Amidst the current news reports that The Dark Knight Rises’ actor Christian Bale made a surprise visit to the survivors of the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre, was a curious comment:
“Mr. Bale is there as himself, not representing Warner Brothers,” reportedly said an assistant to Susan Fleishman, the executive vice president for corporate communications at the movie studio.
But why would the studio seemingly want to distance itself from Mr. Bale’s charitable and apparently welcome visit?
To be sure, the movie studio has already made a substantial donation to the victims, and is obviously not callous or indifferent to the suffering caused by the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
|Carey Rottman with Christian Bale / Facebook|
Rather, the answer may have more to do with the unfortunate position that Warner Brothers now faces from both a legal and public relations perspective.
First, the Warner Brothers’ “Dark Knight” franchise is regrettably forever linked as part of the Colorado shooter’s motives, as the suspect appeared in a Colorado courtroom earlier this week with hair dyed red and orange, reportedly claiming to police that he was the Joker character played by the late Heath Ledger.
Warner Brothers’ desire to at least try and keep some distance between itself and the tragedy to avoid civil liability is not based on paranoia.
Indeed, one of the shooting victims has already filed a lawsuit against the studio, alleging that the violence depicted in the Dark Knight films is a legally contributing factor to the shootings. (That same suit has also in turn blamed the lack of security at the movie theater, and the suspect’s doctor for failing to treat him properly).
Plaintiffs’ lawyers may want to take advantage of a reasonable cooling off period before firing off such lawsuits. The criminal investigation has barely just begun, and will undoubtedly shed much more light on the suspect’s state of mind, motives and conduct in weeks and months to come.
It is worth noting that civil lawsuits blaming content creators for the criminal acts of deranged minds have a tendency to fail. And, in fact, Colorado has precedent nearly on point: Nintendo of America, Activision and Sony Computer Entertainment were named as defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by the families of the 13 victims killed in the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
That lawsuit was aimed at 25 entertainment companies in total and sought $5 billion in damages. Ultimately, the case was dismissed by a Colorado federal court in March 2002, with the Court finding that the media and videogame companies could not have reasonably foreseen that their products would cause the horrific events that occurred in the Columbine massacre or other acts of violence.
"Setting aside any personal distaste, as I must, it is manifest that there is social utility in expressive and imaginative forms of entertainment, even if they contain violence," District Court Judge Babcock wrote in his opinion.