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Seeking Tragic Answers in the Aisles of Best Buy

Apr
20
2007

These things – these savage snaps of carnage and outrage – seem to happen with sickening frequency. And they have a predictable denouement. Any time someone goes on a rampage, particularly since the Columbine High School slayings, our ritual is firmly in place. Watching the news coverage this week of the shootings at Virginia Tech, I could see the pop culture blame game playing out.

In July, 1999, Mark Barton killed his family and then walked through two Atlanta, Ga., day-trading firms, killing nine people and injuring 13 more. In March of 2006, Kyle Huff went to a rave party in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, killed six and wounded two. Charles Roberts murdered five young Amish girls in a Nickel Mines, PA in October, 2006.

A blog post on WashingtonPost.com reported that Virginia Tech murderer Cho Seung-Hui “was a fan of violent video games” such as Counter-Strike. But his college roommates report he did not play video games. Fox News ran a crawl under their Virginia Tech coverage: A new survey from the British Board of Film Classification about violent video games revealed that gamer respondents conceded that “people ‘who are already unhinged in some way’ may be pushed over the edge if they play violent games obsessively.”

Down in Blackburg, VA, the Big Media reporters asked if Cho listened to rap or metal music. He did play a song over and over, which turned out to be Collective Soul‘s “Shine,” which includes this chorus: “Love is in the water / Love is in the air / Show me where to go / Tell me will love be there…”

Then it turned out that Cho had taken pictures of himself that seemed similar to shots from the Korean film Oldboy. There’s no direct evidence that he was inspired; it’s ironic that the movie is an ode to the worthlessness of violent revenge.

This seems to be a dance performed to the music of a certain type of tragedy. When Andrea Yates killed her children in 2001, I don’t recall hearing much analysis of what sort of songs she listened to or what movies she watched or whether she tended to dress all in black. The public seemed to accept that she had gone mad without feeling the need to explore if she’d seen one too many episodes of Desperate Housewives.

After the shootings at Columbine High School, every bit of the lives of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were examined. Then the lives of practically every young person in America was examined, in search of loners, brooders, anti-social types – in short, exactly the kind of behavior most likely to be found among young people. Jim Romenesko, best known for his media blog, also posts items at The Obscure Store & Reading Room. After Columbine, he documented many cases of students being punished for behavior that seemed like typical teen rebellion, not imminent psychotic break. He pointed me to this study from the Virginia Youth Violence Project, entitled “Guidelines for Responding to Student Threats of Violence.” It includes the following examples of how seriously schools took the threat of violent behavior by students:

An British colleague of my wife noted that, from his vantage point, America’s public violence plays out with repetitious choreography: shocking deaths, followed by great outcries for reform, followed by inaction.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Share  Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 5:48 AM | Permalink

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