One Month After ‘Batman’ Massacre, Still No Evidence of Film Influence

August 22, 2012

One thing I try to do as a journalist and skeptic is revisit claims and predictions that appear at one point to see if they were true or not. I've done this with many different topics, including psychic predictions, predictions about whether Barack Obama planned to outlaw guns, and whether a horror film called Orphan would really cause adoption rates to plummet, as was claimed. It's more than just an exercise in finding out who was right and who was wrong; it also often provides a useful post-mortem analysis of where thinking and logic worked-or didn't work. It can offer important lessons in skepticism.

So in that spirit, I decided to revisit a blog I wrote on July 20 titled, "Real-Life ‘Dark Night': Did Batman Inspire Killings?" The thesis of my piece was that, based on the information available at the time, there was no evidence that the shooter, James Holmes, was inspired by the Batman film whose premiere he shot up-and indeed there was good reason to doubt that he had been inspired to kill either by The Dark Knight Rises or its villain, Bane.

(Fair warning: Close analysis of arguments takes time and space, and this blog is over 2,500 words long. If you're not interested in an in-depth look at the claims that shooter James Holmes was inspired to massacre and injure dozens by Batman films--and issues of media-inspired violence in general--then this blog isn't for you.)

In my original blog I wrote: "One immediate question was linked to the news: What, if anything, was the connection to the Batman film? It's easy to see why people would jump to the conclusion that the film and the massacre were related, but in this case it's pretty clear that the film itself did not inspire the shooter; as far as is known the shooter didn't even see the movie. Furthermore, this attack clearly took preparation, and had probably been planned for days, weeks, or even months. The theater was showing the midnight movie as the first screening of the film, so there's very little chance that the film itself inspired the violence, since there's no indication that Holmes himself had even seen it." It seemed like a fairly straightforward analysis that avoided much speculation and simply explained why a popular claim circulating at the time was probably wrong.


The Responses


The response I got from readers was interesting-and generally critical. It has now been a month since the attacks, and we now have the benefit of having more information come out to determine whether or not the original claims and speculation has been borne out. Interestingly, commenters who were otherwise in agreement that I made an error, or engaged in unwarranted speculation, didn't agree on what exactly I was wrong about.

Allow me to unpack the claims; here are the main issues:

 

Question #1: Was James Holmes inspired by The Dark Knight Rises?

The question in the media-and the one I very specifically addressed-was whether the shooter was inspired by the film playing on the big screen behind him during his massacre: The Dark Knight Rises. The question was not whether Holmes was inspired to kill by the 1960s television version of Batman, nor by the 1968 Batman cartoons, nor by the 1992-1995 show Batman: The Animated Series, nor by any of the various other Batman film adaptations or comic books. The question being asked widely in the media at the time was if Holmes was dressed like (or role-playing) Bane, the villain in the film.

One writer, William London, considered it a "plausible hypothesis" that Holmes was inspired by the film, though in my original piece I explained why it was pretty clear to me that Holmes was not copying or inspired by the character of Bane: "Holmes was dressed in a bulletproof vest and a riot helmet, along with a gas mask. This has led to speculation that he may have been inspired by the Batman villain Bane, who also wears bulletproof armor and breathes through a mask (though it's not a gas mask). It could be a case of a real-life fan dressing like a movie villain (this is nothing new, as legions of Star Wars and Harry Potter fans know), or it might merely be a case of dressing appropriately for the plan of attack: If a person is planning to be in a shootout and use a gas or smoke grenade, then a bulletproof vest and a gas mask are logical equipment for the purpose, and may have nothing to do with Bane or Batman."

Question #2: Was James Holmes inspired by anything having to do with Batman, such as the villain the Joker?

So even if it's clear that Holmes was not (and indeed could not have been) inspired specifically by the villain in the new Batman film how plausible is it that he was inspired by the Joker, the villain in the previous Batman film?

