Share this article

print logo

Jeff Simon: The lesser tragedy in the Louisiana shootings that we hate talking about

No one’s tragedy in the Lafayette, La., theater shootings equals that of the dead and their families. That is true of the 12 who were murdered in that movie theater in Aurora, Colo., too.

Two women were shot dead in that theater in Louisiana as they watched Amy Schumer in “Trainwreck.”

I would submit, though, there is a lesser but still horrific tragedy about these movie theater shootings we need to face head-on, despite our understandable horror of doing so. And that is that the nature of the movies involved doesn’t seem irrelevant to the god-awful crazies who did the shooting.

When confronted with pure homicidal craziness, it is too easy to hide behind the curtain and simply call it “craziness” without trying to understand it at all.

We just wait for the next maniac with a gun and a desire to kill members of an audience.

What I find so terribly tragic is that the target audiences in both Colorado and Louisiana were there to see movies of very particular boldness. And that very boldness, I think, is part of the reason their audiences were chosen for slaughter.

In Aurora, the killer opened up at showings of “The Dark Knight Rises,” in some ways the most extraordinary of “Batman” movies, not least in its conception of the Joker as an instrument of vengeful chaos and misrule. One needn’t be a prodigy of empathy to understand that James Holmes was making the Joker real in that movie theater. His smile in his mugshot is the Joker’s smile.

In Lafayette, La., the assailant was John Russell Houser who, the Columbus, Ga., Ledger-Enquirer tells us, admired Hitler and was arrested on arson charges in the ’80s for hiring a man to torch the offices of an attorney who defended porn movie houses in court. The lawyer admired Houser’s family and didn’t press charges.

But his crazed hatred of porn is clear.

“Trainwreck” is, by no means, a pornographic movie or even close. But there’s no question that its very special hilarity depends on a huge quantity of sexual frankness and total sympathy for a female point of view that is far from commonplace in American movies.

It’s an edgy and frank comedy, unusual and bold. Its rarity in our culture is a huge part of the reason for its immense success. Who can doubt now that it is the movie’s special and wonderful virtues that were the exact things that caused the crazy shooter to single out its audience for attack?

This is appalling to think about, I know. But I think we have to – at the very least, perhaps, to understand which movies are going to require beefed up security.

Blame, of course, is by no means the issue. Critics have to keep on applauding as loudly and vigorously as possible for boldness in movies. The idea of movie people paralyzed by fear and remorse that they never, for a second, earned is repugnant in the extreme.

But it seems to me we have to acknowledge that there is a logic to craziness – a hideous and totally perverted logic, to be sure, but a logic nevertheless.

The portrait we’re getting of the Louisiana assailant is that of an extreme right-wing wingnut whose special social hatreds included movie sexuality.

Amy Schumer is one of the most brilliant young women in Hollywood at the moment. It was, I’m certain, not lost on her that of all the movies shown at national megaplexes at that moment, hers was the one chosen by the latest maniac with a gun.

That, it seems to me, is the lesser tragedy of all this. We cannot tolerate creativity held hostage like this. We have somehow, in our society, developed a situation where the very worst among us feel empowered and encouraged to go after the boldest and the best.

When “The Interview” was about to be shown, dark-humored colleagues joked with me about the possibility of North Korean marauders at screenings. All you had to do was see the film to understand how unlikely that was going to be. As soon as you saw it, you knew how little point there would be of any extreme action whatsoever. The movie wasn’t good enough to disturb anyone.

So we’re seeing repeatedly that brilliance and boldness are what awaken malice at its most deranged. It was John Lennon of the Beatles who would have his hideous rendezvous with Mark David Chapman, not Jon Bon Jovi. It was John F. Kennedy who would be assassinated on that day in Dallas and Martin Luther King on that hideous day in Memphis.

To many of us, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a $250 million art film. “Trainwreck” is a hugely funny movie that people howl at but that women can see as empowering, however much Judd Apatow’s hopeless ideological tameness wins out over everything at the end.

How deeply tragic it would be if their creators, in the future, second-guessed their own boldness, even for a millisecond.

Over all, this question hit me: With so much money and organization behind the Second Amendment’s least rational adherents, where are the gun control billionaires to match them? Why have the forces of gun control never seemed to put as much money and raw muscle behind efforts at gun control as those of the gun-lovers?

Instead, we actually have presidential candidates seriously offering as a solution to Louisiana’s horrors that more moviegoers should pack heat when they go off to their friendly neighborhood megaplexes.

Craziness, as I said, always has a logic of its own, idiotic though it is.

All we can do is everything we can to make sure that sanity and creative boldness prevail.


Anything less wouldn’t deserve to be called civilization at all.