Do We Care More About Victims Who Like Batman?

By Michael Baker

I was eating lunch in a taco shop yesterday and overheard a conversation between two twenty-something friends.

“You hear about that dude in Colorado?” one asked.

“Yeah,” chimed in his female counterpart, “and like, it’s so scary, I know so many people who went to see a midnight showing of Batman.”

From there, the conversation focused less on random acts of violence and more on the idea of a spree killing in a movie theater, during a Batman film.  Dozens of comments posted by my Facebook friends echoed the same sentiment – what a tragedy, and it’s really scary because the victims were in a movie theater, watching The Dark Knight Rises.

The news coverage of the Colorado movie theater massacre has, for the most part, focused on the event itself and the suspect accused of committing the atrocity.  But clearly the discussion that’s taking place amongst the general public (the general public that I’m exposed to, anyway) has focused largely on two other major elements of this story – movie theaters and Batman.

I think that it’s fair to say that many people are taking this tragedy more personally than other spree killings in recent years.  There are probably several reasons for that, but I think the key fact is that the victims were doing something that pretty much everyone in America does at least every once in a while – they were watching a movie.  And not just any movie, but a movie that’s overwhelmingly likely to be the most popular film of 2012 in terms of box office returns.  If you go see one movie in 2012, odds are it will be this movie.  Not to mention the fact that Batman is the single most popular superhero in America; I’m not sure that you could find a single celebrity or fictional character that’s more recognizable.  And all of that gives this killing an extra personal feel for a lot of people.

It’s the that could have been me mentality that hit university students after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, or that affected high-school students and parents after Columbine, because maybe not everybody goes to the movies that often, but everybody at least has friends and family members who do.  “There but for the grace of God go I.”  President Obama touched on this idea in his remarks on Friday, noting that this mass killing was especially troubling for him because of the thought that his daughters regularly go to the movies.

It’s not that Batman fans matter more than college students, or that movie theaters are a more dangerous place than a high-school campus, it’s the fact that this time pretty much everybody can relate.