Archive for June 2013

The Banality of Evil Geniuses

June 10, 2013

The other night I watched GANGSTER SQUAD, and I couldn’t get over how awful it was. From the opening scenes, it was in-your-face unadulterated violence meant to tell the audience that this was going to be an amped up version of the Untouchables or a lesson about the necessity of resorting to evil in order to defeat evil. Everything was over the top with very odd acting choices by Sean Penn et al. There wasn’t anything remotely smart about the plot or characters… which kind of made it noteworthy, since most TV shows and movies these days center around evil geniuses.

I suppose you can blame it on films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or SEVEN, which ratcheted up the intelligence quotient for fictional serial killers, who must now aspire to be more creative psychopaths than your basic bloodthirsty gangster or brain-dead slasher. It’s supposed to make the plot more of a puzzle for the equally brilliant investigator to unriddle before the next work of performance art/gruesome murder takes place. Yet the more elaborate these exercises in brutality become, the less I care since it’s all artifice.

The most chilling thought I’ve had in recent times was in response to real horror: the Sandy Hook massacre. Not the shootings themselves. That kind of thing is all too common now. True, the age of the victims made it more sickening, but the reality is young children are gunned down everyday in urban cities, and the general public shrugs its collective shoulders. No, what made this different was the sheer number of children methodically shot down in one place at one time… as if the mad gunman had a specific goal in mind. A quota, perhaps?

Okay, you could say Adam Lanza was just a copycat killer inspired by the Columbine High School shootings. But the immediate gut-wrenching aftermath made me wonder if Adam really was a “genius” as some of his classmates said. I read different reports that he had Asperger’s syndrome, a “milder” form of autism associated with difficulties in social interactions — while at the same time also being linked to high intelligence in math or an extraordinary ability to focus on certain subjects. While researching a script that involved an autistic character, I read books by Temple Grandin, who is autistic and became known for her more humane slaughterhouse designs based on her observations of animal behavior (essentially, she says autistic people think in visual terms similar to the way animals process information).

She refuted the notion that people with autism were “insensitive” to the feelings of others because they avoided eye contact or might react in ways that seemed inappropriate in certain situations. She said autism actually made her hyper-sensitive — which explains why she cared so much about alleviating the suffering of cattle before they were slaughtered. It might seem strange to “normal” people that she viewed her work so pragmatically that she didn’t see a disconnect between killing and designing the apparatus to make killing “easier” on the animals. Yet if we were coldly rationale about end results, it’s possible to see a different motive in Adam Lanza’s methodical slaughter of innocent kids — like the sacrifice of young goats to a deity only he could see.

What if he really was a genius, gifted with a brilliance for mathematics? What if he was also hyper-sensitive to the suffering of others? And after reading headlines day after day, week after week, year after year, about people being killed by guns, he worked out an equation to stop the madness — by doing the unthinkable: kill a certain number of children, which would stun an entire nation into doing something to prevent future tragedies.

For a brief moment after the Sandy Hook shootings, I actually thought that might happen. I was wrong. Stupid, pig-headed, right-wing conservative politicians prevailed again. The bastards who feed at the teats of the NRA caved in to man’s basest rationale for the right to bear arms: because I want my gun, that’s why! (They did the math too, and deduced that the loss of 20 or 100 or even 1,000 children because of guns is worth the millions in donations they get from the NRA and will not cost them much in votes. So who is the real psycho or evil genius in this scenario?)

In my fantasy, after stricter gun control measures were passed in response to the actions of this disturbed loner, someone would discover a secret journal he kept that spelled out why he took such drastic actions… and he had run computer simulations showing it would take the deaths of at least 20 white suburban school kids (because slain minority children in urban cities don’t get as much media coverage) to achieve critical mass to spark change that would ultimately save thousands of lives in the long run.

If we could remove emotions from our daily decisions and look at the big picture, suddenly it might seem like a small sacrifice to make for the greater good. Then I realize, isn’t this the way terrorists think too? Sometimes, there is a thin line between evil genius and being a genuine hero. Anyhow, I guess that was the point of GANGSTER SQUAD, but with all the shooting and killing and Sean Penn’s overacting, I wasn’t really thinking about plot subtleties such as “meaning.” In America, we shoot first and ask questions later… questions that we never seem to answer.