One of the unresolved debates of the communications revolution is whether the increasing amount and intensity of violence in the popular culture both fosters violence in real life and numbs us to its presence. How gruesomely ironic, then, that accused Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes chose a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” for his shooting spree.
“But the biggest surprise of all,” movie critic Jenny McCartney wrote of the second-in-the-trilogy “The Dark Knight” in 2008, was “the sustained level of intensely sadistic brutality throughout the film.” The other two films are no less brutal, and they are but a small part of violence in entertainment that assaults us every day. Our children especially are exposed to escalating levels of violence in everything.
Most people probably expected the National Collegiate Athletic Association to hit Penn State with harsh penalties for the disgraceful ongoing cover-up of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual assaults on children. But many were undoubtedly shocked at just how tough the NCAA was.
It wasn’t the death penalty – outright suspension of football – but Penn State got the most severe punishment in NCAA history: a $60 million fine, voidance of its football victories for the past 14 seasons, banishment from postseason bowl games for four years, reduction of player scholarships from 25 to 15. The disgrace of once-revered football coach Joe Paterno that began with his firing was completed with the nullification of wins. The late coach went from all-time winningest to a mere 12th on the all-time list.
When confronted with horrific violence like that in last week’s Aurora, Colo., massacre, there are two realities we can’t quite get around.
One is that the Second Amendment is not going away; gun-control advocates might not like it, but the right to keep and bear arms is part of the fabric of our country. The second is public safety demands that some people, such as convicted felons and the violently mentally ill, simply should not have guns.
Accepting those two realities in turn gives us a dual dilemma: 1. How do we keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them without infringing on the rights of other gun owners, the vast majority of whom commit no crimes with them? 2. How do we keep guns out of the hands of some mentally ill people without infringing on the rights of all them?
The Indiana Supreme Court has given Adams County resident Robert Clark Jr. permission to sue his father for driving into him and injuring his leg severely. No big deal, right? Can’t anybody sue anybody for anything?
But Indiana has a bad law most states have already gotten rid of called the “guest statute,” which holds that the operator of a car is not liable for injuries to nonpaying passengers (such as family members or hitchhikers) unless the accident was the result of “wanton or willful misconduct.” The Supreme Court got around the statute by noting it covers persons “in or upon” motor vehicles. Since Clark had gotten out of his father’s car, the law clearly doesn’t apply.
That was a neat trick, the kind employed by courts in other states who wanted to finesse their way around bad statutes.
If feuding Indiana House Democrats depose minority leader Pat Bauer as caucus chairman, Hoosiers will lose something: the ability to frequently observe the spectacle of the state’s worst toupee. But they might gain something more valuable: a healthier statewide Democratic Party and a more thoughtful, better functioning legislature.
Republicans have been understandably delighted. They completely dominate the governor’s office and both the House and Senate. Democrats have been powerless to do anything except for a walkout that briefly denied them a quorum. Now the impotence has degenerated into bitter, dysfunctional confusion. An intraparty slugfest three months before the election might destroy the party completely.
But the GOP might want to moderate its glee.