Lone Gunmen

Perhaps it’s too soon for this discussion, and perhaps it’s less relevant than the question of how the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of others will affect our political culture and rhetoric, but if this does turn out to be some sort of transformative moment, I’m curious to see how it will affect our popular culture as well.For example, I think with a fresh example of politicized murder before us, it’ll be interesting to see how assassination movies like Shooter, which made a little under $96 million in 2007, Vantage Point, which made $151 million in 2008, or The International, which grossed $60 million in 2009 are approached by both studios and audiences. Will it become harder to make movies about political killings? Easier, but less permissible to suggest that the killers were framed, or manipulated by conspiracy to keep a firm focus on political responsibility? All of these movies I’ve mentioned are based on entirely fictional killings. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a mass-market movie based on John Hinkley’s attempt to kill President Regan. Bobby was made 38 years after Robert Kennedy was assassinated. JFK’s told from the perspective of investigators, and relies on a conspiracy explanation rather than getting inside the mind of a deranged killer.I went looking, and though Elephant is artistically significant, and there have been quite a number of television shows that dealt with school shootings on a one-off, procedural basis, there hasn’t really been a major critically and commercially successful movie (Elephant only made $10 million) dealing with school shootings or mass shootings in the wake of the killings at Columbine. Whether that’s because of fears about ratings or a sense that audiences would be unwilling to spend two hours trying to get inside the horror of that experience, I’m not sure. There weren’t a lot of critically and commercially successful movies about spree killings before Columbine, so it doesn’t necessarily offer an artistic analogue for what will happen to the if not thriving, solidly extant, genre of assassination movies.And more broadly, I’m curious to see what, if anything, happens to movies about radicals more generally. Given Rebecca Mansour’s immediate attempts to turn the conversation about the attempt on Giffords’ life away from Sarah Palin’s target map to the radical environmentalist who laid siege to the Discovery Channel headquarters last fall, I wonder if, for example, the pending biopic about Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson goes forward. Watson’s a completely fascinating character, and I think his life would make a great movie, but he’s certainly a radical and not above attempting to sink ships. Will we draw a broad definition of terror in our art to include direct action? Will certain kinds of people and certain kinds of acts become artistically off-limits? What will we explore? And where will be afraid to go?