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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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 2: The Many Tropes of Columbine


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The reporting problem gets camouflaged by repeated layers of “scholarship.” One scholar bases a paper on faulty reporting, which gets cited by another scholar, then another—until a book like this appears with a bibliography full of academic citations. Academic weight increases as the research grows farther from the source, which is rotten at the core.

—Dave Cullen in a review of Jessie Klein’s The Bully Society

The Pilot

The script changes in Columbine. As Sumiala and Tikka maintain, it becomes “iconic,” and prefigures the advanced ritualized forms of sacred, heterogeneous communities that would later be built around it in 2005, after the debut of YouTube and the triumph of this form of communication through remediation (Sumiala & Tikka 2011, 150). But I want to add something to this idea of a heterogeneous social (indebted to Bataille in his reflections on Durkheim and Mauss), and that is that each new shooting that achieves mediated status adds to or improves upon the script created at Columbine; this is what I earlier referred to as their methectic quality, with each episode adding something new, a substitution, or bricolage1 (whether it be using gas instead of bombs, emailing or posting the media package directly to social media rather than relying on the professional mass media to air it). These are serial events. Columbine is the pilot for the next ← 25 | 26 → wave (which does not take off again until 2005)2 of shootings that...

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