We keep eating the fruit of the knowledge of evil, and guess what—we keep knowing more and more evil

Our society produces demonically violent entertainment, and avidly consumes demonically violent entertainment. Is anyone going to claim that he is “shocked” that members of our society frequently commit demonically violent acts?

Here, by Jenny McCartney at the Telegraph, is a description of the 2008 movie The Dark Knight, the predecessor of the just-released The Dark Knight Rises, which an audience in Aurora, Colorado was watching last night when an armed man burst into the theater in body armor and proceeded to shoot about 65 people, killing 14 of them. Can we honestly say that people who go to see such movies are innocent? Can we honestly say that the people who were murdered while watching such a movie were merely innocent victims?

Our attitude to violence is beyond a joke as new Batman film, The Dark Knight, shows

… If I were the parent who relented and took a 10-year-old child to see The Dark Knight, would I be sorry? Once again, you bet I would. It’s different from other superhero films, as fans are quick to point out. Certainly, there are surprises in its swooping camera angles and darkened, ominous screen.

But the greatest surprise of all—even for me, after eight years spent working as a film critic—has been the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.

I will attempt to confine my plot spoilers to the opening: the film begins with a heist carried out by men in sinister clown masks. As each clown completes a task, another shoots him point-blank in the head. The scene ends with a clown—The Joker—stuffing a bomb into a wounded bank employee’s mouth.

After the murderous clown heist, things slip downhill. A man’s face is filleted by a knife, and another’s is burned half off. A man’s eye is slammed into a pencil. A bomb can be seen crudely stitched inside another man’s stomach, which subsequently explodes. A trussed-up man is bound to a chair and set alight atop a pile of banknotes.

A plainly terrorised child is threatened at gunpoint by a man with a melted face. It is all intensely realistic. Oh but don’t worry, folks: there isn’t any nudity.

- end of initial entry -

Buck writes:

Strong stuff. You seem to be implying that the victims were somehow complicit in their own deaths. Ignorant dupes or “skulls full of mush” perhaps, but guilty to that final a degree? [LA replies: No, I did not say that they were complicit in their own deaths. I said that they were not innocent, and that they were not merely innocent victims.]

My 23 year old son is a big Batman/Dark Knight fan. I have a paper-mache Batman mounted on my living room wall. He made it in pre-school. His favorite costume as a toddler was his black cape and Batman mask. He wore it until the I vacuumed up the last of the threads.

My son could have been sitting in that theater. There isn’t a better, more decent young man in society. He wouldn’t harm anyone, physically or emotionally.

He was born into this age of video and movie violence. The TV Batman was a cartoon. Though he and his generation are not pure and innocent; that they know and have been raised amid real violence depicted in the news and virtual violence depicted in “art”, they are still innocent of evil intentions. Pure and without sin? No, no one is. Maybe they, maybe their parents, are weak and are guilty of a range of neglects.

Our society and culture is dark. The “dark” in Dark Knight is us, the older generation who have lost the innocence and the light; not my son and his contemporaries. They were born innocent. They didn’t do anything to make themselves guilty. What ever they are, we did it to them.

I’ve attached a picture of innocence, my very young son as Batman. If he’s no longer innocent, if he’s now guilty or complicit in the evil revealed in that theater, then I did it to him with the help of his mother, his relatives, his schools and his synagogue; and all of the rest of us.

If our children are no longer innocent and free of guilt, then the man firing the gun is simply one of us.

Buck replies:
You write:

“No, I did not say that they were complicit in their own deaths. I said that they were not innocent, and that they were not merely innocent victims.”

I agreed; no one is pure and innocent. To use “innocent” in this context, seems to render your point meaningless. “Not merely innocent” includes everyone, in and out of that theater. We all just as non-innocent or guilty and complicit even if we don’t pay to see that movie or have never even heard of it. We allow it.

LA replies:

No. When I said that they are not innocent, I did not mean it in the generic sense that no human being is entirely innocent or that all human beings are guilty of original sin. That would be silly. I meant it in the sense that they are doing something specifically wrong. They are consuming “entertainment” that is evil and vile—“entertainment” that no decent society would allow and that no human being should willingly consume, let alone allow his children to consume. Therefore they are participating in the same destruction of moral standards and restraints, and the same acceptance and normalization of violence and demonic evil, that led to their own murder. (In this connection, see James N.’s observations on the reason for the massacre, and my response.)

