We may never know what was going though Aurora shooter James Holmes’s mind when he committed his heinous mass murder. We don’t know what kind of psychosis, or precisely what evil influences, he might have been subject to. What we do know is that, in wanting to be the Joker and not Batman, the villainous and not the virtuous, he reflects something prevalent today: The romanticizing of evil. And to whatever extent he was imitating art, this trend certainly is not art imitating life.
I remember when Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega was taken into custody by U.S. forces. Here was this fellow, who we’d seen giving fiery speeches from podiums and talking about killing political adversaries, now doing a perp walk in shackles. No longer the strongman, he looked neither strong nor like much of a man; it was as if he’d shrunk. He looked pathetic — like any dime-store thug in a mug shot. It was then that one understood what writer Hannah Arendt meant when, after observing Nazi war criminals, she coined the phrase “the banality of evil.”
Evil people aren’t very interesting, but you wouldn’t know it from our popular culture. It serves up fantastical fiction such as the all-seeing serial killer Hannibal Lector, the superhuman Cape Fear criminal Max Cady, and the philosophizing hit men in Pulp Fiction. It certainly titillates and triumphs at the box office, but what, ultimately, is triumphing in the hearts and minds of generations weaned on such fare? What is their conception of good and evil? Which is more attractive to them?
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