Tuned In

Movies, Twitter and Community, After Aurora’s Dark Night

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A few thoughts on the massacre in Aurora:

This atrocity would be horrible in any circumstances. What makes it even more heartbreaking is where it happened: opening night of the summer’s biggest movie, one of the few joyous, communal gatherings left in our society. Knowing that everyone in that theater, adults and kids, went in feeling that sense of anticipation and delight, only to walk into a slaughter. Alyssa Rosenberg put it absolutely right: “I hate the idea of using an audience’s suspension of disbelief, their openness to and absorption in the spectacle unfolding before them, as cover—the gunman reportedly started shooting during a sequence involving gunfire, meaning the audience was slower to react. We are vulnerable when we go to the movies, open to fear, and love, and disgust, and rapture, surrendering our brains and hearts to someone else’s vision of the world. We don’t expect to surrender our bodies, too.”

And yet:

Among the first details to emerge as I followed the news on Twitter this morning were the tweets, leading up to the fatal showing time, from one of the shooting’s victims, Jessica Ghawi (Twitter handle Jessica Redfield). Her Twitter stream reveals a feisty, excited fan—counting down the minutes, jokingly taunting friends who wouldn’t stay up for the midnight showing. (“Redheaded Texan spitfire, people should never argue with me.”) You may have never known her, but just reading down her timeline gives you pure voice: a hockey fan, a “grammar snob,” a person, vibrant, outgoing, funny, gone. [It’s more poignant to read as it goes on, backward, in time: “It’s official. I’m going to be a godmother on August 6th at 2pm. Poor kid doesn’t know what he’s in for.”]

And then:

It turned out—this came to me over Twitter too—that Jessica had narrowly escaped another shooting in June, at the Eaton Centre mall in Toronto. Reading her blog post from June 5 is moving, and in retrospect haunting: “I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.”

Which is to say:

Too many people died last night, at one of the few physical, communal rituals that we have left. Sometimes, people talk about virtual societies like Twitter as if they’re the antithesis of this kind of community, something that’s doing away with “real” human interaction. But what I’ve seen and read today tells me that, in any significant sense of the word, the community that they foster is as real as anything else. I didn’t know Jessica; I don’t know her friend who eulogized her online as a sports lover and aspiring journalist; I have never met Roger Ebert, whose tweet this morning was the first to point me to Jessica’s blog.

And yet I know her, and feel her family and friends’ loss, in a way that I could not have without the nonphysical, virtual gathering places that we have now. Jessica—moviegoer, writer and tweeter—lived and died in both worlds.

And though she won’t be able to post anything again, I followed her Twitter account as a tribute. It’s only a gesture; it won’t do any good; it may not be a real connection. But it feels real enough.