The speculation that Holmes was influenced by something having to do with Batman seems to rest on two items: 1) the fact that Holmes had dyed his hair red or orange in possible imitation of a clown like the Joker; and 2) statement made by a law enforcement official that "Witnesses told police that Mr. Holmes said something to the effect of ‘I am the Joker" (quoted in the July 21 New York Times, p. A12). From this detail, speculation ran rampant. One poster, "Gray" suggested, "For a little insight, Google ‘I am the joker.' So the guy shows up in court with his hair dyed orange... "I'm the Joker!" I think we know where his lawyers are going with this."

Assuming that it's true that Holmes said "I'm the Joker" to his victims and/or the police, that doesn't mean he was "inspired" to kill his victims by either the Batman films or villain. By all accounts Holmes is mentally ill, often zoning out and being unresponsive in court. The idea that anyone could assign a motive to Holmes's actions with any confidence based three or four words-and no other evidence-is absurd.

The hypothesis that Holmes was inspired by the Joker would be much stronger if there was more than just his statement; for example if he has been in a Joker costume (which are relatively inexpensive and easily available), or if her had been in clown makeup. But what about Holmes's dyed hair? Isn't that clearly an imitation of the Joker? That seems compelling until you realize that the Joker doesn't have red hair in any of the Batman films (or anywhere else, for that matter). Neither Joker in the films (played by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger) had red or orange hair: the Joker's hair is-and always has been-green. If Holmes was imitating the Joker as has been claimed, he seems to have done a very poor job of it, neglecting to adopt the character's makeup, hair color, costume, or any other characteristic of the iconic villain. In fact I've seen no evidence that Holmes used any part of the Joker's image, character, or anything else.

Who actually said "I am the Joker! I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up!"? Not James Holmes but instead a man named Neil Prescott who threatened to shoot his coworkers in a mass attack at Pitney Bowes plant in Washington D.C. on July 27. Though news reports say that Prescott explicitly referred to himself as "the Joker," he was not dressed like the Batman villain, nor was there any connection or relevance to Batman at all. Thus we see that just because a person refers to himself as "the Joker" or "a joker" or whatever doesn't mean that he's inspired by a Batman film or character. And, bringing us back to the original point of my piece, there is in fact not a single reference to the Joker anywhere in by The Dark Knight Rises, a choice the director Christopher Nolan explicitly made.

Speculation?

Some suggested that I speculated far beyond the evidence in my blog. There was actually very little speculation in my piece, and what there was of it has been supported, not refuted, by the facts that have come out since the shooting. Let's examine my analyses and predictions:

1) The shooter had begun preparing for the massacre long before The Dark Knight Rises was released, and therefore the attack could not have been inspired by the film since it had not even released yet. I wrote, "this attack clearly took preparation, and had probably been planned for days, weeks, or even months."

This speculation turned out to be completely accurate; as the Associated Press reported in a story headlined "Cops: Rampage Suspect Prepared for Months," "The Colorado shooting suspect planned the rampage that killed 12 midnight moviegoers with "calculation and deliberation," police said yesterday, receiving deliveries for months that authorities believe armed him for battle and were used to rig his apartment with dozens of bombs."


2) I also speculated that the shooter had not seen the film The Dark Knight Rises: "as far as is known the shooter didn't even see the movie...The theater was showing the midnight movie as the first screening of the film, so there's very little chance that the film itself inspired the violence, since there's no indication that Holmes himself had even seen it."

This, also, seems to have been completely correct; it was indeed the film's premiere and therefore it was the first opportunity Holmes could have had to see (or be "inspired by") the film. The shooting took place at approximately 12:30 am CT, following previews. Though Holmes might have watched the first ten or so minutes of the film, he clearly arrived at the theater (prior to seeing any of the film) armed and intending to kill. Based on there being no evidence that Holmes had seen the film, my conclusion that Holmes could not have been inspired by a film he had not seen was accurate logical deduction, not speculation.

