Yesterday I wrote about the way the media and the UFO movement fed off each other, as well as how the media influenced the alien abduction movement. Today, a gunman killed a dozen people and wounded dozens of others at an Aurora, Colorado showing of the latest Batman movie. It is not known as of this writing whether the gunman specifically targeted the Batman film, and reports vary on whether he was dressed as the movie’s villain, Bane. However, many commentators noted the thematic parallels between the domestic terror plot of The Dark Knight Rises and the shooting.
If that’s true, it would offer a very dark entry in the long list of ways speculative fiction and reality have intersected and interacted. Lovecraft’s ancient astronauts begat von Daniken and the Raelians; Star Trek and Star Wars gave us Heaven’s Gate; The Outer Limits gave us alien abductions and the Greys. This wasn’t the intent of the creators of entertainment, of course.
Rod Serling, the creator of the Twilight Zone, used his fertile imagination to create all manner of bizarre scenarios that could have been used to create mass terror. Unfortunately, one of those scenarios actually became the inspiration for real terror.
In 1966 Serling scripted The Doomsday Flight, an NBC TV-movie about a terrorist planting a bomb aboard an airplane and threatening to blow it up if a ransom wasn’t paid. (He based the script on a little-known real-life incident.) Following the movie’s phenomenal December 13 television ratings copycats began threatening airplanes with claims of on board explosives. (Actually, the first copycat threat happened during the movie’s broadcast.) Five years later, the movie re-aired, and the same thing happened again. Eventually terror groups, including the PLO, began using the same tactics for political ends. Serling was emotionally devastated by the crime wave he had accidentally touched off. “I wish to Christ that I had written a stagecoach drama starring John Wayne instead,” he said. The movie’s impact haunted him until his death in 1975, with Serling vowing never again to write anything that the disturbed could use as a template for crime.
To this day, the Doomsday Flight incident remains a textbook case of the media’s influence on disturbed minds and appears in many criminal justice publications and training materials.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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