We’ll feel stunned. We’ll feel sick — we already do. It will be the purest and truest and most overarching emotion.
We’ll talk about the surrealness — the air-conditioned mundanity of this particular setting. The crowd of people who had come to escape reality, suddenly trapped in stadium-seating surround sound, hearing gunfire they first thought had come from the screen.
The horror will feel weirdly familiar. Is this shooting more shocking than a Tucson Safeway on a Saturday morning? Than a Fort Hood Army base or a southwestern Virginia campus? Than the front entrance to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, down on the Mall — an 88-year-old gunman who waited for a security guard to hold open the door before shooting him in the chest?
Is it more grotesque than shootings in churches, in high schools, in middle schools? This was supposed to be a safe space, we’ll say, as if there are ordinary public places that aren’t supposed to be safe, as if massacres are more comprehensible if they occur at a swimming pool or a Jiffy Lube.
No space is safe; maybe that’s what’s shocking. Or maybe it’s just harder to imagine a massacre at a place where they sell popcorn.
America has gotten very good at being very shocked by mass shootings. Grief rituals, candlelight vigils, the numb nausea of watching too much sadness on too much television. The 24-hour news cycle leaps into action, prepared to unspool itself into familiar threads, guiding citizens down a well-trod path of what must happen when something big and un-navigable has already happened.
The shooter’s Facebook page will be found. The alleged shooter, rather — newscasters will correct themselves, because in America we believe in due process; we take personal rights seriously. The alleged shooter’s Facebook page will be found, and if not Facebook, then blog, and if not blog, then university profile. He’ll have some kind of Internet presence, which we’ll scrutinize. It will be chilling or it will be boring, and if it is boring, it will be even more chilling. Either way, we’ll find meaning in it, status updates as tea leaves, as foreshadowing we should have recognized. There might be a YouTube video, showing off weapons, explaining imagined slights and a mangled philosophy. Sometimes there’s that.
Everyone will learn his middle name. It is what is done. We can wonder whether Lee Oswald and James Ray ever included “Harvey” and “Earl” on their official forms before their particular dates with history.
Friends and relatives will be contacted. They’ll say he was acting normal or strange; we’ll want to know how he was acting strange so that we can recognize this particular strangeness in the future. Explain, analyze, research, rationalize. Find a psychiatrist who can tell us about mental illness and what makes people snap.