So the question becomes, given the total absence of any evidence that Holmes was inspired by The Dark Knight Rises, why several readers took issue with my post. There is no evidence that Holmes ever even saw the film he was supposedly "inspired" by. There's also no evidence that he dressed like, or adopted any distinguishing characteristics of, any Batman villain including Bane and the Joker. Where then does that leave us?

Missing Links and the Burden of Proof


Several commenters took me to task for what they understood as my explicit denial that Holmes could have been influenced by the Batman film, or the media in general. One poster, Nick, wrote, "There has been NO information released about the gunman or his motives. But you're sure that the film had nothing to do with it? This could have been planned in hours. Sorry, this is simply irresponsible reporting, IMHO."
Another poster, Randy, wrote "It depends on what your definition of "inspired" is. It's hardly necessary to see the film to be inspired by it to do something. Maybe the shooter didn't like the idea of yet another Batman movie by Nolan. Maybe he didn't like the trailers, TV spots, or clips. Maybe he believed the recent Bane/Bain nonsense. This being a midnight movie premiere, rather than a generic showing, it seems likely this particular movie was chosen for a reason."

But by far the most through rebuttal along these lines came from William London: "Considering that "The Dark Knight Rises" (1) received much advanced publicity and advertising regarding the behavior and motivations of the Bane character, (2) is based on well-known comic book characters including Bane, and (3) is thematically linked to two previous movies featuring psychopathic violence similar to that perpetrated by the Colorado shooter, you should acknowledge that it is at least plausible (even if it cannot be confirmed) that the shooter was in some way inspired by the release of "The Dark Knight Rises" and/or something linked to it. Your piece is overly dismissive of the notion that media depictions can sometimes inspire unhinged people to commit specific types of violent acts. I suggest that a careful review of the relevant literature would be more enlightening than citing Michael Moore's storytelling....It's prudent to avoid jumping to premature conclusions about media influencing violence. Likewise it's prudent to avoid dismissing plausible hypotheses, especially when offering only a superficial discussion of relevant facts."


I'm glad that Nick, Randy, and William brought that point up; let's examine it more closely. In the weeks since the shootings, there remains no evidence I have seen demonstrating that Holmes's actions were in any way inspired by the new Batman film, or any other film or media depiction, for that matter. It takes more than orange hair and a comment about being a Joker to conclude that the shooter was motivated to kill by anything to do with Batman. The Dallas Morning News, far from suggesting that the film inspired Holmes, reported that the shooter's "background gives no clue of doctoral student's motive." Notably, it did not state that Batman or any film gave a clue about his motives.

At the time there was no evidence that the shooter was inspired by the Batman film, and there remains none. In fact, according to The New York Times the only clue offered at the time was that Holmes seemed ordinary if socially awkward, and that "He spent much of his time immersed in computer, often participating in role-playing online games." Thus the only media mentioned as a possible influence was role-playing computer games, not films. Of course the description "often participating in role-playing online games" describes hundreds of millions of people-almost none of whom commit massacres.

Though a Batman mask was reportedly found in Holmes's apartment, there is no indication from him at all that he was motivated or inspired by the character, the film, or anything else. Contrast this situation with the recent school shooting at Texas A&M University, in which the alleged shooter, Thomas Caffall, stated explicitly in Facebook posts that he was "inspired by" several famous military snipers and sharpshooters who he mentioned by name (Fernandez, Manny. "Gunman in Texas Wrote of ‘Inspirational' Snipers," New York Times Aug. 15 2012 ). Caffall idolized and mimicked the snipers and cited them as inspirations.

London criticized me for not providing "a careful review of the relevant literature" about the link between media and social effects. This comment demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of skepticism and the burden of proof. I didn't cite any references for the simple reason that I wasn't making a claim. As all skeptics know (or should know) the burden of proof is on those making the claim.

