When he reflected on America's movie theatre massacre, President Barack Obama, speaking at the annual convention of the National Urban League
, asked parents, neighbors and teachers to ensure that young people "do not have that void inside them."
The joyless face of the shooter, James Holmes, seen at his preliminary hearing, speaks volumes about that void.
Imagine the productions he may have created if he had been drawn into a theatre company; or how he may have found a voice singing with a group or playing in a band, or the social skills he may have learned if he was in a dance group? Would he have needed to disrupt a carefree evening at the movies by creating hundreds of real life tragedies?
Several of the victims' families
told CNN reporter Anderson Cooper that they wanted the media to ban speaking his name, as if that could prevent him from claiming his spot in our growing pantheon of villains. Indeed the neon orange hair and proclamation that "I am a joker" certainly signal a need for attention.
What can we do to prevent the warped development of these twisted egos? The "strict fathers
" have responded that more laws won't help. Governor Mitt Romney
said he favors a "common sense" approach: "I do believe that we need to do a much better job of identifying people who present a risk to others, and how to go about doing that is something that is going to require a lot of introspection and a lot of effort." But, could we find them before they succumb to the void?
Recently I attended a theatre workshop presented by Tim Robbins
and Sabra Williams of The Actors' Gang
with residents at the California State Rehabilitation Center in Norco. These men had completed an eight-week course learning the techniques of Commedia del'Arte
. In rapid sequence, masks representing anger, fear, sadness and joy were put on and removed. This skill usefully transfers to real life as one participant reported that he had learned how to manage emotions: "I will use this emotion and not be a victim of it." Said another: "This is what I've learned--I'm a master of my mind and not a victim of my thoughts."
I asked if they thought their lives would have been different if they had had the opportunity to develop their artistic talents when they were in school. Yes, several nodded in response. Hands shot up.
We don't yet know the Joker's full story. But we can imagine that his talents could have employed to direct a different plot line if better opportunities for self-expression had been in his path.
In his speech to the National Urban League, President Obama continued: "It’s up to us to spend more time with them, to pay more attention to them, to show them more love so that they learn to love themselves -- (applause) -- so that they learn to love one another, so that they grow up knowing what it is to walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes and to view the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s up to us to provide the path toward a life worth living; toward a future that holds greater possibility than taking offense because somebody stepped on your sneakers."
In Roman mythology, Aurora is the Goddess of the Dawn
. Would that we could realize a gleaming light of hope, and the much needed rebirth of American civilization, by transforming this dark tragedy into an opportunity to protect all of our children from the madness that is erupting across the land.
Alma Robinson, Executive Director
California Lawyers for the Arts