There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.
I researched James Holmes for two months in preparation for a comic book I was writing. I read his college transcripts, I watched his school presentation, I watched multiple re-enactments of the crimes he committed in a Colorado movie theater in 2012. Read hundreds of articles, tracked down photos from his camp counseling days, and more.
But to back up: I was diligently collecting news stories about so-called “Joker-related” crimes for several years before that; the first one taking place maybe a week or two after The Dark Knight came out, the worst being two mass murders.
A question I repeatedly asked myself through this entire process was:
“who do we blame?”
Specifically, I was thinking about the violence in The Dark Knight, the anarchic philosophy of the Joker in that movie, etc. (Holmes was supposedly the “Joker Killer,” after all, according to the media.) And, in a larger sense: the violence in our pop-culture. Did all this “trigger off” Holmes?
I started out that inquiry leaning towards the side of: “yes, the pop-culture is responsible.”
But as I drifted further and further down the rabbit-hole of research, I became not so sure anymore.
I mean look: I think for certain individuals, certain things become “triggers,” absolutely. And I don’t just mean in a psychological aspect, but a spiritual one, as well.
But sometimes people turn to “dark” entertainment—movies, comic books, music, culture, whatnot—in order to process internal demons, not set them loose. And while I think the larger mainstream culture is guilty of planting a constant low-level of anxiety within the populace, more damage would be created by banning these specific “dark” outlets and forcing them deep underground than by letting them be available to the public.
Before Aurora, we of course had Columbine—as well as a cluster of similar shootings and violent crimes. “Goth culture” (or, rather, the complete misunderstanding of it) was blamed; video games were blamed; violent movies were blamed.
And back then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, the media & Hollywood actually did pull back on the violence. Episodes of TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer were pulled. I was collecting the magazine Fangoria at the time, and I distinctly remember the gory content of their covers being pulled back and removed altogether. It became taboo in mainstream entertainment to depict heavy violence; especially violence committed by teens.
Right before the Columbine stuff, there were a rash of violent crimes blamed on the movie Natural Born Killers. Before Natural Born Killers, I remember a furor in the late 1980s over horror movies like Evil Dead II & Halloween IV—there was a rather famous episode of Siskel and Ebert where they decried those movies and the violence in pop-culture in general.
And even before that, I remember the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s…how stuff like the occult and Dungeons & Dragons were blamed for a myriad of gruesome crimes and abuses.
Jeffrey Dahmer was obsessed with the movie Exorcist III. Ted Bundy specifically blamed pornography for his serial killing spree, in the same interview in which he announced that he was now a born-again Christian.
Various religions are blamed for various crimes and terrorist acts. Various philosophies are blamed for various crimes and terrorist acts.
The reasoning goes, in regards to all the cases referenced above, that if we could only get rid of the blamed thing—the identified “instigator”—that these crimes would stop. We remove the gore and violence from the entertainment, and then the crimes will stop. We shut down the websites & message boards, and the crimes will stop. We go back to Christian values and reject “Satanic” culture, and the crimes will stop. We reject Christianity and the patriarchal system, and the crimes will stop. We ban pornography, and the crimes will stop. We overthrow the conservative establishment and the crimes will stop.
The true horror—the true depressing fact—is that there is no one thing that made James Holmes a mass-murderer. Just like there is no one thing that made Elliot Rodger a mass-murderer.
Did stuff Rodger read on “Men’s Rights” message boards influence his crimes? Well he clearly said so in his own “manifesto”—that’s not debatable at all.
Is “MRA” responsible for Rodger stabbing to death his roommates and then gunning down people in the street?
Elliot Rodger was clearly deeply fucked-up way before MRA websites existed. He resented and wanted to “strip off the flesh” of women because they “wouldn’t sleep with him.” He not only resented and wanted to “strip off the flesh” of men he considered “Alphas,” but, if you read his “manifesto,” he had murderous intentions towards the “Betas” as well.
Elliot Rodger had a plan to kill his own baby brother because he was successful and he couldn’t bear the thought of the young man “surpassing” him.
Rodger, by his own proud admission, hated HUMANITY. He favorited a video on YouTube discussing the various ways all humanity on Earth could be destroyed; and he probably jerked off to it, too.
No one thing pushed Rodger to do this, the same way no movie or character was the sole motivating reason why James Holmes committed a massacre. Rather, it was more than likely a deadly combo of organic mental illness, family environment, cultural influence (“rape culture,” racist/classist views, violent pop-culture, easy access to firearms), etc.
And even if we take into account all those toxic factors—even if we conscientiously “attack” each one, writing new laws, pushing earlier/deep mental health intervention for kids, getting rid of MRA websites, etc.—I believe that there is still a “wild card” element lurking that we will never fully be able to understand or control. Something primal, evil and enduring, that has been with us since the first time one cave person smashed another cave person’s brains out with a rock.
That doesn’t mean that we quit trying to improve humanity and prevent tragedy.
But if you really want to fix things, driving alienated groups of people further underground ain’t the way to do it. I mean, you can try—I’ve had my run-ins with I guess the “proto-MRA” crowd and etc. and I’m like Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs with my invisible smallest violin about them—but historically, it just doesn’t seem to work. Persecuting groups of people who already base their philosophy on being persecuted seems to just feed into their prevailing narrative—ironically, making them stronger.
Like with Holmes, I pretty much read/viewed everything related to Elliot Rodger shortly after his crimes were reported. All his videos, his “manifesto,” his Facebook, etc. I went to the “MRA” websites referenced in news reports and was exposed to a whole new sub-culture—complete with specific terminology—that I never thought truly existed.
And the temptation was there to start the research like I did with Holmes all over again—to start mapping out the matrix of circumstances that led to this horrific tragedy.
But who has the time?
I will ask, though: are we getting “eviler” as a species? Or has this potential always been there? Is the key that now, though a myriad of online options, the killer’s story really writes itself…and that we have almost instantaneous access to every element of their gruesome acts, more access than we ever wanted, more access than can possibly be healthy?
Will we learn anything of use from all this information? Are we headed towards some greater understanding?
Or in a few years, will it just be something else; the Demon taking on another mask, another set of circumstances, grabbing on to another zeitgeist, infecting another host, leaving another trail of unspeakable actions and misery in its wake?