Dark Knight Rises Tragedy: Can Violent Entertainment Be Blamed?

Experts have been linking violent video games, TV and movies to real life violence for years. But is that fair in the context of the Colorado shooting?

By Leslie Gornstein Jul 20, 2012 8:52 PMTags
Dark Knight Colorado ShootingsThomas Cooper/Getty Images

I am shocked by the movie theater tragedy in Colorado. Can violence in Dark Knight Rises or Batman video games be blamed for this?
—M.C., South Carolina, via the inbox

You've touched on a argument that has been raging for decades on a much larger scale, a discussion that encompasses gun violence in entertainment, cartoon violence and everything in between.

Details are still emerging on the alleged shooter, James Holmes, so it's too soon to say what, if any, exposure he himself had to violence as a child, or whether mental illness or any other factors played a bigger role. Let's not jump to conclusions just yet.

However, here's what I can tell you...

Some heavy-hitting organizations suggest that media violence may have an impact on society, particularly on its young people—though how that influence is playing out is a matter of ongoing study and debate.

A 2007 report released by the American Medical Association cites research indicating that children under 10 may display more aggressive behavior if they play violent video games. (The Batman franchise includes a slew of beat-em-up-style video games such as 2011's Arkham City, which has a "T" for teen rating.)

But "in spite of the research on the relationship of video game exposure and aggressive behavior, there is little evidence of a substantial link between exposure to violent interactive video games and serious violence or crime," the study notes. Instead, media violence, at least, in video games, probably does have adverse effects on normal social behavior.

That said, psychiatrist Carole Lieberman tells me, "there are thousands of studies" linking media violence and real violence.

The studies "all show the same thing," says Lieberman, former head of the National Coalition on TV Violence, "which is that violent media causes people to become more aggressive proportional to the amount of violent media that the person consumes."

Of course, that doesn't mean we should blame Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan for the death of a dozen innocent people in Colorado, or any other gun-related death, for that matter. The subject is simply too complicated, with too many other potential factors in play, Lieberman says.

"There are some people who are going to be more vulnerable to the impact of violent media than others," says Lieberman, who notes that some forms of mental illness manifest in a victim's early 20s.

The alleged shooter, Holmes, is 24.

One other detail of note: E! News has confirmed that New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, "It clearly looks like a deranged individual. He has his hair painted red. He said he was the Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman."

Lieberman said she wouldn't be surprised at a Batman-inspired connection to this tragedy.

"I think that's true," Lieberman said. "Maybe this man was identifying with one of the evil characters."

PHOTOS: Flick Pics: The Dark Knight Rises