Another poster, "Griff," wrote, "I can conclude you believe the media has no effect whatsoever on human behavior? ... Can't say I agree that TV, movies, etc. have no effect on human behavior." (Of course I never suggested that "TV, movies, etc. have no effect on human behavior," that's a rather obvious straw man argument.)


Let's be very clear about the claim I addressed: that the accused Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was "inspired" either by the film The Dark Knight Rises or its villain. Some people have tried to broaden the claim to state that Holmes was inspired by the Batman mythology, or a character from it (such as the Joker). These are perfectly reasonable, plausible claims that lack one crucial thing: good evidence.

It's also falling into the fallacy of moving the goalposts: If I prove that Holmes could not have been "inspired" by the new Batman film he hadn't seen (or the villain in it), then the claim changes to say that he was inspired by a different Batman villain, the Joker. If I demonstrate that there's little or no evidence that Holmes was "inspired" to kill by the Joker, then the claim changes to say that he was inspired by the Batman mythology, or media violence in general.

It's not up to skeptics to prove that vaccines don't cause autism, the burden of proof is on those who claim they do. It's not up to skeptics to prove that a UFO did not crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947; it's up to those making the claim to offer proof or evidence. And it's not up to me to prove that Holmes was not inspired by a Batman film to massacre theatergoers; it's up to people like London to prove that is the case.

The question is not, "Is it possible that Holmes was inspired by the Batman film?" but instead, "Is there good evidence that Holmes was inspired by the Batman film?" It is up to London, not me, to offer evidence that "that the shooter was in some way inspired by the release of The Dark Knight Rises," which he considers a "plausible hypothesis" despite the fact that there's no evidence Holmes even saw the film that "in some way inspired" him. But suggesting that it is incumbent upon me to prove that The Dark Knight Rises, or another Batman film, or anything else did not inspire or affect Holmes is simply illogical and poor critical thinking.

The irony is that while I was being (inaccurately) accused of basing my piece on evidence-free speculation, several posters responding to my piece were doing exactly that-speculating (without offering evidence) that Holmes was inspired by The Dark Knight Rises, or another Batman film.

Of course, new details are still coming out in this case, and it's possible that I'm completely wrong. If anyone wants to try to make the case and offer evidence that Holmes was indeed "inspired" to kill by The Dark Knight Rises, or any Batman movie, cartoon, comic book, or villain, I'll be happy to look at it and change my position.

 

Comments:

#1 Griff on Wednesday August 22, 2012 at 9:06pm

“Griff” here.  Taking two portions of a comment and joining them together as if they were written consecutively is an instance of misquoting, as anyone can see by comparing your quote to my original comment.  And my comment was hardly a straw man.  Allow me to cite from your original piece (punctuation yours):

“The question of the link between media violence and real-life violence was examined-and largely discredited-in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine, which pointed out that the Columbine school shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had actually gone bowling shortly before their murderous, suicidal rampage-surely bowling didn’t cause the violence?”

So, contrary to what you claim, you indeed took a position regarding “the link between media violence and real-life violence,” and thus your position is subject to the same burden of proof you’re applying to your critics.  You did not play the neutral skeptic.  To state that “it’s pretty clear that the film itself did not inspire the shooter” is not an instance of “Is there good evidence that Holmes was inspired by the Batman film?”  A position statement is not the same thing as a request for proof.  Why are the claims of others subject to critical examination but yours somehow protected from same?

And, regarding the burden of proof, where we set the bar depends on a number of factors.  The claim that Holmes was influenced by media is not a claim for marshmallow men from Pluto invading the earth with cardboard rayguns—therefore, a ton of hard, thoroughly-documented evidence is hardly required here.  You’re treating perfectly ordinary, commonsensical suggestions as if they were the proverbial fantastic claims.  Secondly, Holmes’ motivation is not a matter that can be addressed scientifically (as opposed to claims for UFO crashes, and vaccines causing autism) because it’s purely an issue of human behavior.  There is simply no forensic smoking gun, no brain-probe method to prove with scientific certainly why Holmes did what he did.  Yet, you’ve raised the bar as high as possible, demanding specific proof that cannot be gotten—and, by all appearances, you have done so because you object to the notion that the media can influence an act of violence.  As skeptics, we’re hardly allowed to place the evidence bar wherever we feel like—to wit, just as fantastic claims require fantastic evidence, ordinary claims required rather less.  (With irrelevant claims requiring little or none.  Otherwise, we’d be challenging every statement made by everyone in our midst.)  And, again, there’s the fact that the question can’t be answered with scientific certainty, which makes your demand for finely detailed evidence rather absurd.

