The Dr. Horrible Syndrome


James Holmes is now infamous. Unless additional facts come to light regarding conspiracy and accomplices, he will be known for killing the most people ever to become casualties in a mass shooting in the United States. The Toledo Blade reported the following:

As the new Batman movie played on the screen, a gunman dressed in black and wearing a helmet, body armor and a gas mask stepped through a side door. At first he was just a silhouette, taken by some in the audience for a stunt that was part of one of the summer's most highly anticipated films. But then, authorities said, he threw gas canisters that filled the packed suburban Denver theater with smoke, and, in the confusing haze between Hollywood fantasy and terrifying reality, opened fire as people screamed and dove for cover. At least 12 people were killed and 59 wounded in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (1)

It is common practice to characterize violence like this as senseless, but this is becoming a more and more serious mistake. Some might say that, as an academic psychologist, I should probably be more reserved and scientific, clearly separating fact from opinion in discussing the tragedy before wielding a diagnostic pen. But that will not do here. Instead, the images that hold together the cultural complex that makes tragedies like this possible demand dirt-flying-over-the-shoulder excavation. The mythologies from which killers emerge may be and must be studied and thought through so that patterns that put us in danger may be made clear, independent of the individuals who attempt to own them through infamy.


Frankly, this is also a bit of retribution. If Holmes is like many other mass murderers, the fantasy of himself that he is following puts him in the spotlight and elevates him to stardom. In this analysis, the opposite result is encouraged. Absolute certainty about his personal word and choices is not required, and so the personality he constructs is not terribly interesting, especially as it is a cliché. Very few people know Holmes well, and the full truth may never be known, but what is accessible is the series of cultural patterns into which any "Holmes" fits, transformed into "The Shooter."


It doesn't even matter for the purposes of this investigation to determine if he was acting alone or a pawn of some other individual or group. What matters is that sense be established in working with possibilities--the images and beliefs that make actions like this possible. Then one may make better sense of mass violence and not get stuck, as Aurora Fire Chief Mike Garcia does with "I just don't want the shameless and senseless act of one man to make this difficult for families to move on...Go out. See a movie. Go out into your city. Don't be afraid."(2) Instead, don't move on. Don't go to the mall. Stay home and think about what makes this possible.


If you like, consider all that is before you as fiction and put to the side the idea that psychology can be scientific. Imagine instead, that psychology is about what its name indicates, psyche's logic or soul sense, and remember that scientific-sounding devices have a very poor track record relating to or understanding soul. The rising cultural pandemic of violence, of which this slaughter is a part, is a soul issue. It is revealed through study of the patterns and stories we inherited, live in, and perpetuate, rather than being attributable to brain dysfunction and diagnosed away into isolated incidents by madmen who may dismissed as aberrations.


Understanding fictions like those driving The Shooter requires fictional tools wielded by people with mad mythological skills, capable of digging up all that metaphors can mean, rather than searching for tidy comforts to put an end to grief. That is not how grief works. Chris Cuomo of ABC News' Good Morning America program, insists that "one of the few messages that we can pull out of a tragedy like this,...that helps us move forward together, [is] that recognition that we have to appreciate life because you never know what will happen next."(3) I suggest that there are many messages to pull from this wreckage and that events like these make obvious sense if you are not only a mythologist but also fascinated by the darker side of humanity, fictions, and how things work, which is to say, a geek. Any mytho-geek can tell you that the story being crafted around, and perhaps by this Shooter is driven by narrative causality ("That's how things work in stories") to set him on the path to being a Supervillain.


More to come...Watch this page (lower right edge) to hear about updates


1. “59 Wounded, 12 Killed in Colorado Shooting.” Toledo Blade, n.d.

Discuss on Culturesmith at Aurora Shooting 201200720 Toledo Blade - CNN Coverage

2.“Colo. Suspect Planned Theater Shooting for Months.” Toledo Blade, n.d.

Discuss on Culturesmith at Aurora Shooting 201200720 Toledo Blade - AP Coverage

3. Aurora, Colorado Victims: Remembering Jessica Ghawi, 2012.

Discuss on Culturesmith at Aurora Shooting 201200720 ABC GMA Jessica Ghawi



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