That treatment almost never involves discussing the level and nature of violence in these movies in any but an ironic, technical, and detached way. It’s all about cinematography, visual effect, sequencing. In both its movie reviews and its many articles on the movie business, the Times rarely stops to consider the effects all this violence might have on the minds of individual moviegoers or on the national psyche as a whole. All of that advertising, I think, has the effect of co-opting the paper and making it a tacit (though, as I said, not always uncritical) arm of the movie industry, in which these types of issues are deemed either irrelevant or uncool.

The Times is not the only publication doing this. Anthony Lane’s own review of the movie in The New Yorker falls into the violence-as-aesthetics camp. In his post on the Aurora massacre, however, he had some revealing things to say about the disturbing promotional campaign that accompanied the movie. It was not just a film, he noted; it “had become, as the studios like to say, and as the press is only too happy to echo, a `movie event.’” Hence the midnight screenings all over the country and the well-advertised marathons that gave fans a chance to watch all three films in a row, the first two “raising the temperature of the third.” It has been “a fever, of alarming—and, we can now admit—foolish proportions. The fuss surrounding this movie did, and does, have something fevered and intemperate about it, something out of proportion to its nature.”

In an arresting detail, Lane reported that, in the days before the film’s release, the film website Rotten Tomatoes had to suspend its user comments:

because the pitch of resentment, directed at critics who had dared to find the movie less than wonderful, had tipped into fury; Marshall Fine, of Hollywood and Fine, was told by readers that he should “die in a fire” or be beaten into a coma with a rubber hose.

Such aggression, Lane added, came from those who, by definition, could not yet have seen the film; they were watching the same trailers I was.

So, even apart from the question of whether the shooter was somehow affected by the violence in the movie, the fever stirred up by the marketing around the film created an atmosphere so nasty that commenters were calling for the death of a reviewer. (See Lorenza Muñoz’s thoughtful reflection on this in The Daily Beast.)

These violent films and the packaging surrounding them seem both to reflect and to stoke the violence afoot in our land today, and I’m not just talking about physical violence. The bombings, murders, and attacks on the screen, together with the marketing campaigns promoting them, seem inseparable from the ugliness of contemporary American discourse, with its anti-government extremists, raging talk show hosts, cable-news polemicists, fanatic gun lobbyists, angry xenophobes, and seething birthers. That so few film reviewers and journalists covering the industry bother to explore such connections attests to the effectiveness and shrewdness of the Hollywood PR machine.

Michael Massing is a contributing editor to CJR and the author of Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.