Adriana Onita Interdisciplinarity 222 1 December 2009 Motivations Behind Rampage School Shootings as Determined by the Media: An Interdisciplinary StudyStep One: Defining the Problem School rampage shootings have horrified, disgusted and morbidly fascinated peopleworldwide. The events of April 20th 1999 at Columbine High School caused thecommunity of Littleton, Colorado to be unfortunately forever associated with the namesof Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. A decade after the Columbine rampage schoolshootings, scholars and civilians still hash over the same word: why? Why did Harris andKlebold plan their attack on Columbine High for over a year? Why didn‟t anybody try tostop them? Why did the media blame everything and everybody, from parents topsychiatric drugs? Attempts to understand the motivations behind school rampage SR shootings havegathered a plethora of scholars from different disciplines to try to piece together research,and to eventually arrive at a consensus that can put a nation at rest. Most of ourinformation and explanations regarding school shootings comes from the analysis ofdiscourse from the media, namely newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet. Thiscan be very problematic because the media offers us fragmented versions of the reasonsfor which kids kill, running the gamut from individual (psychological) problems,dysfunctional family issues, community (school issues such as bullying, ostracizing) andnational/cultural issues (gun control and culture of violence). School shootings, according to psychologist Jonathan Fast, are “terrorist attacks withno ideological core [that] throw people‟s lives out of kilter and convince them that theworld is a menacing place” (Fast 1). People have indeed come to believe that schools areno longer safe when in fact, government studies show that school remains among thesafest places a child can be. In a national poll of 409 teenagers conducted following theColumbine High School shootings, a third believed that a similar incident would occur intheir own high school. In reality, the number of adolescent deaths attributable to SRshootings is less than a hundredth of a single percent (Fast 1). Given this statistic, theremust be a medium that encourages, or even drives the fear behind public perception.
Based on this premise, I have developed the following interdisciplinary researchquestion:How does the media in North America, specifically instant coverage news, affect the publics opinion of the motivations behind rampage school shootings? This question is complex and researchable, its clarity and lack of bias isdemonstrated through the lack of disciplinary jargon, and the sufficiently narrow focus onthe media in the context of the Columbine shootings makes it manageable within thespecified limits of the essay. Although important insights have been produced by manydisciplines, no single discipline has been able to explain comprehensively schoolshootings or resolve the problem. Using Allan Repko‟s book “Interdisciplinary Research”and Rick Szostak‟s guidance and expertise, I strived to do so myself. Step 2: Justify using an Interdisciplinary Approach Defining the Problem of School Shootings In the analysis of school shootings, there is a tendency for observers to define theproblem narrowly and focus blindly on single-causal motivations. By spotlighting factorssuch as the shooter‟s psychological or developmental problems, or interpersonal violencelike bullying, the media feeds fragmented viewpoints to satisfy the public‟s curiousnature and desire for quick explanations. This simplistic framing does not suffice. Anintegrated definition of the motivations behind school shootings is needed, especiallywithin the media to avoid misinformation and confusion among viewers and readers.Using the most recent and comprehensive study of school shootings by Princetonsociologist Katherine Newman, we will define rampage school shootings by three maincharacteristics: 1) they are institutional attacks that take place on a public stage before an audience 2) they are committed by a member or a former member of the institution 3) they involve multiple victims, some chosen for their symbolic significance, or at randomThis final condition demonstrates that it is the organization, not the individuals, who areimportant. By analyzing theories across different disciplines, such as sociologistKatherine Newman‟s 5 step theory of rampage school shootings, psychologist JonathanFast‟s Ceremonial Violence Theory and “Trigger theories” derived from sociology and
