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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 In doing so, it goes further to explore the United States' outdated perceptual apparatus based on a reflective liberal ideology and presents a new argument about proprioception: the combined effect of a sustained lack of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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This book has been a long time coming. I’m glad it’s done. Thanks to my family and friends for support.

Added value was achieved by the brilliant suggestion of Marie Thorsten that we attend Timeline Theatre’s production of Harmless, a play about questionable creative writing at a small Midwestern university by a returning Iraq soldier. Thanks also goes out to Brett Neveu, the playwright, for making scripts to Harmless, as well as Eric LaRue, immediately available to me upon request.

Thanks to Jim Thomas for making time to reflect with me. Also, thanks to Tomi Kiilakoski and Atte Oksanen for their brilliant work on school violence in Finland. Nathalie Paton’s work on school violence and social media is invaluable.

I am motivated by reviews of my work and several reviewers of the first book on this theme, Failure to Hold: The Politics of School Violence, deserve mention since their careful criticism and their endorsement of certain themes in the book formed in my mind the great bulk of what the reader will find here. Thanks to Dennis Cooper for his selection of my book and use of the insight about equality as the drive to violence on his blog, where he examines school shootings in interesting detail. This project would not have been possible without the support of two summer university research grants provided by Illinois State University. Organization, proofing and bibliographic work was completed with the assistance of an undergraduate...

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