Think Jonathan Swift, Think Jonathan Swift, Think Jonathan Swift, Think Jonathan Swift..
It’s been five years since the Columbine High school massacre, and I for one am grieving. Not for the 13 souls who met their end on that crisp April afternoon, but rather for what might have been and what has failed to happen since. As anyone familiar with the intricacies of the Harris/Klebold plot knows, the original intent was to blow up the school and register hundreds of casualties in the process. And while Columbine was and is the worst school shooting in American history, the failure to provide any sort of follow up has left me shaken and depressed. One would have thought that the overwhelming passion to forever silence rowdy, self-obsessed teens might inspire like-minded youngsters to pump lead without remorse, but the trend that seemed so fresh and so new has now fallen away, consigned to the same bin as Cabbage Patch dolls and Tickle Me Elmos.
Then and now, I was an Eric Harris type; not actually violent, but brooding, furious, and contemplative. I merely wished for the deaths of my classmates, which made me a moral coward to be sure. As such, I fully understand the rage to inflict harm on the vain, the athletic, and the pretentious. And with Columbine, we had the opportunity to fully address the source of such violence; not video games, or Marilyn Manson, or even the gun culture, but rather the culture of youth itself — the unending cruelty, materialism, rigid hierarchies, and obsession with looks and popularity. As old as time, you say? I agree, but until April 20, 1999, no one really did anything significant about it. There were pop shots in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Oregon, but only Littleton truly rattled the nation. And we did have a moment where the fascistic atmosphere of high school could have been exposed as a product of an adult world where humans are expendable; where a life of the mind is banished to the fringes in favor of team sports, surely the most simultaneously macho and homoerotic indulgence we offer our young. We could have looked beneath the myths that surround our teens. We could have understood that far too many are so egomaniacal, narcissistic, and brutal that yes, many deserve to get blasted between the eyes, but instead we merely flirted with the truth, only to turn away and preach our typically Puritanical, sanctimonious drivel.
As you would expect, then, I remember 4/20/99 as a day of righteous vengeance for all those who have always wanted to see the “beautiful people” suffer the tortures of the damned, if only briefly. And while Harris and Klebold undermined their cause by firing indiscriminately in the end, they did remove a few unfortunates who no doubt would have spent their adult lives imparting the same sick values to their children that brought about their own deaths. As we are a culture that spins, spits, and moans about “graphic” displays of sexuality and profanity, and the virtual indulgence of cartoon violence, yet engages in pre-emptive wars, dubious overseas projects of removal and revolution, and extended dalliances with corrupt, murderous thugs for a few barrels of crude, I will always applaud a young person with the sense of irony and play to expose our hypocritical dance with reality. We are a country that prizes our cocks, our brawn, and our aggression, yet reduces to effeminate waste the triple threat of solitude, reading, and physical inaction. We’d rather have young Jimmy pick up a pistol than a paint brush; work on his aim rather than his vocabulary; or win friends and influence people rather than embrace the quietude of self-exploration.
So what are the lessons of this so-called “tragic” day? Not grief, nor tears, nor further efforts to martyr those who just might have said “yes.” Merely the recognition that romanticizing youth is the most dangerous indulgence of all; ignoring as it does all that is monstrous and selfish about those little minds. And yes, I want more Columbines, for as we have proven time and time again, Americans are loath to respond unless the blood literally splatters on their faces, although even then we rarely react with genuine understanding. Just as I have no doubt that a future terrorist attack will push Americans to gleefully turn over the Bill of Rights to the power brokers of Bush et al who least understand it, a rash of school shootings will likely create an atmosphere of unjust persecution and enough red herrings to last a lifetime. Nevertheless, hideous, beastly, and ridiculous teens will be gone. It’s a dilemma I’m willing to face.