With the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises in theaters, there's an easy way to see how culture is perceived by a mass audience. Yes, it's a comic book movie that led to a real scene of mass murder. We all grieve what happened in Aurora, CO. It was unfortunate and tragic, but it also provided us with a real-time example of how different people react to the same stimuli.
Many fans were quick to ask the media for a little leniency, begging pundits not to paint the killing spree as a direct correlation to the movie whose midnight showing happened to be the stage for it. Sure, this was a selfish gesture, designed to soften a blow that was going to happen no matter what journalists said, even though the most unfortunate thing was the casualty count in the theater. There was no way most people were going to stay away from a blockbuster event like the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The problem is, there's always a part of a given audience that can be dissuaded to stay away from something that's worth their attention for completely arbitrary reasons. Unfortunately, this bad word-of-mouth would be one of the more justified expressions in modern pop culture lore.
Before the shooting, the buzz for the movie centered around two geek elements: speculation on how and whether Nolan could top the massive success of The Dark Knight, and if Dark Knight Rises would make more at the box office than the hulking hit Avengers from earlier in the summer. The latter of these is partly to do with the disparate approaches to the two films, already destined to make a lot of money before they ever reached the big screen, for much the same reason: heavy expectations from a considerable amount of momentum. Where The Avengers is classic comic book storytelling (and based on a Marvel property), Dark Knight Rises seems to subvert every comic book expectation (and is based on a DC property). Whether or not Nolan's film can be viewed as a product of the comics it is derived from may be entirely up for debate, but there are fans who would pit the two films against each other based solely on the publishers of their source material. Historic grosses for one mean that the other needs to somehow outdo it.
Well, right? There has been surprisingly little backlash to the success of The Avengers, which is a little unusual, given that when a movie like Avatar does that kind of business and achieves that level of ubiquity, the skeptics will start popping out of the woodwork saying how vastly overrated it is. That's exactly the kind of reaction big success normally yields. You'll definitely see it in reviews for Dark Knight Rises. The bigger they are the harder they fall, the saying goes. Sometimes the momentum takes a while to ebb.
When it comes to awards, it's more likely that Dark Knight Rises will be named, even though Avengers will probably have made more money. The awards shows are the opposite of popular opinion. They tend to go after the movies you've never even hard of, much less made any kind of money Hollywood will take notice of. The Artist, for instance, won Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year. Say what?
Of course, success isn't to be judged solely by the number of people who enjoyed it, but by the most passionate response. That may mean The Avengers actually does have a good shot. It's practically a live action Pixar movie, and the Oscars love Pixar. Passionate responses can go either way, of course. Sometimes a movie that deserves a better reputation is sunk if it's met by apathy by either the mass or critical audience. If The Avengers performed more like Michael Bay's Transformers franchise, this wouldn't even be a question; Dark Knight Rises would unquestionably rule 2012. There are a lot of ways a movie can become a favorite, or the reverse. There's always aesthetic taste to be considered, and certainly the particular way it needs to satisfy. If it hits all the marks it needs to hit, then Avengers really is no different from Dark Knight Rises, or even The Artist.
A problem occurs when someone refuses to admit that a movie did exactly what it set out to do (a movie, or anything else you want to consider). If, suppose, you reject The Avengers simply because it isn't Dark Knight Rises (or vice versa), you're not being fair to either one. If you dismiss The Artist for not being like a comic book movie, or because it didn't make a lot of money, or because it was made by the French (it's true!), then you're not only not being fair, you're just not trying very hard.
We do live in a world where bad things happen, and people will make decisions based on these unfortunate events, and for any number of other reasons that don't have anything more relevant to a possible experience than they happened to have an associated event. Here I'm bringing to mind one very sensational occasion, but there are a thousand more mundane things that cause people to have the very same reaction. What I'm saying is, maybe give it a little more thought next time.