We’ve only earned immunity from cross-examination when and if we’ve played the skeptic’s role skillfully and honestly.  As it stands, you’ve violated several rules of skeptical conduct, including setting an evidence bar too high and denying your own considerably obvious bias in this instance.  I’m tempted to use the straw label for your brand of skepticism.

#2 Ben Radford on Wednesday August 22, 2012 at 11:38pm

Hi Griff!

1) I certainly didn’t intend to misquote you; I linked to your comments, and in order to keep the piece under 3,000 words, I had to excerpt and condense all the posts from all the commenters, including yours. I don’t think anyone thought that you only wrote two sentences, but I’m happy to acknowledge that yours and other posts were condensed.

2) Your statement that “Can’t say I agree that TV, movies, etc. have no effect on human behavior” is without question a straw man argument, refuting something I never stated and don’t agree with—unless of course you can quote anything I wrote suggesting that “TV, movies, etc. have no effect on human behavior.”

For the record, I completely agree with you: I also can’t say I agree with anyone who would claim that the media have no effect on human behavior; that’s absurd!

3) “The claim that Holmes was influenced by media is not a claim for marshmallow men from Pluto invading the earth with cardboard rayguns—therefore, a ton of hard, thoroughly-documented evidence is hardly required here….the question can’t be answered with scientific certainty, which makes your demand for finely detailed evidence rather absurd.”

Indeed; I’m not asking for “a ton of hard, thoroughly-documented evidence” nor “scientific certainty.” I’m asking for any evidence at all. If you have any evidence that Holmes was inspired to kill because of something he saw in the media (whether the new Batman film or something else), by all means please tell us what it is!

4) “Holmes’ motivation is not a matter that can be addressed scientifically ...because it’s purely an issue of human behavior.  There is simply no forensic smoking gun.”

I’d say that if Holmes had dressed up as the Joker, that would be fairly strong evidence that he was influenced by that character; however that did not occur. And in the post above I referenced a case of a gunman who clearly and explicitly stated that he was inspired to kill by the role model set by professional snipers. So I don’t buy your argument that motive is inherently unknowable or cannot be reasonably established. I don’t think that setting the bar a bit above “Holmes told someone he was the Joker” is asking too much.

#3 Griff on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 1:18am

1) I wrote, “Taking two portions of a comment and joining them together as if they were written consecutively is an instance of misquoting,” and it is.  Please at least respond to the actual complaint.

2) Again, your assertions are as open to challenge as those of your critics.  You wrote: “The question of the link between media violence and real-life violence was examined-and largely discredited-in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine.”  By what logic is media able to 1) influence human behavior, but 2) not influence *violent* human behavior?  Is that clearer?

3. No, you’re not “asking for any evidence at all;” you’re asking for a smoking gun, for definitive proof of the kind that, conveniently for you, doesn’t appear to exist in this case.  And I don’t recall claiming that Holmes was inspired by media—again, I’m simply questioning your assertion that no link exists between media and real-life violence.  By “a ton of hard, thoroughly-documented evidence,” I meant of the type required by fantastic claims.  I’ve got to stop using so much writing in my writing….

