As a little boy, my nephew was prone (as little boys sometimes are) to prefer villains to heroes. Psychologically (for whatever reason), they identify a villain’s destructiveness as power and an antidote to the sugary, pastel-colored world in which their feminine mothers raise them.
Rebellious, he favored characters like the Joker (I don’t think it was that specific character, but I can’t remember now which villainous figure he enjoyed playing with). I tried to convince him that Superman was the better character, that he was strong, too, and good and honorable. My words fell on deaf little ears.
He admitted a week or two ago to his girlfriend (and myself) that what I said about him being a brat as a little kid was true but that he’d had an epiphany. Actually, it was rather painful epiphany in which he said something unkind, untrue, and profane about my mother. We were in the midst of the Boston Aquarium. Suffice it to say, he was punished for it by his father, on the spot. The Nephew admitted later that he shouldn’t have said what he said, that he deserved what he got, and since then, he’s enjoyed a good relationship with our mother.
Heath Ledger played the Joker in the Batman film, The Dark Knight, in 2008. Reportedly, he admitted to having emotional problems after his performance, which he barely finished before dying at a young age of a prescription drug overdose.
James Holmes was studying for his Ph.D in neuroscience when he inexplicably dropped out. Everyone who knew who said he was a quiet loner and a brilliant student. According to a Fox News report:
As part of the advanced program in Denver, a James Holmes had been listed as making a presentation in May about Micro DNA Biomarkers in a class named "Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders."
In academic achievement "he was at the top of the top," recalled Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White.
Holmes concentrated his study on "how we all behave," White added. "It's ironic and sad."
The entertainment media made much of Heath Ledger’s role as The Joker, raving that he was an up and coming actor. It was the role that would “make” him, they touted. Sadly, it was the role that unmade him. Many actors are drawn towards the darker roles because they think they’ll be taken more seriously. For instance, young Dan Radcliffe, taking a break from his part as Harry Potter, took the lead role in Equus, an extremely dark play about a psychologically troubled youth.
Ledger was very likeable and very heroic playing Mel Gibson’s eldest son in The Patriot. He was making a name for himself in some other films as well. Still, he couldn’t resist the temptation to venture into the dark side of drama.
Someone has to play the villain. Every story needs one. Freedom of speech dictates that dramatists be able to write about and film them. That doesn’t mean that we need to celebrate and glorify them, and worse, emulate them, as James Holmes did, however.
Most normal people can distinguish between reality and fantasy. Though they’re fascinated by a villain like Heath Ledger’s Joker, and can admire the actor’s performance, some censor in the mind reminds them that the character is evil – and fictional. In the end, the hero wins and the audience cheers.
At the midnight showing in Aurora, Colo., a sick fantasy became a reality. Apparently, having taken a course in psychological disorders, Holmes crossed the line, confusing fiction and reality, normal behavior and deviant behavior, taking those characteristics upon himself, even as Heath Ledger was said to have done. Only Ledger, being a normal, healthy person, was disturbed by it, whereas Holmes embraced the dark side.
In a culture that increasingly encourages embracing negativity and violence, it’s not surprising these mass shootings are occurring. Something snapped back in the Sixties, with the University of Texas-Austin shooting in August, 1966, when 25 year-old Charles Whitman killed 16 and injured 32 from the university’s observation tower. Whitman had more obvious problems than Holmes – a court martial from the Marines, drug abuse, his parents were divorcing. Like Holmes, he was initially a good student.
The facts are not yet in on why Holmes did it. But clearly, to the Dark Side was he drawn.