Friday, July 20, 2012

The Aurora Massacre: What Made James Holmes Do It?

Since I do not believe that life imitates art, I tend to agree with Anthony Lane’s judgment of the Aurora, Colorado massacre:

…no film makes you kill. Having a mind to kill, at least in any systematic fashion, means that your mind is ready-warped; that the warping may well have started long before, perhaps in childhood; and that you may perhaps seek out, or be drawn to, areas of sensation—notably those entailing sex or violence—which can encourage, inflame, or accelerate the warping.

As of now we do not know whether James Holmes was mentally ill or was suffering from a brain disease, like psychosis.

I assume that he was psychotic, but we await further information.

Even if he was severely disturbed, the anguish and the agony need not have expressed itself as it did.

Not all psychotics or even psychopaths become mass murderers.

Does the ambient culture have any role here? At the least, the culture tells you what you need to do to be noticed, to be taken seriously, even to get help.

If, for example, Holmes was seeking celebrity through infamy, he succeeded. Today, he and only he is monopolizing the news. His story has overtaken all other events.

If he is a psychotic with megalomaniacal tendencies he might have believed that this kind of media coverage would confirm the truth of his delusions. In the space of a few minutes Holmes has gone from anonymous to eternally infamous.

On another score, Lane was working with imperfect information.

Attempting to refute the notion that the film made Holmes do it, Lane wrote:

The film, which the killer most certainly will not have seen beforehand, presented him with an opportunity; it did not urge him on, or trigger him into homicide, but it was, nonetheless, the occasion that he sought. He would have known that people had been talking of “The Dark Knight Rises” for months; that the excitement was mounting; that they would flock, in a good communal mood, to the first available showing.

After Lane wrote these words, we learned that the trailer for The Dark Night Rises was, in many movie theaters, coupled with the trailer for a movie called: Gangster Squad.

At the end of that trailer a man opens fire in a crowded movie theater.

Even if, as I and Lane believe, life does not imitate art, some individuals will still try to imitate what they see in a work of art.


Soviet of Washington said...

I suspect we're looking at another Paranoid Schizophrenia case (similar to Jared Loughner). He's the right age and gender (males 1.5x more likely, peak onset age 20-28), had recently dropped out of school, neighbors report strange behavior, etc. Occam's razor (as well as Chris Rock!!) suggests looking for other reasons is silly when crazy is sufficient.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree, though I hesitated a little because the age of onset is usually a little earlier, but, as you say, Occam's razor tells us that the simplest explanation-- paranoid schizophrenic, as you say-- is the best one.

Webutante said...

This is a terrific post Stuart!

I personally don't know the difference between any of these diagnoses, so I leave it to you pros.

However, I do know that whatever early childhood warping that most likely happened has continued exponentially by the ambient culture: violent movies, internet stimulation with isolation, television, video games, rap music and comics. Add to this over-sugared/ultra-caffeinated offerings, I can only wonder there aren't more of these type tragedies on an ongoing basis.

Bizzy Brain said...

First question that comes to mind is what meds he was or wasn't on? Anti-depressants and a wide variety of other drugs, such as anti-psychotics, drastically change brain chemistry, and not always for the best.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Webutante. Allow me to clarify a bit.

Holmes might be a psychopath or he might be a schizophrenic.

If he's a psychopath he might consider himself a warrior in an army fighting the infidels, like Major Hasan or the 9/11 bombers.

For now Holmes appears to be a schizophrenic. As I understand it, this illness is a brain disease, having very little if anything to do with upbringing.

Yet, there is nothing inevitable about a schizophrenic acting out his illness in the way Holmes did. The culture certainly has an influence on the choice of action, as it has on the choice of symptoms in more mental disorders.

I agree with your point... we have become so thoroughly desensitized to violence, and to sexual stimuli too, that it takes more and more stimulus to get out attention.

I also believe that the wall-to-wall media coverage provides a psychotic like Holmes with confirmation that his megalomaniacal delusions are true.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I'm not sure what meds he was on, but I read somewhere that he was on Vicodin... but I can't find the reference right now.

What little I know suggests that he was probably not on anti-psychotic medication, but, he might, as you suggest, have been misdiagnosed and given medication that disinhibited him... but that's just a guess

Have you noticed that Holmes was studying neuroscience... it's almost as though he were trying to understand what was happening to him, as though he might try to cure himself.

Webutante said...

Thanks Stuart.

Agreed again, the media mega-circus these kind of horrifying incidents incur is confirmation to nuts like the perpetrator. And it's like a drug to all us average voyeurs who watch in rapt, hyper-vigilent attention.

Again, this kind of over- done coverage is totally compatible with everything else that's over-ampted in our culture.

Best wishes.

epoche* said...

im not justifying his actions but young men have been stripped of their male identity by feminism. Expect to see more senseless actions of violence by young men until these issues are addressed.