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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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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Chapter 1: Introduction—Virtual Violence: Beyond the “Columbine Thesis”

1. Let me be clear: I realized there was probably a group in the school that was called such a thing; however, I had no illusions about its effectivity on bully culture. This group was clearly a disorganized group of friends who liked trench coats and probably bore little resemblance to a proper mafia. In short, it was most likely a running joke at Columbine.

2. This, in spite of the fact that their facial recognition software failed, and they had to release the still images to the public in order to locate them.

3. Scholars point to first and second generation school violences, and make the critical cut off point at Columbine. The key difference is that Columbine established school shootings as a political act, whereas previous shooters were supposedly driven by privations (family problems, cliques, etc.) and wanted interpersonal revenge. Another line is drawn at the Virginia Tech event, where it is said that the violence then transcended national boundaries, and became infinitely shared across the Internet via YouTube, which did not exist until 2005. I reject the first distinction, but also see no reason to include events that occurred decades prior that have no relationship to the ones examined later in the 90s and beyond, such as Marc Lépine’s horribly tragic attack on the École Polytechnique in Montreal. While unfortunate, it has no gamic ← 205 | 206 → relationship to...

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