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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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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I have attempted to tell a story about mass attacks and the violence they communicate. Most of it has been told from the side of the perpetrator. This is because, as Enns notes, perpetrators were nearly always once victims themselves, “The victim who kills out of revenge and in the name of claiming dignity and humanity can be the most vicious killer of all” (Enns 2012, 119). American culture has a pronounced affinity for “law and order” solutions to problems of violence. Moreover, it has a law and order interpretation of violence—victims must always be innocent, and the blame goes to one specific type of person. In this story, I refer not to the actual victims (they have their own meaning and interpretation) but to the American public as it constructs itself as victim each time one of these events takes place. When I wrote my first book, the newspaper headline that stuck in my craw was “Why?”. As I wrote this book, one of my favorite articles about this violence was about Virginia Tech. Its title is “The Thirty-Third Victim,” and it refers to the perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho. Jones’s analysis echoed my own regarding Columbine and incidents prior to it:

Cho’s identities as criminal gunman, Hokie victim, evil monster, pathetic reflection of American young manhood, or unassimilated foreigner were tried on and sloughed off over the first weeks after the shootings. Like the spontaneous memorials, these identities represented both the search for an...

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