Beyond Columbine

School Violence and the Virtual

by Julie A. Webber (Author)
©2019 Textbook X, 250 Pages
Series: Violence Studies, Volume 1


School violence has become our new American horror story, but it also has its roots in the way it comments on western values with respect to violence, shame, mental illness, suicide, humanity, and the virtual. Beyond Columbine: School Violence and the Virtual offers a series of readings of school shooting episodes in the United States as well as similar cases in Finland, Germany, and Norway, among others and their relatedness.
The book expands the author’s central premise from her earlier book Failure to Hold, which explores the hidden curriculum of American culture that is rooted in perceived inequality and the shame, rage, and violence that it provokes. In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of thought (non-cognitive) in action that is engendered by digital media and virtual culture. The present interpretation of the virtual is not limited to video games but encompasses the entire perceptual field of information sharing and media stylization (e.g., social networking, television, and branding). More specifically, American culture has immersed itself so thoroughly in a digital world that its violence and responses to violence lack reflection to the point where it confuses data with certainty. School-related violence is presented as a dramatic series of events with Columbine as its pilot episode.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Mass Attacks (1999–2016) Included in This Analysis
  • Chapter 1: Introduction—Virtual Violence: Beyond the “Columbine Thesis”
  • Chapter 2: The Many Tropes of Columbine
  • Chapter 3: Passage à l’acte: New Thoughts on Civility
  • Chapter 4: The Failure of the Middle-Class Social Contract
  • Chapter 5: Of Rogues and Fans
  • Chapter 6: Remote Projection and Militarized Subjectivity: A Different Iteration
  • Conclusion
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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This book has been a long time coming. I’m glad it’s done. Thanks to my family and friends for support.

Added value was achieved by the brilliant suggestion of Marie Thorsten that we attend Timeline Theatre’s production of Harmless, a play about questionable creative writing at a small Midwestern university by a returning Iraq soldier. Thanks also goes out to Brett Neveu, the playwright, for making scripts to Harmless, as well as Eric LaRue, immediately available to me upon request.

Thanks to Jim Thomas for making time to reflect with me. Also, thanks to Tomi Kiilakoski and Atte Oksanen for their brilliant work on school violence in Finland. Nathalie Paton’s work on school violence and social media is invaluable.

I am motivated by reviews of my work and several reviewers of the first book on this theme, Failure to Hold: The Politics of School Violence, deserve mention since their careful criticism and their endorsement of certain themes in the book formed in my mind the great bulk of what the reader will find here. Thanks to Dennis Cooper for his selection of my book and use of the insight about equality as the drive to violence on his blog, where he examines school shootings in interesting detail. This project would not have been possible without the support of two summer university research grants provided by Illinois State University. Organization, proofing and bibliographic work was completed with the assistance of an undergraduate research assistant, Steve Reising. Thanks also to Courtney ← vii | viii → Johnson for assisting with preparing the manuscript for submission to my publisher, as well as critical discussion of the book with me.

Thanks to the Provost’s office staff at Illinois State University for helping me locate demographic data on student attendance at universities.

Thanks to Ali Riaz, Marie Thorsten, Diane Rubenstein, and John Weaver for providing feedback on final drafts of the project.

Thanks to Felix Ó Murchadha for feedback and support.

This book is for my dad.

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| 1 →

Most rampage shootings are a form of retaliatory violence; they are revenge for perceived past wrongs. Columbine gave new meaning to school rampage shootings, especially to disaffected outcast students not only in the United States, but throughout Western society. Rampage shootings were no longer the provenance of isolated, loner students who were psychologically deranged. Columbine raised rampage shootings in the public consciousness from mere revenge to a political act. Klebold and Harris were overtly political in their motivations to destroy their school (Larkin, 2007). In their own words, they wanted to “kick-start a revolution” among the dispossessed and despised students of the world (Gibbs & Roche, 1999). They understood that their pain and humiliation were shared by millions of others and conducted their assault in the name of a larger collectivity. Klebold and Harris identified the collectivity—outcast students—for which they were exacting revenge. That is what distinguishes Columbine from all previous rampage shootings (Larkin 2009, 132). ← 1 | 2 →


