Sunday, July 22, 2012

The joke

When I was at work Friday one of my coworkers tried to make a joke of the Aurora Massacre, something deadpan about equating the mass killing with a really bad review for the movie that was showing. I brushed aside the remark and changed the subject. I wasn't ready to make light of the tragedy, but I wasn't going to get all holier than thou about it either. I can understand that humor is sometimes an instinctive reaction to horror we can't quite comprehend or soberly consider, without weeping.

What struck me a day later, as more and more news came in of the bloodshed —and predictably our media circus took up the topic, with gun control and gun rights activists dispatching their talking heads, images of candles and teardrenched hugs —what struck me was that one of the most pointed poignant expressions I saw came from The Onion News, usually such a great source of round farce.

The headline read : Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting's Aftermath Will Play Out. And the story began:

WASHINGTON—Americans across the nation confirmed today that, unfortunately, due to their extreme familiarity with the type of tragedy that occurred in a Colorado movie theater last night, they sadly know exactly how the events following the horrific shooting of 12 people will unfold.

The joke here, if you'll pardon the expression, is that we have settled upon a pattern, that will repeat and repeat. "It's like clockwork," as the invented expert in the Onion report admits. Then he shakes his head and walks away.

According to the nation's citizenry, calls for a mature, thoughtful debate about the role of guns in American society started right on time, and should persist throughout the next week or so. However, the populace noted, the debate will soon spiral out of control and ultimately lead to nothing of any substance, a fact Americans everywhere acknowledged they felt "absolutely horrible" to be aware of.

Maybe this isn't the kind of humor that helps you avoid weeping.

I have heard it reported that the killer in Aurora fashioned himself as 'The Joker' as he arrived upon the scene of the latest Batman movie premiere. Some even thought in the first moments of the attack that the violence was not real —that it was only some promotional gimmick — a part of some live entertainment prepared especially for the premiere.

The Joker, imagine that.

I may not be as up on my DC Comics cosmology as some, but I do have a few indelibly etched images of 'The Joker' in mind. He's a character who has a sense of himself as someone deeply wronged and his consolation is violence, a violence he practices as something approaching an artform, always with a twist of irony to accompany the rage, so as to laugh rather than weep. The violence is meted out even on the well meaning he sees as foolish and futile, do-good hypocrites who haven't experienced the same soul emptying horror that he has. There is something hilarious in watching as they finally do. Nothing constructive mind you, but it's justice. Hilarious nihilistic justice.

And now reality and fantasy bleed into one another. From what news reports I've seen it doesn't appear that the young man who murdered all those people, who wounded and scarred so many more, had any real cause or point to make —other than the very fact that he was capable of such atrocity.

There's some irony in that, no?

That it might all have simply been this one horrific joke?

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