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"The Dark Knight Rises", Media Violence, & Social Change

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Amusing Ourselves to Death


There is the possibility that we, as Neil Postman put it in his 1985 "media ecology' treatise, are Amusing Ourselves to Death . Urban life has cut many kids off completely from any meaningful experience of nature or any of its calming, restorative effects, Richard Louv argued in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods , and replaced it with a "wired' existence -- which is starting to show links to learning disabilities and ADHD. 75% of families own a video game player; boys spend approximately 41 minutes per day playing video games between the ages of 8 and 18. Yet scientists have recently learned that the human brain is still in a formative stage throughout that span -- our brains don't reach full maturity until age 25.

Still, the effects don't even stop at age 25. In their July 16th issue, Newsweek ran a cover story headlined "iCrazy." It consolidated reports coming in on what the amount of time we spend online, emailing, or texting, is doing to us, and the results aren't pretty. A study released this year found that intensive web use alters our brains: heavy web users are adding abnormal white cells -- "extra nerve cells built for speed," Newsweek explains -- while at the same time losing 10-20% of their grey matter: areas needed for memory, emotion, and speech processing, among other key functions. The magazine quotes UCLA neuroscience expert Peter Whybrow: "the computer is like electronic cocaine." Oxford pharmacology prof Susan Greenfield does not mince words: "this is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change."


The article discusses the case of Jason Russell, a campaigner whose video went viral, leading him to virtually fuse with his computer, barely sleeping, over the next subsequent days. He ended up likening his life to, ironically, another Christopher Nolan movie, Inception , telling his followers that he felt like he was in "a dream within a dream" -- and then had a public breakdown, apparently a "reactive psychosis.'

Another alarming result of internet addiction left a tragically innocent victim: a depressed South Korean couple spent 12-hour stretches at an internet cafe, raising a virtual child in an absorbing fantasy game -- while back at home, their actual infant starved to death.     

In the late Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 , the hero's wife is so narcotized by an electronic fantasy life she can't even recall her previous night's suicide attempt. She lives for the nightly serial story that appears on the walls of her living-room, a fiction she is so emotionally engaged in she calls the characters "the Family." (The show also provides scripts and interactive opportunities for the spectator -- it's like the late Bradbury predicted gaming back in 1953.)

Soap opera actors have long been baffled by fans who can't tell them apart from their characters; quite a few other actors have also had that experience. A few are named on Robert Young would get asked for medical advice because he played Dr. Marcus Welby on TV, and Edward Woodward was often asked for help because of his recurring role as The Equalizer. Jason Hervey, who played Kevin's older brother on The Wonder Years, was once berated for being so mean to his sib. The biggest head-scratcher of a plethora of anecdotes comes from Dan Blocker, best-known as Hoss on Bonanza, who maintained that a woman asked him how Hoss was, and when he told her he was fictional, she replied: "I know that, all I want to know is if he's alright!"


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Movie still of Keanu Reeves inside "The Matrix"

It's so bizarre it seems funny, but not knowing which reality you're living in was not so funny when a teen who watched The Matrix more than 100 times ended up taking part in the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington, D.C. The Matrix also allegedly convinced three other (separate) murderers that they were in an alternate reality; a "matrix" where murder wasn't really murder.  

Celebrity hype is also its own ongoing fantasy, existing on a plane above the narratives these professional artists create. Holmes' state of mind leading up to the Aurora shooting was probably goaded by the huge advance hype for The Dark Knight Rises. Ads for the opening of the movie would have been constant and omnipresent, and the fan base was passionate and vocal -- causing a furor on Rotten Tomatoes even before the film opened.  

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Jennifer Epps is a peace, social justice, pro-democracy, environmentalist and animal activist in L.A. She has also been a scriptwriter, stage director, actor, puppeteer, and film critic. Her political film reviews are collected at: (more...)
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