4. “So I don’t buy your argument that motive is inherently unknowable or cannot be reasonably established.”  I made no such argument.  I said that there’s no science of human motivation.  Why did I do so?  Because of this paragraph:

“It’s not up to skeptics to prove that vaccines don’t cause autism, the burden of proof is on those who claim they do. It’s not up to skeptics to prove that a UFO did not crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947; it’s up to those making the claim to offer proof or evidence. And it’s not up to me to prove that Holmes was not inspired by a Batman film to massacre theatergoers; it’s up to people like London to prove that is the case.”

The first two claims fall into the realm of science; the last one does not.  In addition, UFO-crash claims are by nature fantastic claims, because their implications are staggering.  To accept that a UFO crashed someplace on earth, we have to accept the existence of vehicles from other planets someplace in our incredibly vast universe, of advanced ET life, of some motive (God knows what) for someone traveling here to observe our idiot species, and so on.  By contrast, to accept that media inspired an act of violence doesn’t require radically modifying our understanding of our place in the cosmos, nor does it fly in the face of what we know about human nature and the influence of popular culture on same.  The assertion that media violence can cause the real kind isn’t outre in any way, yet you group it with two claims which are.

“As all skeptics know (or should know) the burden of proof is on those making the claim.”  And you’ve made your own claims, as I’ve documented with quotes.  They therefore carry a burden of proof, just like anyone else’s.  Are you contesting that?

#4 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 8:12am

Hi Griff!

1) I wrote, “Taking two portions of a comment and joining them together as if they were written consecutively is an instance of misquoting,” and it is.  Please at least respond to the actual complaint.

I assume you are referring the fact that I neglected to insert an ellipsis between your two sentences (though it did not change your meaning, as far as I can tell). That typo has been fixed, and you are now correctly quoted. Thanks for pointing that out.

2) Again, your assertions are as open to challenge as those of your critics.  You wrote: “The question of the link between media violence and real-life violence was examined-and largely discredited-in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine.”  By what logic is media able to 1) influence human behavior, but 2) not influence *violent* human behavior?  Is that clearer?

No, it’s not clearer at all; the sentence quoted above is correct and accurate: Moore did examine (and largely discredit) the media/ violence link in Bowling for Columbine. The subject and focus of my piece was whether Holmes was influenced specifically by the new Batman film—not whether the media can influence behavior. I mentioned that doc (since this discussion is in the context of film) as a reference for if people wanted to get more information about a broader topic which I was not covering. I can also recommend several books including “Evil Influences: Crusades Against the Mass Media” by Steven Starker (2012, Transaction) if you want more information on the topic.

3. “I’m simply questioning your assertion that no link exists between media and real-life violence.” 

As I stated several times, the topic of my column was specifically examining the claims that Holmes was inspired to kill by the new Batman film. I did not assert that “no link exists between media and real-life violence”—that’s another straw man argument. I did state that Moore discredited that link in his documentary (as discussed above), maybe that’s what you’re thinking of. But that was not the topic of my blog.

4.  “As all skeptics know (or should know) the burden of proof is on those making the claim.”  And you’ve made your own claims, as I’ve documented with quotes.  They therefore carry a burden of proof, just like anyone else’s.  Are you contesting that?

Not at all. Again, this was thoroughly addressed above. The claims I made about Holmes and “The Dark Knight Rises” were correct and accurate, as I fully documented with references, links, and quotes above. If quotes from newspapers don’t meet your burden of proof, then I don’t know what you would accept. I did not state that Holmes could not have been influenced by either Batman or something else in the media; I stated that so far no evidence has been offered in support of that claim. Those are very different things. For some reason you (and William London) seem to be starting with a null hypothesis assuming that Holmes was influenced by Batman or the media. I don’t know where that came from, but it’s incorrect.

If you or anyone else believes that Holmes was “inspired” to kill by Batman, or anything else, the burden of proof is on you to offer evidence in support of that claim.

#5 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 8:48am

Griff-
I should also point out that—quite the contrary of asserting (as you claimed I had) that Holmes could not have been influenced by the Batman films—I explicitly called it a “perfectly reasonable, plausible claim” but one that lacked good evidence to support it.

