Hollywood’s ultraviolence, chaos theory, and the end of mass shootings

Here’s a quick way to learn how arrogant and condescending some people can be: Say you grew up with semi-automatic weapons in your home but never contemplated a mass shooting.

Then suggest there must have been a cultural shift that made mass shootings conceivable. It is really the availability of weapons, or is it the spread of rage? Plenty of boys at my school had access to weapons and could have committed terrible carnage. My father’s arsenal included a rapid-fire .22-caliber pistol for targets and a 12-gauge shotgun with capacity of five rounds for fowling.


We were taught to handle and respect firearms, which were the property of adults, not to be messed with under any circumstances.

The idea of shooting up the study hall was as remote as that of taking a spaceship to Jupiter.

So the question concerns where this concept—cornering people inside a confined space and killing them—came to mind. There had to be a butterfly-effect moment, as in chaos theory, to start it all. Some imperceptible thing shifted, and mass murder became the answer for fraught people.

Instead of pondering the question, people are likely to scorch you for having handled weapons. What a dirty guy!

When I started high school in 1970, the Texas Tower massacre was four years past. The fact that the rifleman killed 16 people over a 90-minute spree seemed like another unreal thing after a whole decade of unreality. And it seemed unrepeatable.

A hallmark of that decade was Bonnie and Clyde, now enjoying its 50th anniversary year. It introduced us to a new level of stylized violence. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are revered today, serving as presenters at the Academy Awards, but what was behind their movie? In a recent essay, the Hoover Institution’s Bruce Thornton called the film “a milestone in the transformation of American culture from one that reflects the mentality of adults, to one that enshrines the mentality of teenagers; one that celebrated moral intelligence to one that revels in moral idiocy.”

I saw the film when I was just turning 13 but didn’t pick up the Marxist undertones, or as Thornton calls it, the “leftist libretto” by writer David Newman, a University of Michigan Hopwood Award winner, and his colleague from Esquire magazine, Robert Benton, whose father went to the funerals of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The writers were big fans of French New Wave cinema.

Bonnie and Clyde was pilloried by the New York Times’s Bosley Crowther, who called it ”a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cut-ups in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ ”

Robert Benton said the Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, should be blamed for the violence, not director Arthur Penn.

The public gauged it differently, of course. “For many members of the American counter-culture, Bonnie and Clyde was a rallying cry,” writes Frank Miller in a summary for Turner Classic Movies. “The main characters’ bank robbing was seen as a form of revolution, while the film’s moral paradox, in which the criminals were more sympathetic than their law-abiding killers, seemed to legitimize violence against the establishment.”

Since the late-1990s, bloodbaths in schools (as well as malls, clubs, and from whatever perch malevolence may find for itself) have become ritualized. If the shooters hadn’t seen Bonnie and Clyde, was it a cinematic derivative or a digital offshoot in an ultraviolent video game?

The Basketball Diaries is put up as a film with a dream sequence in which the protagonist, Jim, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, kills six people in a classroom. Having missed this screen gem, I rely on a general description and ask which has the greater impact, DiCaprio’s climate-change activism or his portrayal of a mass shooter? Suits filed against the filmmakers by victims’ relatives suggest one conclusion.

Instead of trying to pinpoint and understand the social unraveling, we must shriek about guns and demand their confiscation. If the hand-wringers and golliwog-diddlers of the ruling elite get their way greased, it’s easy to foresee the specter of the government killing citizens, them deplorables who clung to their guns. And even if gun rights are revoked, if guns are forbidden and stashed away, people will carve the walnut and grind and blue the steel of homemade substitutes. A juicy black market in ammo will develop, too. Tracerstogo.com, anyone?

Of course, beyond guns, some suckers squall about toxic masculinity being the problem. Not only should the guns be taken away, but boys should have their nuts pinched.

Envisioning the end of mass shootings

Wikipedia describes a Lorenz attractor, as delineated in 1972 by Edward Lorenz, as a set of chaotic solutions of the Lorenz system which, after plotting, resemble a butterfly or figure eight.

Somewhere a solution to mass shootings is to be found. Like tuberculosis epidemics or yellow fever, they can become a thing of the past. With artificial intelligence becoming puissant enough to render digital lard, let’s put it to work on this dire subject so it can do something useful for humanity and help Elon Musk to sleep at night instead of his worrying about the grim result of being enslaved by inhuman brains.

AI, this is your chance to dazzle!

Meahwhile, what about we step it up on understanding chaos theory? This field of mathematical study attempts to predict events, which may appear to be random but are deterministic.

At least we can hope.

Peter Saltzstein, writing in Philosophy Now, says chaos theory is so disruptive that not only what happens tomorrow is in question but also “history may be no better known than the future.” His contention typifies how polarized society is today.

On the other hand Julie Beesley, an Australian researcher, presents a paper on chaos theory and organized crime. The characteristic chaos attractor exerts magnetic power. Beesley uses the example of a bowl, with a marble inside, one that always describes a different pattern as it rolls around.

“It is a location to which a complex system tends to move,” she writes.

Instead of a bowl and marble, it could be a school and someone who’s been muttering threats against it and flashing an AR-15 on social. There may be no definitive profile of a school shooter, but they do share characteristics: more rural than urban, marginalized at school, socially awkward, and desiring the attention of their peers. Sometimes they’ve already been reported to authorities, or even in and out authorities’ grasp like this week’s YouTube shooter.

So there are data to start with.

“Eventually,” Beesley writes, “one would have a multi-dimensional matrix of information to identify and determine the number of attractors and then eventually the change points or tipping points that impact on criminal motivation and opportunities in the organised crime group.”

If there’s a prayer of predicting gangland gore, the next school rampage might be feasible as well.

And then another ethical question arises: Do we arrest the future perpetrator in advance of his crime?



2 thoughts on “Hollywood’s ultraviolence, chaos theory, and the end of mass shootings

  1. Excellent. I would have never dared to shoot up my classroom in my day. It simply never entered my mind. Children today are behind raised in a world desensitized to violence and broken relationships with other humans leads to the devaluing of another’s life, Picking up a gun and shooting to release anger is not much different than shooting off a brutal text to bully another. God help us!

  2. How can one justify arresting someone for a crime they hadn’t committed… yet?

    Only in the movies
    for now

    We live in a different world now, one controlled by medication and violence… it seems. 😦

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