BY MICHAEL LAKIND
Across America, controversy surrounds garlic, a motorcycle and a clown. These seemingly unconnected subjects have contributed to the phenomenon of security becoming a more prominent aspect of entertainment, which is an unfortunate yet imperative change.
In recent headlines, the movie “Joker” has raised immense concern. The film’s unsettling nature stems back to a screening of the 2012 release “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, when a member of the crowd shot and killed 12 people. The Joker’s character was not involved in the shooter’s motivation, but Heath Ledger’s famed interpretation is used as the symbol of an aggressive group known as “Incels” (short for involuntary celibates) who believe society deliberately oppresses them, and so they lash out with misogyny and violence. For example, a member of this online subculture is Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
On July 28, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a world-renowned celebration of garlic’s culinary applications, was interrupted by a tragic spree of killings when Santino Legan opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle while leaving in his car a stockpile of ammunition and a clown mask, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. This catastrophe led to a tightening of regulations at a much more local venue: the Carmel Jewish Food Festival. Normally a casual event, this year’s festival felt quite nervous.
Legan’s possession of a clown mask creates further tension because of a mob scene in which The Joker is supported by criminals donning clown masks. These masks bear similarity to the henchmen in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” In fear that the film’s subject matter would lead to a repeat or escalation from the 2012 shooting, many movie theaters have made the discomforting decision to hire undercover police officers to sit in during “Joker” screenings or guards to prevent any moviegoers from entering if they wore a themed costume or brought toy weapons. Jedi robes and imitation lightsabers were fun and lighthearted at showings of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a mere four years ago, but nowadays, a clown suit among the plush cinema seats would arouse fear among moviegoers.
A related development occurred at Times Square in early August. A motorcycle backfired, but the massive crowd mistook the sharp noises as gunshots. They quickly fell into a panic and tried seeking refuge in Broadway theaters with shows running at the time of the incident (understandably so, as this happened within two days of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio). Hours passed before they knew of the false alarm, and some Broadway actors posted terrifying videos to Instagram of them taking horror-stricken patrons into their dressing rooms to hide. As a result of the scare, Broadway theaters began to initiate pre-show seating with a guard who runs bag checks and metal detector screenings, an anxiety-inducing addition to calm theatrical experiences of the past.
Watching these changes become implemented over time is unsettling because of the new distress that surrounds previously easygoing activities, such as movie night or a concert with friends. However, with the reality of such dangers, the current proceedings towards increased security seem necessary. There is no simple alternative for keeping people safe, and so this may eventually become the status quo for any sort of performance or gathering.