Introduction
THE CHILD
Bynowwehavebeguntoforgetthestory.OnApril20,1999,EricHarrisand
Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado,
and went on a shooting spree that left fifteen people dead, including them-
selves.Itwas,byallaccounts,atragedy.
In the aftermath of that tragedy, a wide range of social actors—from the
police, to local, state, and federal politicians, to pundits, to child advocacy
groups,tothefamiliesofthevictims—begantoreachforanswers.Whatled
these boys to this act of insanity? In national media reports that followed, as
well as in hearings in the U.S. Senate, one culprit repeatedly rose above the
rest:themedia.HarrisandKleboldhadlistenedtoheavymetalmusic,played
violent video games, and watched violent movies. Like the people who had
suppliedtheboyswiththeirweapons,mediaproducersbecameaccomplices
inthedeathofsomanyinnocents.Theboyswhopulledthetriggerwere,ina
sense,victimsthemselves,unabletoresistmassculture’ssirencalltokill.While
theboys’homelifeandfriendshipswereexaminedinthesoul-searchingthat
followed (sometimes sincere, sometimes hyperbolic and self-serving), media
influencesoonloomedlargerasanexplanationthan,say,theireasyaccessto
nine-millimeter pistols, an assault rifle, and sawed-off shotguns. It provided
a relatively simple answer to a complex and deeply troubling question: why
wouldtheydosuchathing?What made themdoit?
TheideathatHarrisandKlebold—andtheotherwhite,suburbanchildren
(almostallboys)whoattemptedtokilltheirpeersandteachersinthelate1990s
—were themselves victims of media influence also foreclosed a number of
other,relatedquestionsandobservations.Whatwastherelationshipbetween
thistragedyandtheepidemicofgun-relateddeathsinpoorandworking-class
neighborhoods in American cities? What were the larger social and material
causes—beyond family trouble and peer pressure—for theiracts? If Klebold
andHarrishadalloftheadvantagesthataresupposedtomakeanactlikethis
so unthinkable—a middle-class upbringing in safe, suburban surroundings,
good schools, and the prospect of a bright economic future—if all of those
things were true, did this mean that we, as a society, expected and accepted
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