Sitting at a Coney Island restaurant in suburban Detroit preparing a dissertation prospectus on John Dewey’s Experience and Nature, I overheard the newscast about Kinkel’s shooting spree, and I began writing about school shootings. This event provoked my interest in what has become, over the past decade, a research program. It led me to wonder about the use of writing yet another dissertation on the history of political theory that would no doubt be shelved for decades without the binding so much as cracked in the Purdue University archives. What was so wrong, I asked myself, with schools and American society that students wanted to murder their classmates? As I delved deeper into my topic in the spring of 1999, Columbine occupied my television screen for nearly a week, proving to me that my choice had not been in vain. Indeed, in many ways the news media coverage of Columbine was so unbelievable to me because I had been spending so much time looking at school shootings that occurred prior to it in the nineties. For instance, it was clear to me that such a thing as a Trench Coat Mafia could not possibly have the social relevance at any American high school ascribed to it by the media that were no doubt searching for some kind of ideological source for Harris and Klebold’s evil act.1 I also knew from my examinations of the media coverage of Springfield that each and every interpretation for Kinkel’s motivations (antidepressants, guns, video games and South Park) made for interesting television but that no proof for them from the event itself ever materialized, and the media, done with that particular tragedy, moved on without a second thought, leaving each of those interpretations standing to be co-opted by reporters during the days-long coverage on 20 April 1999 (as Glenn Muschert points out, Columbine came in 2nd only to the O.J. Simpson trial in terms of media coverage during the nineties). Each of these explanations spent time as the “Columbine thesis” in ← 2 | 3 → the news. The most enduring one thus far has been about video games, no doubt because the political establishment is knee deep in both the gun lobby and big Pharma for support. The idea of a single thesis that explains school shootings, as well as other shootings in presumed to be spaces of civility (high schools, universities, cinemas, malls, parliament buildings, elementary schools) is seductive, but illusory. We must move outside these spaces to understand that the problem of civility is filtered through all of them by the corporation, which, as Deleuze once argued, “constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each” (Deleuze 1992, 5). This is the control society that characterizes the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that follows the disciplinary one of the late nineteenth and early twentieth. The crucial difference between the 20th and 21st centuries is that institutions of that disciplinary civil society still exist (family, school, hospital, military); the problem is that we confuse their constant need for “reform” as a democratic improvement, when in reality the reform happens in order to “[sic]deliver the school over to the corporation” (ibid.). Thus, we find well-meaning calls for perpetual training to deal with “bullying” alongside increasing modes of surveillance, wiretapping, Internet monitoring—especially cameras—that track movement and sociality within these spaces. As an example, what was the first reform measure called for after the two young Tsarnaev brothers detonated a pressure cooker bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2013? The city of Boston asked for more cameras.2 Isolating the problem to the school or even to a particular logic of security at a physical site, or contagion by terrorist ideologies on the Internet obscures the fact that the problem exceeds our disciplinary focus: we are in a control society. This means any attempt to formulate or rehabilitate a political civility to counter corporate inspired “rivalry” within this globalized milieu of social media and transnational capital (as we shall see in Chapter 3, of outsourced discipline) will have to confront the vicious conformity (Nietzsche might have called it a herd mentality) produced across all these spaces (the cinema, the mall, the school, the marathon, the military hospital, the parliament building, etc.) that, when confronted with an attack, blinks, and calls it “senseless.”


X, 250
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. X, 250 pp.

Biographical notes

Julie A. Webber (Author)

Julie A. Webber is Professor of Politics and Government at Illinois State University. She has published several books and essays. Among them are Failure to Hold: The Politics of School Violence and The Cultural Set Up of Comedy: Affective Politics in the U.S. Post 9/11.


Title: Beyond Columbine