Buck replies:

OK. Perhaps I’m defending myself under the guise of defending my son, when I should have protected him better. The thought of him being killed in that way demands that I proclaim his innocence. The guilt is mine and I’m feeling it intensely right now.

Buck writes:

I was not referring to original sin; as you said, that would be silly. I’m saying that we are all actively complicit in allowing this evil and vile “entertainment” if we are not actively working to stop it and insulating every one of our children from it, parent or not. Please, no one mention voting. It can’t exist without us; without our acquiescence and ongoing tolerance. We all tolerate it. Doing “our best” or “our small part” isn’t enough. We are the remaining adults in the room. Doing nothing, understanding nothing; that’s on us. Not acting to stop it, not being aware that it exists all around us, not sacrificing ourselves to whatever extent that is necessary to stop it, that makes us all at least complicit and guilty to various degrees.

But, Buck; I’m doing this and that, I’m arguing this and that. What more can one person do? Really? So why even discuss it? Are we going to do something about it or not? Are we going to do something to stop it? No. We don’t know what to do. Are we stopping everything, right now, to go out and get in front of every theater that intends to show this movie? If every American child born from this day forward was kept pure, we could not make a dent in the vile, evil entertainment industry. We had no idea about how to stop an analog world, we’re completely hapless in the digital world. We don’t have the collective will and the collective strength of character to do anything beyond our own front doors. Politics is the weak and feckless cousin to action. We are all guilty as sin.

I have a good friend who often laments not marrying and having children. He knows and admires my son. He has said that he feels unworthy and un-entitled to speak about parenting, as if he can’t think of and understand the arguments. Obviously there is an element of parenting that he cannot understand and feel. That doesn’t let him off the hook. He can’t claim to be innocent and guilt free. That The Dark Knight Rises, and the like, are playing in theaters across this country is just as much his fault as it is mine and my parents. It is not my son’s fault, not quite yet. If he bears guilt, it’s tiny compared to ours. It’s our fault for what happened in that theater, not his for simply planning to be there. We built those theaters, we built Hollywood, we help to make these movies. The victims sitting in that theater bear little guilt. Innocent means guiltless. If they are not innocent, then they are guilty. If they are guilty, what are we?

If I regularly give an innocent child morphine as he is growing up and he enters adulthood as an addict, is he guilty and complicit in his own death? If I let my son watch Batman cartoons when he was a child, well before Batman morphed into the Dark Knight, am I guilty? Is my son not innocent? When did he become less than innocent?

Am I a modern liberal hypocrite?

Nik S. writes:

You wrote:

“No. When I said that they are not innocent, I did not mean it in the generic sense that no human being is entirely innocent or that all human beings are guilty of original sin. That would be silly. I meant it in the sense that they are doing something specifically wrong. They are consuming “entertainment” that is evil and vile—“entertainment” that no decent society would allow and that no human being should willingly consume, let alone allow his children to consume. Therefore they are participating in the same destruction of moral standards and restraints, and the same acceptance and normalization of violence and demonic evil, that led to their own murder.”

I, for one, shall not be patronizing any more gratuitously violent cinema any time soon. And you know what? I don’t think I will miss it.

LA writes (9 p.m.):

Many more comments have been sent in response to this entry. They have not been posted yet for the usual reason: insufficient energy on my part. They will be posted tomorrow morning.

July 21

Ben S. writes:

While I don’t doubt that violent movies can inspire violent acts in marginal or deranged individuals, one could make a similar argument that guns potentiate violence by marginal or deranged individuals. You reject the latter argument as a basis for withholding guns from people in general, and probably in part on the principle that the acts of the worst elements of society are the wrong basis for structuring the freedom of ordinary people. I do not wish to suggest that the “right to watch fake violence” is commensurate with right to bear arms, but it is nevertheless part of a cultural freedom of expression. [LA replies: No. I am not saying that such movies inspire violent acts, though they no doubt sometimes do (update: according to reports, the killer was emulating the Joker); I am saying that a society that accepts such movies as normal and unobjectionable and to be praised, or that treats the sexual nihilism of Madonna and the giggly whoredom of Sex and City as things to be praised and celebrated, is a society that has abandoned morality and released the demonic, even if the society keeps simultaneously claiming, as the good cop versus the bad cop, that it is a wholesome, ordinary society.]