psychology but supported by journalism and the media, I will examine how the mediaaffects public perception of SR shootings and how accurate the theories are today. Step Three: Identify Relevant Disciplines Social problems cannot be studied from a disciplinary standpoint (Henry 1); a wideinterdisciplinary lens needs to be taken in order to account for all possible elements thatcould have led Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to commit the Columbinecrime. Identifying relevant disciplines was easy: psychology, sociology, criminology,cultural studies, journalism, political science, education and media studies all illuminateda certain aspect of the problem of school shootings. Identifying the disciplines I was touse, however, proved to be a problematic task because they were all somehowinterrelated. Due to the time and space constraints of this project, I chose to highlight insightsfrom psychology and sociology, more specifically regarding how an individualspredisposition towards criminal acts interacts with societal pressures and influences.These two disciplines proved to be the most helpful in determining how the mediaaffects peoples perception of school shootings like Columbine because they already hadwell-defined, particular perspectives on the problem. However, I realized that all mydisciplines already provided me with all the answers and since "the process of searching,more than the process of finding, if exceedingly important in stimulating cognitivedevelopment" (Hursh et al. 1983 qtd in Repko), I decided to include journalism also asone of the three disciplines. Thus, Dave Cullen‟s book Columbine, became anotherimportant tool for this project because of his extensive research as an investigativejournalist on the Columbine massacre. Step Four: Conduct a Literature Search Step Five: Develop Adequacy in Each Relevant Discipline Step 4, the literature search, was when I realized that all of the steps overlapped,demonstrating that its a very fluid process. I began conducting my literature search asearly as Step 1, and I continued reading the literature during the later steps of the researchprocess. I also discovered that the whole interdisciplinary process was nonlinear: it wasmore like a feedback loop than a ladder. Therefore, I went back to step one and revisedmy initial question, which was: "What are the most important factors that motivate anindividual to use extreme violence against their school?”. I realized that I defined thisquestion too broadly. I read about many different rampage school shootings, but for thepurpose of this term paper, I limited myself to the Columbine school shootings. Thedifferent parts of the problem included school shootings, the media, and publicperception. I developed adequacy in the disciplinary perspectives by indulging in
textbooks of introductory university courses regarding my subjects and reading broadselection of the literature about school shootings. This prepared me for my significanttask. Methods: Qualitative or Quantitative? Before analyzing the problem and evaluating each discipline‟s insight into it, I mustfirst establish the main method used by scholars to analyze rampage school shootings:qualitative analysis. When looking at a phenomenon such as a rampage school shooting,it is almost impossible to use quantitative measures. SR shootings are sufficiently rarethat statistical analysis, for example, is meaningless. Statistical formulas are likely never to be useful for predicting infrequent instances of targetedviolence such as school or workplace homicides, because the base rate is so low that, mathematically, high rates ofaccuracy are nearly impossible. -Fast Ceremonial Violence pg. 14 Therefore, qualitative methods are often used when little is known about aphenomenon. Data is gathered from sources such as reading the SR shooters‟ journals,interviews with victims, and analysis of media discourse. Much of this analysis is basedon the interpretation of meaning behind symbols. Also, I have to note that "surveys dealwith numerous people, interviews with fewer, and observation...with yet fewer" (237).The inherent problem behind each of these methods is bias. Also, because of theunpredictable nature of school shootings, it is difficult to profile a potential schoolshooter without dipping into stereotypicality. The epistemology of scholars plays a bigrole in what is being studied. One of the problems with disciplinary perspectives is thatdisciplinarians choose methods that support their own theory. The Luvox case studydemonstrates that scholars may use qualitative analysis to support their own idea, even iftheir idea is narrow and biased. The interdisciplinarian has the tools, and thereforeresponsibility, to debunk myths that the disciplinarian created. Step 6: Analyzing the Problem and Evaluating Each Insight into It Popular explanations for rampage school shootings include: media violence, bullying,gun culture, family problems, mental illness, peer relations, demographic change, cultureof violence, copycatting, and psychiatric drug use. Princeton sociologist, KatherineNewman, and her graduate research assistants put forward the question: whatcombination of these factors is necessary to produce these violent rampages? Based ontheir research, they proposed five “necessary but not sufficient conditions” for rampageschool shootings. They claim that when taking away any of these elements, rampageschool shootings will not happen. Let‟s see how her theory fares in analyzing EricHarris and Dylan Klebold:
