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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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 4: The Failure of the Middle-Class Social Contract


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Everything happens as if attention detached itself from life.

—Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory

I am gorging on my entire rage, and one of these days I’m going to let it out and get revenge on all the assholes who made my life miserable. … For those of you who haven’t gotten it yet: yes, I’m going to go on a rampage! I don’t know what’s the matter with me, I don’t know what to do, please help me.

—Sebastian Bosse qtd. in Robertz (2007, 58)

Wherever shame is publicly present and mobilized by groups or peers, there is rage. Rage is allowed to float freely as an element in contemporary control societies. It is never acknowledged openly as something connected to an event or the outcome of a punitive gesture, but is usually heaped onto the individual as another index of problematic behavior, such as a failure to comply with society’s ever changing standards for ethical conduct. The inherent mobility of shame and rage to elude any collective attempt to map the linearity of cause and effect is what Baudrillard has named the “transparency of evil.” Whether we are seeing Serbs committing outright atrocities in front of television screens or American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners or Harris and Klebold aping for the cameras inside the library of Columbine High School, we are seeing the reality effect of the transparency of evil, that is, the radical failure of ethical narratives...

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