As to how “demonic violence” in movies should be viewed, I would say that though in particulars it may really be a promotion of moral evil, in general it is merely catharsis. The demonic is, unfortunately, part of the human psyche; Genesis calls it the knowledge of evil, and identifies it as the universal burden of a primordial sin. Drama externalizes the moral burden of fallen humanity through catharsis. The extremity of violence in modern film could be seen as a dramatic exaggeration or heightening of typical violence, or it could be seen as a vision of Hell itself. While an atheist would see Hell as another dramatic amplification of the dreaded in human life, to Christians such as you or myself it is a reality, any human portrayal of which is an understatement. [LA replies: Excuse me, but this is intellectual b.s. A “catharsis” that involves accustoming a mass audience including children to insane levels of pornographic violence is not catharsis, but an immersion in destructive, traumatic nihilism. But then of course, the spreaders and consumers of this nihilism, in order to cover themselves, claim that they are engaged in a morally healthful program. VFR is one site where such b.s. will never be accepted.]

Carol M. writes:

Lawrence, I still believe the definitive explanation of this sort of fascination was Nietszche’s Genealogy of Morals. Man by nature loves to rape, torture, and kill, to triumph over others. That was long considered “good” whereas being a victim was “bad.”

It was the project of Christian civilization to thwart these urges, turn the energy inward toward self-reformation. But the project has been gradually coming apart at the seams for 200 years or so, since the onset of Romanticism and its glorification of nature and adventure.

Matthew H. writes:

Buck writes: If our children are no longer innocent and free of guilt, then the man firing the gun is simply one of us.

No, the man firing the gun has become, by his own volition and under the influence of the sick, evil media complex, something quite alien to good and Godly people. People are taking their small children to see these movies. Do they think they will not be affected by such powerful images? When we take our kids to these movies we are giving them massive, powerful doses of corruption and showering money on the twisted freaks who make them.

Perhaps we could call this a Super-Violent Freak Show Gone Wrong.

Peter F. writes:

Again we see the dynamic in play that you have discussed so often. The perpetrator is white, so his picture and description saturate coverage of the event; however, had the shooter been black, we all know how that would have been handled by the corrupt leftist media. I am old enough to remember the old Soviet propaganda organs—Tass, the Soviet news agency, and its newspaper, Pravda. The MSM are not much different; they have become a de facto propaganda ministry for the Obama White House and the new regime of political correctness. Of course, this event will be spun into more calls for gun control when in actuality, even one citizen carrying a concealed weapon might have stopped the shooter. Colorado is a concealed-carry state, but I am betting that in a Denver movie theater, firearms were prohibited. That is precisely why the killer chose that target.

Gintas writes:

Jesus talks about this kind of thing in Luke 13:

1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilleans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?

3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

People were wondering whether or not the dead deserved what happened. We can get all caught up in whether or not they deserved it. We should repent, or we shall all likewise perish.


6 He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.

7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?

8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:

9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

There is a time limit to repentance. Who knows when their time will expire? The Galileans didn’t know, and those in Siloam didn’t know, and America doesn’t know. It’s too late for the dead, but not for those of us still alive.

Gintas writes:

Something stinks in Colorado. Years ago I believe I sent you links to the murals in the airport there. Just do a search on “Denver Airport Murals” and you will see that walking around in the Denver Airport would be a creepy, sinister experience.

Roland D. writes:

The Dark Knight Rises is the best conservative film of the 21st Century, to date. In fact, it’s probably the best conservative film of the last 20 years or more.

I just knew you would have a knee-jerk reaction condemning the film and sure enough, I check your page, and there it is.

The film itself mocks those who claim to speak for “the people”; it mocks those who think that a “revolution” will “wipe the slate clean” and “balance the scales”; it mocks so-called “revolutionary justice”; it very strongly makes the point that people can’t and shouldn’t expect the U.S. Federal Government to solve their problems, that instead they must solve local problems locally.

You are a very intelligent and cultured man, and you often have subtle and profound insights into the current of our culture and its politics. However, you’ve also a pronounced tendency to quickly condemn out of hand things and people of which or with whom you’ve no personal experience; this tendency has served you ill in this instance.

Go see the film. It’s remarkable that a film with such a conservative message made it past the Politburo’s censors.

