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Beyond Columbine

School Violence and the Virtual


Julie A. Webber


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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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.

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What we have examined in this book is, quite simply, the way that violence and suicide as ideals play out in the control society. Galloway has linked this control directly through Deleuze to networking and information, through the ethical machine that is the computer. I am not calling for the eradication of these technologies; they can be useful. I am not blaming video games. In fact, I am not blaming “objects,” and this is a key point. As a reviewer of Galloway’s book, The Interface Effect wrote, objects are not useful vehicles for understanding how power and control work. The focus on objects itself is ideological:

But it’s not merely that media studies has been focusing on the wrong objects; it goes wrong, Galloway claims, by sticking to the matter and form of objects at all. An interface, for Galloway, is “not a thing”; it is “always an effect”—a technique of mediation or interaction. The conceptual move here departs from the object-centered approach taken by critics such as McLuhan, for whom media objects are technological extensions of the human body; and his position differs, too, from Kittler’s contention that media objects carry their own technical logics that only intersect obliquely and occasionally with human perceptions. Galloway draws from a different philosophical tradition, including thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, which “views techné as technique, art, habitus, ethos, or lived practice.” In this view, media are not “objects or substrates” but rather “practices of mediation.” While...

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