The recent, very sad shootings at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado left me thinking about the obligation, or lack thereof, of art to protect its audience. Though I don’t know the motive of that shooter, I do remember working at a movie theater for another Batman premiere 15 years ago or so. At that premiere, we had a mentally disturbed individual who had a fit during the film because he believed that monsters were under the theater seats. The assumption on our part was that the individual was unable to tell where the dark dream world of Batman and the real world divided.
With individuals like that in the world, is there an onus on art to ensure that it does not encourage madness, violence, or depravity? Or is art not to blame for the acts that others might say were influenced by it? Even if it is to blame, is the price too steep to censor art to ensure that it never causes ill consequences? Would a world of bland and sanitized artistic expressions be too high a price to pay and would it even make any difference in the end? Is art just a scapegoat for the madness of individuals who may well have been incited to acts of violence by any source available to fuel their insane rage?
I don’t have firm answers to those questions. My own books often contain violence and espouse conspiracy theory doctrines. I, of course, realistically know that there are no reptoids pulling the strings of humanity and that sword fights resulting in death and dismemberment are not as fun as they seem in fiction. But do my readers? And if they don’t, is it my responsibility to educate or protect them from the products of my imagination?