Roland continues:

And by the way—condemning Batman—by far the most conservative mainstream hero in comics and graphic novel—as “evil” and “vile” is just plain nuts.

Each of the films in this trilogy has a conservative message. The new one has the strongest, most unambiguous message of the series.

Since I’ve been reading your essays and following your discussions over the last 3-4 years, I don’t think you’ve ever been as completely, utterly wrong on any topic as you are on this one. But you are 110 percent mistaken and wrongheaded in your criticism of this film in particular, and of the film trilogy itself.

LA replies:

Without having seen the film, from ample experience of this type of phenomenon, I can bet, with near total certainty, that if I do see it, it will turn out to be “conservative” in the same sense that, say, South Park is “conservative”—a nihilistic, transgressive, perverted presentation of reality, which hopelessly superficial “conservatives” think is conservative, because it has a couple of anti-liberal elements thrown into the mix. See also my reply to a reader here. And see Paul K.’s comment here.

Alissa writes:

Oh but don’t worry, folks: there isn’t any nudity.

It’s ironic how liberal writers blame today’s violence on sexual repression. To the contrary we live in a fairly sexually liberated society. Perhaps she should blame the horror of this violence on the horror unleashed by the fruits of the sexual revolution, where broken hearts, minds and souls abide in great numbers in today’s world. Various parts of modern mores and culture is literally the living dead (another reason why the horror genre has grown in popularity) and unconsciously a couple of people know this.

Then we have violent video games growing in popularity because of what? Oh yes. Masculinity is demonized. So where do boys go? Uh? Religion? Sometimes a good idea, other times no. The schools? Not a chance. Home? What if they live with a feminist mother and a weak father? Or a single mother? Or in a divorced household? If anything isn’t violence in masculine cultures typically heroic and beautiful? About the greater good? Or some other virtue? Have you ever read any patriarchal epics where a crazy lone young gunman goes out to kill 14 year old teenagers in cinema? I just can’t imagine any masculine figures of the past doing such a thing unless they were mentally insane or high on drugs. Boys only have thugs, crazy lone gunmen and other stuff to emulate. Either that or become a metrosexual who loves feminism and was medicated to suppress your hyperactive disorder. So what do boys do? Why they play their violent video games. And I can’t completely blame them.

And what about the young girls? How do they deal with this culture? How do they heal their wounds and moral confusion? The only thing that feminists care about is rape. Except there’s one problem: they have extended the definition of rape to including having “consensual sex” but latter regretting it. And what has happened? They have made it a joke. They have trivialized rape with at least 50 percent of rape allegations being false. Yes, half of the claims. Violence is now a joke. But, but isn’t gun control the problem here at the Batman shooting? Yes guns kill people but people kill people as well. It takes two to tango in this scenario.

The Batman shooting seems like a mixture of desensitivity to bad violence (brought by loss of balanced masculinity), broken soul, craziness and loss of morale. The shooter probably didn’t have a motive for it. Why would he need to anyway? No motive needed. Just senseless killing.

B. writes:

Well yes, of course those people were innocent because they hadn’t committed a crime worthy of death. And the dead included children who weren’t even responsible for being there.

I watched The Dark Knight out of curiosity and found it disturbing, certainly not suitable for children (what were those parents thinking?) However, while I am ultimately 100 percent on board with McCartney’s point, I do think she described certain scenes somewhat misleadingly. There’s actually very little ON-SCREEN violence in the movie. Yes, certain violent actions are announced, implied, gloated over, etc., but they’re more often than not left to the viewers’ imagination. E.g. we don’t actually see the man get sliced with a knife, we don’t see or hear the man who’s going to be burned on the money pile writhing/screaming in agony. Her description implies that we do. I do think there’s a difference. The one exception is Two-Face. Once the left side has been burned away, it does look pretty gross.

The other thing I would say is that some of the violent entertainment she’s describing celebrates or condones the violence it contains. I don’t think that’s the case for the Batman trilogy. In fact I think they’re ultimately pushing an anti-war, anti-violence philosophy. The whole point of The Dark Knight is that the Joker ultimately fails to bring the citizens of Gotham down to his level.

Now obviously the whole anti-war slant brings a bunch of liberal baggage with it, but at least you can’t say it’s glorifying brutality. (We’re momentarily waiving the larger realities that the same people who demonize Bush over torture will advocate ripping babies limb from limb and the like.)

