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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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 5: Of Rogues and Fans


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“True crime is crime fact that looks like crime fiction,” Mark Seltzer tells us. And he is right. Trying to separate the fact from fiction through the vehicle of the mass media is nearly impossible. It is also what invites many into the narrative of crime as fans. As he writes, the:

Interestingly paradoxical relations between true and false crime points to the manner in which crime in modern society resides in the interval between real and fictional reality: the uncertain, mobile, conditional and counterfactual reality of a ‘reflexive modernity,’ which includes the self-reflection of its reality as part of its reality, and as one of its defining attributes. This is reality bound up through and through with the reality of the mass media. Put somewhat differently, true crime points to the media a priori in modern society because the technical infrastructure of modern reflexivity is the mass media. It points to the fact that the real world is known through its doubling by machines, the doubling of the world in the mass media that makes up our situation. (Seltzer 2008, 26)

This can help to explain why there are so many “fans” of civil society mass killers. This is one thesis that has been put forward focused erroneously to explain why the women who find such perpetrators attractive or are willing to protest their innocence in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. A more clinical explanation, often cited...

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