Friday, July 20, 2012

Dressing Up as Batman and the Nanny Society

When I first read Noah Rothman’s piece at Mediaite and watched the video of “world famous” forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden predicting that movie theatres will now, in the wake of the horrific events in Aurora, forbid customers to show up in costume, my first thought is that when the blonde du jour (in this case Anna Kooiman) on “Fox and Friends” is the most intelligent person in a conversation, it’s time to a). become a hermit, b). move to… hell… anywhere else, or c). plan a really great party, for the apocalypse is surely upon us.

But if we give the pompous Baden the benefit of the doubt, assuming he’s merely predicting this stupidity rather than cheerleading for it (although I very much suspect the latter), then maybe we should give him credit for his prognosticating prowess: a news report suggests AMC Theatres have already dutifully pledged that movie-goers will be forbidden to enjoy themselves may not bring costumes or props into the theatres (countdown until they start selling this stuff in the lobby, like the $3 bottles of water just the other side of airport security: 3… 2… 1…).

This is a remarkably stupid, not to mention illogical and craven, policy. The fact that one incident occurred in one theatre on one night suddenly sends these guys scampering for cover. It’s frankly even more sickening than the post-9/11 orgy of over-compensation: the PATRIOT Act, ridiculous rules about air travel, and the like. Nearly seven years ago, when it was revealed that two-year-olds were being kept off flights because their names were similar to those of someone on the no-fly list, I wrote this:
Ultimately, we need look no further if we seek concrete evidence that in this particular arena, if the expression might be forgiven, the terrorists have won. Shortly after September 11, there was a spate of bumper stickers and t-shirts with pictures of the American flag, sporting the cut-line, “These colors don't run.” Perhaps not, but we have, as a culture, abandoned liberty for self-imposed repression, reasonable deliberation for tail-chasing, and deliberate caution for hysterical panic... all because of fear. Those colors might not be running, but their tail is between their legs and they're cowering in the corner.
I’m reminded of that today as movie theatres scurry to cover their respective asses.

What makes this worse than the post-9/11 hysteria is this: at least some of the provisions of some of the 9/11 response was at least relevant in a closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-was-gone sort of way: forbidding box-cutters, strengthening cabin doors, really looking at IDs—had some of these precautions been in place 11 years ago, the date September 11 might have no further resonance for me than that five of my Facebook friends have birthdays on that day.

What is being proposed here, however, solves an imaginary problem that has never actually played out in real life… or at least it didn’t at the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes didn’t buy a ticket and schlep in his cache of weaponry past the popcorn stand and the ushers. He found a way to come in through an emergency exit (having propped it open? kicking it in?). His “costume,” for want of a better term, may have served to protect him if anyone in the audience fired back (they didn’t), but was otherwise a non-factor.

You can carry a gun into a movie theatre in a pocket, much less a purse or a backpack. And you can get a gun, as we’ve just been reminded again, even if you’re a pancake short of a grand slam breakfast, if you know what I mean. But no, that would take all the fun out of over-reacting.

To be fair to AMC, they are not in fact banning costumes, although they had originally said they would prohibit “costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable.” A later statement clarifies:
Contrary to media reports, costumes are not banned, but we will not admit guests with face-concealing masks and we will not allow fake weapons in the buildings. We want all our guests to feel comfortable at our theatres and we will be closely monitoring.
The company is also stepping up security measures in ways they quite reasonably don’t want to enumerate in detail. That’s a lot less problematic, but it’s still a knee-jerk reaction. What’s the big deal about a face-concealing mask, for example? (I’m OK with the fake weapons thing, although simply having an usher check them out would be a better solution in my mind.)

I have no idea if other theatres will adopt measures similar to AMCs, or possibly even more stringent measures. I hope not, but I understand the caution in legal terms even if not otherwise: whether the Aurora theatre will be sued remains to be seen—if that emergency exit door was literally propped open, as some news reports have suggested (and we all know how accurate they’ve been throughout this process, right?), then maybe they deserve it. But if one side of the political spectrum wants a “nanny state,” the other side seems pretty fond of a “nanny society,” in which it’s the companies, not the government, that tell us what we can and can’t do. Forgive me if I don’t see a difference.

There is, of course, a danger in not responding to new stimuli, and the danger of copy-cat gunmen cannot be discounted, especially over the next few days. But the far greater danger, it seems to me, is the continuing erosion of personal liberties. Yes, you’re safer if you capitulate to The Man (whichever form He happens to be taking): don’t text and drive, no smoking, fasten your seat belt… but also, no water bottles on the airplane, no alcohol on the beach, no broomsticks at the Harry Potter movie. Huxley was wrong: it’s a Craven New World.

On the plus side, I did come across this: in my own state of Texas, Dallas Morning News editor Britton Peele takes on the no-costumes madness:
Having been to a few midnight premieres myself (and many other “nerdy” events besides), I’ve seen more than my fair share of costume armor, weapons, guns and what have you. Some venues are more strict than others (most aren’t cool with real swords being part of a costume, for example, but some are OK with fake guns as long as they’re of the Nerf variety), but you still see plenty of unusual apparel. Why think twice about a guy in a mask when you’re sitting next to a scrawny Batman who’s eating a big bucket of popcorn?

So should that stop? Are we making it too easy for a threat to go unnoticed? Are we making it difficult for police to hunt down, “A man with a mask and armor” in a crowd full of costumes?

My answer, personally, is an unequivocal “no.”
And, on the other side of the metroplex, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History not only isn’t discouraging patrons from dressing up for “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Omni Theater, they’re giving a 10% discount to those who dress in costume. I have no interest in seeing the film (certainly not now, probably not ever), but it would almost be worth it to make movie-going an event again.

There are times when anarchy is good, when the Dionysian must trump the Apollonian. This is one of those times.

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