In early July, my son Cameron dyed his hair blue. No big deal. My kids and I dye our hair all the time. On July 20, James Holmes walked into a movie theater full of Batman fans in Aurora, Colorado and shot 70 people. His hair was dyed red and orange. 

A week later Cameron, who works at a local movie theater, was filling in at the ticket counter. A woman customer came in and asked him about his hair color and its connection to the massacre. He told her a few people had asked about it. Customers are also asking about security at the small town theater and whether or not the emergency exit doors are locked. We are all sensitive after something like this happens. 

Later that day Cameron decided to dye his hair back to its natural dark blonde; the woman customer decided to write to Cameron’s boss. In her email she accused my son of “showing support” for the murderous rampage with his renegade hair color. She also complained about her curly fries. 

When Cameron arrived at work the next morning, his boss was relieved to discover that Cameron had changed his hair color on his own and that he didn’t have to order Cameron to lose the blue. He showed Cameron the email from the woman. My son cried. 

Until now, I have not talked too much about what happened in Colorado beyond the facts of the case. One reason, I suppose, is that I am a teacher and have been desensitizing my sense of safety for 13 years, since that last massacre in Colorado. The one that took place at Columbine High School in 1999. The only security measures most schools have added after that and the numerous school shootings since are locked doors and lock-down drills. 

Another reason I haven’t been anxious to talk is that, like you, I have been second-hand grieving. I don’t personally know anyone who died, but I know them. They are my people. They are also my children’s people. Batman geeks. Fans. The sort of people who love movies so much, they’re willing to stay out until three a.m. on a work night just to be among the first to see one. The sort of parent, who takes their teenagers to a midnight movie because she loves them. The sort of person who considers a movie premiere the best way to spend his birthday. Any of those people could have been me. Or Cameron. Or my daughter, Zoe. 

We’ve been to many midnight premieres. We’ve adorned our foreheads with lightning bolts or carried light sabers. We’ve arrived at six p.m. and played Spit or done Mad Libs for hours. We’ve rushed to order popcorn and claim good seats. 

I watched The Dark Knight Rises on the Saturday after it opened, not at the midnight showing, although Zoe and I considered it. Cameron was working that night. We decided to wait until he could sit and watch it with us. He did. We watched a matinee and for the most part we felt safe. 

As I watched, I realized that, as usual, Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight Rises, gave us a subtext to think about as or after we viewed his film. This time it was political. 

His ailing Gotham sets two ideas for how to “make things right” against each other. The first, represented by Batman and the Gotham City Police is to find what is corrupt within their city and fix it within that system. This recognizes the inherent good in the intent and structure. Although Bruce Wayne is cynical at times, he’s not that far gone. The other idea, first suggested by Ra’s Al Ghul, is to destroy the city – all of it – the people, the police, the buildings, the system itself and to see what happens. Here cynicism has destroyed all hope for repair. 

As Ra’s Al Ghul’s followers start to succeed in their plan of destruction, Gotham quickly begins to resemble some post-apocalyptic revolutionary Paris complete with an ice-walk version of the guillotine. The police are trapped underground, the military is blocked on the other side of a bridge, those who’ve asserted their newly discovered power, squat in the Park-Place-like homes of those they’ve exiled. It’s a continued lawlessness. Sort of like the one some would like to see us head for in the United States.

Let’s call it the Ra’s Al Ghul U.S. Here we have political groups working to cut back police and fire forces as crime and fire danger continue to rise. We have activist groups systematically chipping away at public schools. We have groups fighting to take away any controls on access to guns. A pursuit of lawlessness that is scary in a country where shootings happen so often that most citizens can quickly predict the unveiling of events to follow one – the statements by local politicians, the arrival of the media circus and their stalking of the victim’s and accused’s families and yearbook photos,  the dichotomous gun-control discussion. 

This lawlessness allowed a psychotic man to easily acquire a Glock pistol, a shotgun and an AR-15 rifle as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition. This system of lawlessness allowed him to kill twelve people and destroy the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, more. 

So, what is the appropriate action to take now? Make it more difficult for a mentally ill person to acquire semi-automatic weapons? Expect movie theaters to install metal detectors and security guards? Or force a sensitive soul to change his hair color?

 
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