By Leonard Klady

GROSS BEHAVIOR: Tears Dry on Their Own

In the best of all possible worlds when tragedy occurs – as it most certainly did two days ago in Aurora, Colorado – we can only hope that out of the rubble of something virtually incomprehensible to grasp some glimmer of understanding will peek through and we the people will do something about it.

This is admittedly lofty stuff, purplish prose and one wishes a quote one could ascribe to someone else. But while it’s hardly unprecedented for a lone shooter to wreck havoc it is thankfully sufficiently uncommon for us to respond with shock and disbelief. It doesn’t make sense and likely never will. I cannot think of a comparable heinous act that was logical to anyone other than the perpetrator.

In these realms it has the added significance of playing out in a movie multiplex. Under normal circumstances this is a venue where one escapes into dreams. It’s a safe harbor for our imagination.

Objectively speaking it’s also an ideal target for anyone who wanted to make a statement about the fragility of a free society. Following the 9/11 attacks there was considerable speculation that terrorists could readily inflict further damage to the American psyche by launching a lethal strike on a theme park.

The truth of the matter is that movie theaters, sports arenas, music concerts and the like are all places where someone (or ones) could go on a murderous rampage that would have a high human toll and reverberate in subtle and tacit changes in our daily life. I’d like to believe that the discomfort and inconvenience one experiences when one goes to the airport is directly responsible for a decade plus of hijack-free skies. However, numerous reports of TSA incompetence aren’t helpful to that conclusion.

It wouldn’t require a whole lot of suasion to convince me that having disturbed the “friendly skies,” terror groups have moved on to another devastating scenario. The one that comes to mind is the hitherto fictional Black Sunday. In the 1975 novel by Thomas Harris and the subsequent film, a terrorist organization plots to assassinate the U.S. president and hundreds of others during the Super Bowl.

At this point at least there’s nothing to connect James Holmes, the alleged Aurora gunman, with a political faction or terrorist cell. He’s yet to issue a statement about his actions. So for the moment the incident echoes last year’s rampage on the Norwegian island Utoeya in which Anders Behring Breivik assassinated 69 people at a summer camp following setting off a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight people.

Ironically, Norway ranked third in a United Nation’s study earlier this year of the happiest places to live. The United States was 11th in the survey.

Regardless bad, inexplicable things happen in otherwise nice places.

The question isn’t “why?” No matter the rationale of the person behind such ghastly acts, these aren’t things that follow in some comprehensible order. It’s only in hindsight that an acquaintance or medical expert emerges with a connective portrait that leads to the gruesome finale.

No amount of physical or technical surveillance is going to prevent another Columbine, et al. Early reports suggest that Holmes entered the movie auditorium via an emergency exit he forced open. In Breivik’s case he coerced his way onto the island by wearing a military uniform. In either situation only dumb luck would have stopped the two men from completely their lethal acts.

We all wish there was a quick fix that would avert these man-made catastrophes.

The wider issue is really about a free society. What is one entitled to in a democracy? I remember something about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But when those very things are threatened by external enemies or those from within, is it right for the government to dictate that one relinquish some or any freedoms for?

Certainly Aurora is going to raise anxiety levels. But can potential threats be tamped down by the presence of police or military in a movie auditorium? Is the typical movie goer ready to pay an additional cost to see a movie in “safety.” And what’s the psychological toll of being somewhere where the very presence of security implies a dangerous environment.
Notwithstanding the Norwegian massacre, one news report emerging from Aurora cited studies that revealed a comparable percentage of such violent acts in both the U.S. and European nations. However, America had significantly more fatalities as a result of the weaponry available to the assailant. And coverage of Aurora has repeatedly noted that the four firearms used were all acquired legally.

Back in 1791 America’s legislators inscribed in the Constitution the right to “keep and bear arms.” If one is a literalist about the document no one should be allowed to own anything more lethal than a flintlock musket. Holmes had two Glock pistols, an assault rifle and a shotgun. That arsenal seems rather extreme for either the protection of one’s home or to go out hunting for moose.

I’m still gasping to find the hopeful glimmer out of Aurora, Salt Lake City, Utoeya and countless other historic murders and genocides. There are glib homilies one could cite such as be a good neighbor. One’s also prone to assume a “do nothing” stance and hope time and circumstance will resolve the issue. It might but the likelihood that someone else will act in your best interests to your satisfaction appears to be an increasingly remote equation in present society. For the time being all I can offer is “do something.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon