April 20, 2009 is the ten year anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I was a junior in college that year, and heard about it in an afternoon class. No doubt this dubious hallmark will be an occasion for a lot of hand wringing and navel gazing, but I want to add a few random comments that I hope are worthwhile.
- I remember reading one editorial soon afterward that made a devastating, politically incorrect point about our society, to the effect that a teenage girl without skills or self esteem is a danger to herself, but a teenage boy without skills or self esteem is a danger to everybody. True.
- This tragedy still most clearly illustrates something that we’ve actually come to accept and ignore: we’re raising a generation of sociopaths. Not all of them, but so many that it can’t be a coincidence. Consider the teenager who recently brutally tortured and murdereda man he met online. Before Columbine, we would have been horrified. Now we just shrug and flip the channel. I’m also reminded of a story that stuck with me from the local Las Vegas Sun about how young gang members now have largely become unreachable hounds seeking violence for its own sake, without their elders’ interests in turf or identity. When the Virginia Tech shooting shocked us two years ago, one of my first reactions was, That’s right, the Columbine generation is in college now. And the media gave the killer all the attention he clearly wanted. Our addiction to brutal violence has long since gone past the tipping point, but we just don’t care what it’s doing to us. In unrelated news, I hear they’re making yet another Saw movie.
- Our schools’ schizophrenic enforcement of standards since then has become surreal: we strip search girls who might have aspirin, but kids with weapons on campus will get a slap on the wrist, a brief trip to a “behavior school,” and be back in the normal rotation by the end of the year.
- Around the five year anniversary, some boys at the school where I worked had an idea: spread rumors about an upcoming school shooting and get their parents to freak out and keep them home from school that day. It worked like a charm. For days beforehand, I fielded calls from worried parents who wanted to know if the rumors were true (and what did they expect us to say? “Yes, the shooting is scheduled for 10:30 next Tuesday”?) Lots of parents did keep their kids home. There was no shooting, and our campus police were able to track down the kids who started the rumor. I hope their day off was worth it.
- Columbine was followed by a merchandising frenzy that produced things like a T-shirt I saw being worn by a Colorado resident: “We are Columbine.” Really? Such nauseating narcisism wouldn’t be seen again until the waves of 9/11 “memorabilia” two years later. Attention Oprah fans: not every tragedy is an excuse for everybody to have a big weepy love-in about how it made them feel.
- I’ve read this provocative essay about the racial/cultural factors involved in this and similar tragedies: “School Shootings and White Denial.” The author mostly makes sense, except when he implies that white racism caused these shootings because we ignored the warning signs in minority cultures, which then creeped into the suburbs. I see no evidence for that.
- I also read the story of Cassie Bernall, She Said Yes. It not only told the story of this fateful day, but addressed the solutions. Cassie Bernall could have been like the shooters, but she changed, and died for that change. It’s still in print and I recommend it to everybody.