think anything is open to humor as long as you’re not doing it in a malicious fashion. Sending these online jokes to people directly impacted from the Aurora shooting is malicious. Posting something online knowing full well you have a friend who will be pissed off by it is a little less malicious. You can’t avoid certain topics whether it be for art, a film, or a quick one-line joke. I know when something tragic like this happens who I can joke about it with and who the more sensitive people are. There’s no “line to be crossed” as some people may put it. Everyone has a different line, find theirs.

    Also, how many years before there’s a James Holmes movie and are there any younger stars who could play him? I think Mitchell Musso from Disney channel could be a good nutcase. Or maybe get the black kid from Corey in the House.

    • August 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      I totally agree. It’s impossible to make everyone laugh all the time – there is always a risk of offending the audience. Good humorists must strike a balance, find some middle ground that everyone can relate to.
      Also, I can’t stop laughing at your suggestions to play Holmes! I think an innocent, fresh-faced teenager (especially a black one) would be perfect… Or somebody creepy like a young Willem Dafoe would be good too.

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