Dr. David J. Leonard: Innocence Lost in Colorado? For Whom?

Innocence Lost in Colorado? For Whom?

The violent killing of 12 people and wounding of 58 in Aurora, Colo., has, not surprisingly, prompted national attention. And while the concern and unease are understandable, I ask why this moment compels national conversations about life and death, about guns, about safety, about mental health, and about tragedy, when countless other horrific moments don’t elicit similar sadness and outage. Clearly, all of these emotions, the shock and the desire to understand how/why this happened stem from a belief that such violence is not supposed to happen “there,” that it is not supposed to impact suburban communities, that it is not supposed to involve shooters who look like James Holmes. Although the media imagines this act of domestic terrorism as “unthinkable” and “beyond explanation” — since Holmes is just a normal (white, middle-class) kid — it also portrays the violence as extraordinary, as fostering fear and anxiety where it didn’t exist before.

Ian Landau epitomizes this sense of innocence lost that pervades the media coverage with “Colorado Movie Theater Shooting Shatters Our Sense Of Safety”: “Traditionally in America movie theaters are a safe, family environment where everybody goes and settles down into the dark,” notes New York psychiatrist Alan Manevitz. “You can watch a scary movie because you know you’re safe in the movie theater and can enjoy the experience. The Aurora shooting has suddenly turned that upside down. That presumption of safety gets shattered and you feel the vulnerability at that moment.”

Beyond the erasure of cinematic violence and a larger history of racist images on screen, the imagination of lost innocence speaks to the powerful ways that race and class matters. For communities of color, innocence remains a dream deferred. In America, only certain kids are entitled to “innocence,” so much so that denied innocence and systemic exposure to violence is both normalized and accepted.

Normalizing the experiences of (white) middle-class suburbia, the media response has not only privileged this idealized space but has imagined it as a tragedy of immense proportions because of the shattered innocence that is predicated on an assumption of white privilege. “Is there anything more innocent than a child eating popcorn and sipping Coke with the lights of a movie screen reflecting off his face?,” writes Bert Weiss. “Is there any place I can feel my children are totally safe? Rather than being excited to share this movie together, now I’ll spend a considerable amount of time addressing what happened in that theater with my sons. Frankly, I wish someone could explain it to me. As a parent, I wish I could postpone the reality of conversations like this for just a little longer; keep my kids innocent for as long as possible.” Would Mr. Weiss describe a movie theater within America’s inner cities as “safe places”; would he paint such a rosy picture if his children ran the risk of being stop and frisked on their way to the movies? Within the national imagination, there remains a dividing line whereupon violence at certain premiers and at certain theaters is both expected and accepted.

Erasing the fears produced by racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policies, political brutality, extrajudicial killings and the violence that plagues communities throughout the United States, the heightened media and political concern points to the power of whiteness.

Continue reading @ Dr. David J. Leonard: Innocence Lost in Colorado? For Whom?.

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