(First published in The Dominion Post, July 31.)
WHEN a presumably deranged young man sprayed a crowded cinema with gunfire, killing 12 people and wounding dozens of others, there followed the usual anguished self-examination in the American media.As when similar terrible events have happened in the past, attention focussed on America’s permissive gun laws. But is there another aspect to this tragedy that was overlooked?
It seemed significant that the shooter, James Holmes, chose to embark on his murderous spree at the premiere of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. It was reported later that Batman posters and a Batman mask were found in his apartment, suggesting some sort of infantile fixation with the caped crusader. Other reports suggested Holmes identified with Batman’s nemesis, the Joker.In the circumstances, you have to wonder whether the popular obsession with fantasy has got out of hand.
Why any adult would take a comic-book character like Batman seriously is a mystery. In the 1960s, television quite rightly treated him as a subject of camp satire. Yet film critics solemnly analyse Batman films (and other equally ridiculous “superhero” films such as the Spiderman series) as if they had the weight of works by Shakespeare or Chekhov.
Fans certainly take Batman far too seriously, as was evident from the furious response that was triggered when negative reviews of the new film started appearing online. Movie websites were swamped with messages so toxic and malicious that some sites had to be shut down.If fans can be so emotionally attached to Batman that they respond to mildly critical reviews with rabid threats and vicious abuse, is it any wonder that Holmes should be so obsessed that he chose the screening of the film to play out his own lethal, overheated fantasy?
It may defy rational understanding, but it can’t be ruled out.Fantasy movies are now a Hollywood staple. Many are dark and violent and depict a dystopian society. The same is true of many video games, which are so important to some men that they will pulverise their partners’ crying babies into silence so that they can continue playing uninterrupted.
Obsession with fantasy is the new norm. TV series about vampires rate their socks off. In the top-rating comedy series The Big Bang Theory, the main characters frequent comic-book stores and imagine themselves as characters from Star Trek or Doctor Who. This is presented as endearing rather than absurd.Comic-Con conventions such as the one recently held in San Diego attract more than 100,000 fans, all of them immersed in fantasy of one sort or another, whether it’s science-fiction, horror or vampirism. They seem locked in a strange, perpetual adolescence.
No doubt for most of the people who attend events like Comic-Con, it’s harmless fun. But we shouldn’t be surprised if occasionally, someone totally loses the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, with tragic consequences.
* * *SPEAKING of fantasies, director Sir Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit, recently revealed that the Tolkien estate doesn’t like his movies. I’m not surprised.
I don’t believe Jackson has treated J R R Tolkien’s stories with the respect they deserve. He has taken Tolkien’s profound fables and turned them into noisy, pointless action spectacles.Jackson is an immensely talented man but it seems a common characteristic of the films he’s involved in – whether it’s The Adventures of Tintin, The Lord of the Rings or District 9 – that no matter how promisingly they start, they eventually degenerate into ridiculous extravaganzas in which any trace of nuance or subtlety is buried under layers of furious action and special effects.
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ANOTHER Maori Language Week has come and gone, and with it the now-familiar lamentations that te reo is in decline and must be resuscitated. But as someone commented on the Stuff website: “If a language needs rescuing, it’s already too late.”Maori will survive as a language if there is a compelling economic or cultural reason for it. But if it’s still struggling after 37 years of Maori language weeks, 31 years of kohanga reo and eight years of Maori TV, perhaps it should be taken off life support and left to cope as best it can.
Black American linguist John McWhorter has argued that most languages ultimately outlive their usefulness and cannot be sustained by artificial means.Perhaps more importantly, McWhorter makes the point that a multiplicity of languages encourages segregation and apartness. As he says: “The prospect we are taught to dread – that one day all the world’s people will speak one language – is one I would welcome.”
And we should look on the bright side. There may be fewer people able to converse in Maori, but the number of Maori words and phrases in common usage by Pakeha is infinitely greater than it was; and what’s more, many more Pakeha are making an effort to pronounce Maori names correctly.