Home > Uncategorized > Columbine coverage and the demonization of the outcast

Columbine coverage and the demonization of the outcast

I went to five events today as part of the ongoing Virginia Festival of the Book.  Two were pretty boring, but the other three were lively, interesting discussions of important issues.  And in one, I actually asked a question (I never ask questions during Q&A sessions).

The question I asked came at the end of a panel on mass shootings through the prism of the press.  The first author had written about the press coverage of Columbine while the second wrote about the coverage of the DC snipers.  The main point that the author writing about Columbine tried to convey is that everything we “know” about Columbine and why it happened is false – it was speculation in the immediate hours and days after the event that had no basis in fact.  The shootings were not, in fact, a result of two bullied or isolated boys seeking their revenge on the jocks.  Nor are most school shootings.  Exhaustive studies of school shooters by the FBI, Secret Service, and Department of Education concluded that there is no typical shooter.  And yet I think our culture still carries around a suspicion of the high school loner or misfit.  The Columbine press angle of “shooter as outcast” added a sense of legitimacy to people’s existing fears of those who are different.  A discomfort with a kid wearing a trench coat became sensible rather than judgmental.  Maybe other schools reacted differently, but my memories of high school – and college – are of jokes about the kids who dressed differently, the kids on the margins, maybe “pulling another Columbine.”  It wasn’t all that funny.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a high school though – maybe things have changed.  I’d like to hope they would, but until more people understand the wild untruths underlying the initial coverage of Columbine, I worry that we’ll continuing adding unfair suspicion to the already heavy burden carried by misfit kids who are just trying to make it through high school.

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  1. Lauren
    March 19, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Have you read Cullen’s “Columbine?”

    • Hilary
      March 19, 2010 at 9:12 am

      Heh, sorry. I haven’t read it yet, but have been reading about it (and listening to NPR interviews with Cullen) since it came out. It’s on my reading list now, but I’m not spending money on books, so I’ll have to wait for it to be back at the library.

  2. Hilary
    March 19, 2010 at 9:02 am

    He’s the author I was talking about. :)

  3. Lauren
    March 19, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Oh, I didn’t mean, “have you heard of this book?” I thought your summary may have been gleaned from the event/interacting with him; I just wasn’t sure if you’d read it yet.

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