Renaissance Column

JUNE 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 6



KEVIN RIDOLFI

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KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and Web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine.

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Misplaced Blame
Popular culture shouldn't be blamed for teen violence

KEVIN RIDOLFI

Marilyn Manson

Once again, the finger pointing and name calling begins. Hundreds of arm chair psychiatrists and Monday morning therapists offer their unfounded theories and accusations. And, as the trend dictates, pop culture again finds itself on the hot seat after an inexplicable, almost unimaginable national tragedy.

Innocent teenagers in Colorado, with their lives stretching infinitely in front of them, went to school on April 20, never expecting their lives to change forever. Sure they expected to learn trivial facts or maybe spend a short memorable moment with a friend, but they never expected to be forced to participate in a senseless group nightmare. Two sick, deranged, emotionally unbalanced classmates showed them an evil that robbed a school of its youthful innocence.

Somehow, in an aftermath of soul searching and witch hunting, the nation turned its fearful eyes towards television, movies, music and video games - objects that must sit still and take the blame for they are incapable of defense. America has become a nation that refuses to accept responsibility for any negative action. For the most part, society is quick to deflect blame away from itself - after all why face the music, when you can just as easily shed the blame onto the nearest warm body?

We read news stories every day that play up the victim angle. An idiot burns herself on McDonald's coffee and sues the chain because the contents were hot. The fact that coffee is, by nature, served hot is lost upon the legal system and the woman wins millions. Stories like this are now a dime a dozen. Blame someone else rather than accepting the fact that the mistake was yours.

By blaming popular culture for the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, these arm chair psychiatrists are coming alarmingly close to absolving two despicable human beings of blame. Painting these two gun toting, scheming killers as innocent victims of suggestive popular messages and images betrays the memory of the 13 destroyed lives. These murdered students and their teacher are the true victims. Their families and friends were victimized as well. Harris and Klebold caused this by exercising the powerful, definitive human trait called freewill. Regardless of what movies the killers liked or what music they listened to, they were not forced to murder 13 innocent people nor were they forced to try to kill so many more by planting pipe bombs everywhere. They chose to do so of their own accord.

It's easy to blame someone like Marilyn Manson - he parades around with fake breasts, freakish makeup and different color eyes. His music is loud, disturbed and abrasive. Yet nothing he does or says can make a person commit such atrocities. If there is truly such a connection, then every Marilyn Manson fan should be locked up immediately to prevent them from the inevitable. Conversely, there are countless murderers who have never heard Manson, Rob Zombie or Rammstein. In fact, it is quite conceivable that a murderer's record collection may contain CDs by Yanni or John Tesh. Should we point an accusing finger at these new age artists too, or is angry rock a much more convenient target?

Supposedly, Harris and Klebold were influenced by the movie "The Basketball Diaries", which starred that troubled bad boy Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie, a look at the drug-fueled destruction of a New York high school basketball talent, featured a scene in which Leo opens fire on his classmates while wearing a trench coat. The fact that two fans of this movie committed murder is nothing but an unfortunate coincidence. Millions of people have seen "The Basketball Diaries" in the theater, on video or on television and none of them were placed in a hypnotic trance that bred homicidal tendencies. Should we blame "Days of Thunder" for every speeding violation or "The Shawshank Redemption" every time a convict attempts to break out of prison.

Simply put, if you try hard enough you can misconstrue every song's lyrics and read deep meaning into every movie. A need for someone to blame fosters this desperation. But as with everything, most actions stem from direct human influence whether it be peer pressure or parental upbringing. Both killers had money to spend and plenty of free time, coupled with a feeling of neglect that forced them to seek out an alternative sense of fraternity. Warped ideas and unconventional thought give depressed and lonely people something they can call their own. A bond with others who subscribe to the same ideas. This is the same tactic hate groups use to recruit "forgotten" teens.

South Park's Kenny

To blame outside distractions like the cartoon "South Park" is absurd. Kids don't lose their sense of mortality just because the character Kenny (right) is killed each episode yet returns the follow week. Kenny is made out of construction paper - and crudely at that - and bears no resemblance to a real person. Did children in previous generations lose sight of death's finality because of that wacky Coyote, who fell from tremendous heights yet always returned to chase the Roadrunner again. Teachers tried this tactic a few years ago when they attacked Bart Simpson, who was an "underachiever and proud of it", every time a kid failed a test.

Let's condemn all of these extraneous things rather than focusing on the disturbing facts: a large number of people had contact with Harris and Klebold and dropped the ball. The police had arrested them and assigned them probation officers. The school listened to complaints from students and parents. Teachers read their violent essays and watched their ultra-graphic, jock killing videos in film class. The teens built bombs in their parents' garages and left a gun in plain view in a bedroom. No one did a thing and tragedy struck in an irreversible fury. So naturally the Monday morning therapists look for a distant influence because the real blame may be too close for comfort. Their shaking, accusing finger points - as is now expected - at popular culture.

But they're wrong. The internet, a compact disc and a television are inanimate objects that can not force action. Inanimate objects don't kill. They may feature objectionable or offensive material at times, but they don't kill. To state otherwise is a cop out and a shirking of responsibility.

A paranoid, sick mind kills. Sometimes without definitive reason.

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