So I clearly stated that it was both reasonable and plausible that Holmes *could* have been influenced by the media (and specifically the new Batman film). I have to wonder how you could have missed that, unless you’re merely wanting to argue for the sake of arguing…

#6 William M. London (Guest) on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 5:52pm

Since Radford has issued a silly challenge to me and also has the chutzpah to suggest that a part of my “comment demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of skepticism and the burden of proof,”  I’m motivated to prepare a detailed explanation addressing how this observation from CFI’s CEO Ronald A. Lindsay, published on January 6th, applies, to some extent, once—actually twice—again: “Ben’s posts may exhibit some mistakes in reasoning and may have used some research that was unreliable.” (Quotation appears at

#7 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 6:14pm

William-

Excellent! I look forward to seeing your evidence that James Holmes was inspired to kill by “The Dark Knight Rises,” despite the fact that he had not even seen the film when he began preparing for his massacre.

#8 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 7:12pm

William-

In case it’s of any help, I spent some time searching news reports regarding James Holmes’s motivation for the killings. Here’s a representative sample; I can’t find any saying that Holmes was inspired or influenced by the new Batman film (or anything else in the media), but maybe I’m just missing them.


1) “James Holmes’ crumbling hopes of achieving academic greatness might have been the final straw that pushed him to allegedly open fire on a crowded movie theater, prosecutors claimed Thursday afternoon.” (Abby Rogers, “Prosecutors: James Holmes Was Banned From School And Told To Choose A New Career Six Weeks Before Batman Massacre,” August 23, 2012).

2) “No clear motive has surfaced from the limited information that has been made public.” (Kari Huus, “Judge in James Holmes case: Gag order remains, most records remain sealed,” August 13, 2012)

3) “Aurora victims await motive for massacre” (CBS News via Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2012)

4) “The motive in the slaying remains unclear, but officials at the University of Colorado confirmed that one-time straight-A student Holmes dropped out of graduate school after failing an oral exam.” (Larry McShane, “Source: Sleepy Holmes was faking” New York Daily News, July 24, 2012.)

#9 William M. London (Guest) on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 8:02pm

Ben,

With your sarcastic response to my comment above, your obvious failure to grasp the meaning of my initial comment to you, and your failure to recognize the issue you actually put on the table with your headline: “Real-Life ‘Dark Night’: Did Batman Inspire Killings?,” (not Did Watching a Complete Screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” Inspire Killings?), you’re not sending much of a signal to your readers that you are adequately prepared to seriously consider criticism of your writing and then respond with humility.

What in the world is leading you to conclude that I (or anyone else) has argued that Holmes saw the movie, which then inspired (or caused) him to attack an audience? Why can’t you consider that this is not the only way that Batman (more precisely the promotion of the Dark Knight/Batman narrative) might inspire an unhinged person to attack an audience? Is such a notion about what an unhinged person might do so preposterous that you need to debunk it?

Why not stop trying to save face and instead engage and think carefully about reasonable (and unreasonable) points people have made after the massacre occurred about what possibly inspired the alleged killer?

Are you seriously convinced that you’ve carefully thought about the argument you’ve made and that you’re giving your readers good reason to perceive you as credible and trustworthy?

I would have expected that, after all the heat you’ve had directed at you months ago, you would have learned by now to appreciate the wisdom of NOT responding dismissively when people offer serious criticism of your arguments.

#10 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 8:55pm

Hi William!

I’m not responding dismissively at all, I’m trying to address and understand your points.

“Why can’t you consider that this is not the only way that Batman (more precisely the promotion of the Dark Knight/Batman narrative) might inspire an unhinged person to attack an audience?”

I did indeed consider that, and in fact I explicitly wrote that it was both reasonable and plausible that Holmes *could* have been influenced by the media (and specifically the new Batman film).

Now that we’re all agreed that the film could potentially have inspired Holmes in his massacre, do you have any evidence that it actually did?