Female reader MGH writes:

VFR has been absolutely brilliant lately. I’m so glad that you are feeling well and strong.

I thought you would be interested in this Wall Street Journal review of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises: A Grim, Spectacularly Black Beauty,” as a follow-up on the article I sent you in 2010 about the movie “Avatar.” My subject line then was “A vision of the gnostic world leads to depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Joe Morgenstern’s review of “The “Dark Knight Rises” is one indication of just how far along the road to hell we have traveled since 2010. [LA replies: I quote extensively from that review here.]


This third—and, the director insists, final—installment of Mr. Nolan’s series makes you feel thoroughly miserable about life. It’s spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom. No movie has ever administered more punishment, to its hero or its audience, in the name of mainstream entertainment

The most stunning thing about the film, though—and this is said not by way of praise, but with anxious wonderment—is how depressing and truly doomy most of it is …

I think the success of this movie will give us picture of the mood of the country as we move into the fateful election this fall.

Joseph E. writes:

Your exchange with Buck was illuminating. You both make good points, but I agree with you more than him.

I would like to like to make a point about Buck and his son that he might find offensive, but that I think someone needs to say, and that is mostly left unsaid.

“My son could have been sitting in that theater. There isn’t a better, more decent young man in society. He wouldn’t harm anyone, physically or emotionally.”

You know, you hear this stuff all the time. The victim, or potential victim, “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

He, or she, was “harmless.” It’s become a thoughtless cliche, like “burglary gone wrong,” of the type that you have rightly denounced in these pages.

For God’s sake, does it ever occur to people that this is akin to pasting a target on the victim’s shirt? “I’m helpless, please come prey on me.”

Buck’s son is a young American man, a potential soldier, father, husband, decision-maker in society. If he really can’t harm anyone, under any circumstances, what the hell is wrong with him?

He should be able, and more importantly, willing, to do harm to those who physically threaten his family, his home, his own person, and, yes, his father, Buck.

We have a virtual suicide cult of nonviolence, nonagressiveness, getting along to go along. Someone has to be willing to call it out.

Buck’s son is undoubtedly, a fine young man. Had he been in that theater, he might, realistically, have been able to do nothing. But I would like to think that he would have been capable, had opportunity arisen, to do harm to the monster who shed that blood.

Female reader B. writes:

One can say that the Batman movies are trying to be “anti-violence,” but, as I thought back to Batman’s “No killing, no guns” policy, maintained throughout all three films, it occurred to me, “Isn’t this the exact same mentality that leads people to be so bone-headed in their reaction to crimes like the ones we just had?” They’ll express shock and horror at the “senseless” violence of the killer, but don’t you dare suggest that maybe, just maybe, things like this wouldn’t happen so often if more people were allowed to own guns. As Shane said, “A gun is as good or bad as the man carrying it.” Because the liberal is at heart a moral relativist, he can’t or won’t distinguish between a gun in the hand of a psycho and a gun in the hand of a level-headed, responsible citizen, and he won’t recognize that the responsible citizen could do good with the right weapons at his disposal. Instead, “violence” and “killing” are labeled as bad across the board.

B. continues:

Ah, I see someone else got there first. It’s all about tying the hands of the good. A “moral code” that’s ultimately empty and pointless.

Buck writes:

In response to Joseph E.:

I’m not offended by ignorance about my son or about me. Reading 101. My son is a stud. At his healthy two hundred pounds, he could lift the two of us off the ground and take us both down. I did not say that he was a weakling or a coward. I implied that he is not mean, violent, or criminal. He will defend himself mightily. He’s a man who will protect his girl friend or his mother or his friends with his very capable life. I’m certain of that.

“Can’t hurt anyone”? That would be foolish.

LA replies:
In addition to being insulting, Joseph’s comment to which Buck has just replied was silly, uncomprehending, and off-topic. He was making way too much of Buck’s statement that his son wouldn’t hurt anyone. If I had looked at the comment more carefully and thought about it, I would not have posted it. My policy is not to allow readers to insult others, though I will allow mild exceptions to the rule when the circumstances warrant it.

Also, I would say that Joseph’s comment was more insulting to Buck than to Buck’s son, since the subject here was not really Buck’s son, but Buck’s description of him.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 20, 2012 09:17 AM | Send

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