If you have any evidence showing that Holmes was influenced or inspired by anything having to do with Batman (either the new film or anything else), please provide it. It’s not my job to prove a negative, that he *wasn’t* influenced by Batman; if you’re claiming that he was, the burden of proof is on you.

If you are basing your opinion on Holmes’s orange-dyed hair and statement about being a joker (or the Joker), then just say so and explain why my analysis is wrong…. If it’s something else, then what?

#11 Ben Radford on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 9:10pm

William-

You might also be interested in reading an excerpt of a piece I wrote in 2009 about how films can in fact inspire real-life crimes:

“There is some truth to the idea that films can provoke behavior. There have been a few rare examples of people who have watched a scene in a film or television show and tried to duplicate it — in effect a copycat incident. In 1993, several high school football players were injured when re-enacting a scene in the film “The Program” in which athletes laid down the middle of a highway. The 1995 action film “Money Train,” which included a scene of an assailant squirting lighter fluid into subway token booths, inspired several copycat arsons.”

(New Film ‘Orphan’ Boycotted Over False Fears, Livescience.com, July 22, 2009).

So I agree with you that films CAN inspire real-life violence in the case of copycats; the difference is that you seem to be saying that it DID happen in the Colorado massacre. I’m not seeing evidence of that, but if you have some I’d be happy to consider it.

#12 Griff on Thursday August 23, 2012 at 9:49pm

“Is such a notion about what an unhinged person might do so preposterous that you need to debunk it?”—William.

My point, precisely—and I didn’t get an answer, either.  Just defensive technicalities laced with at least one rude jab (” I have to wonder how you could have missed that, unless you’re merely wanting to argue for the sake of arguing…”).  But the dance is rather entertaining.

#13 Ben Radford on Friday August 24, 2012 at 8:10am

I have repeatedly asked Griff, London, and anyone else who believes that James Holmes was influenced by The Dark Knight Rises in any way to provide evidence of that claim, and my requests have been ignored.

Instead I see straw man argument distractions suggesting that I claimed that the media cannot influence behavior, or that Holmes could not have been inspired by the new Batman film. In fact I wrote exactly the opposite, as detailed and quoted at length in the posts above (for example I wrote that it was “reasonable” to think Batman *could* have inspired the attack, and that “there is some truth to the idea that films can provoke behavior…”).

A month ago I stated that there was no evidence at the time that Holmes was inspired by Batman, and I explained why. A month later, there still remains no evidence of that, and in fact everything I wrote about the case has been borne out in the facts, supported by references and citations I provided.

I’ve experienced this scenario many times in my career, where someone will make a claim, and I’ll say, “That’s an interesting idea, where’s your evidence?” And instead they change the subject. I then explain that the burden of proof is on the claimant and politely ask again for them to show me evidence for their claims. They just repeat their claim, as if rephrasing it substitutes for evidence. Finally I give up.

I’ve got nothing more to add; just as it’s not my job to beg and plead with people to show me evidence for their claims, it’s not my job to make sure that every single person who reads a column, blog, or article I write understands it or agrees with me.  Nearly everything I write pisses someone off and prompts someone to accuse me of faulty logic or bias or poor research; it’s part of the job.

I must assume that if London, Griff, or anyone else had good evidence that the Colorado shootings were indeed (not “could have been”) inspired by Batman (as was the early speculation), they would have provided it by now.

#14 Ben Radford on Monday August 27, 2012 at 9:57am

UPDATE:

I have an update on the James Holmes case, for anyone interested. Today’s (8/27/2012) New York Times has an extensive, in-depth article (the most comprehensive to date) about Holmes and his history and possible motivations (I can’t post the URL; “Before Gunfire, Hints of ‘Bad News’” By Erica Goode, Serge Kovaleski, Jack Healy, and Dan Frosch).

Nowhere in the article does it suggest that Holmes was in any way inspired nor influenced by anything relating to Batman.

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.