Factors that a rampage Eric Harris Dylan Kleboldschool shooter must meet Columbine Columbine1) Perceives himself as - in his journal, Eric says: - in the videos the twoextremely marginal in the "I hate you people for boys made before thesocial worlds that matter leaving me out of so attack, Dylan complainedto him many fun things." about the “stuck-up” kids demonstrating his who hated him, going all marginality the way back to feeling mistreated since daycare2) Must suffer from - psychopathic: lacks -psychotic, schizotypalpsychosocial problems empathy, morality personality traitsthat magnify the impactof marginality -sadistic, narcissistic, -avoidant personality antisocial personality disorder, social anxiety, traits dependency issues -anger management problems3) “Cultural scripts” or - Natural Born Killers was their cultural scriptprescriptions forbehaviour must be - often referred to their attack in their journals asavailable to lead the way “going NBK” as “when we go NBK…”toward an armed attack.4) Failure of surveillance - Jefferson County Police failed to investigate whensystems that are intended Eric was reported to the police for having death threatsto identify troubled teens on his website about Brooks Brown, a student frombefore their problems Columbine Highbecome extreme5) Gun availability: a - since they could not buy weapons themselves, Robynyouth can attain Anderson, a friend of Dylan‟s who was 18 at the time,unsupervised access to a bought their guns for themweapon
It seems as if Newman‟s theory is comprehensive and covers a variety of disciplines,including psychological causes, societal and “cultural” causes, and educational schoolsurveillance systems. However, it is still not enough o explain the acts behindColumbine. Throughout this paper I will analyze Newman‟s 5 step theory whileconsidering the conflicts with other scholars‟ research. The Theory of Ceremonial Violence While studying school rampage shootings, the two conclusions that Jonathan Fastrepeatedly went back to included: even if the boys were mentally ill or the product ofabusive neglectful parents, so were many tens of thousands of other teenagers, none ofwhom had found it necessary to commit such a theatrical, tragic, and pointless crime(Fast 5). Secondly, the SR shooters must have been motivated by a variety of differentfactors; any causal explanation had to be multi-dimensional. This idea is not new in itself:Hans Eysenck suggested a multi-dimensional theory of criminal behaviour over 40 yearsago. However, this theory is often ignored by people who prefer to single out factors,such as playing excessively violent video games, or listening to a certain type of music,to blame for school rampage shootings. In the Columbine massacre alone, fingers werepointed at movies such as Natural Born Killers, the music of Marilyn Manson, the Gothicculture, the Trench Coat Mafia, many of which were falsely accused. In order to analyze what preconditions might have caused Eric and Dylan to commitmass murder, we must consider what makes the shooters different from normal teenagers.As described by Fast, school rampage shootings are “acts of terrorism without anideological core”: This “hazy, poorly-wrought chain of reasoning that justifies the killingof an innocent by those who have convinced themselves that they are somehow superior”(Fast 3). Fast created his own theory: ceremonial violence. The candidate, as he refers to thepotential SR shooter is an "unhappy child, facing circumstances like childhood abuse,neglect, mental illness, parental separation, or frequent relocations”. A poor fit between achild and his family, or between a child and his community, will exacerbate the situation.The candidates problem reaches a boiling point in adolescence, Fast argues, whereteenagers are faced with questions such as: "What kind of person will I be? By whichideals will I navigate the seas of adulthood?...In which social milieu will I find comfortand friendship?", questions that help them develop their adult identity. One of the mostimportant dimensions of identity formation is that of integration in the social milieu.Ironically, Newman is a sociologist but left identity formation out of her theory, one ofthe central aspects of adolescence. And as R. F. Baumeister has pointed out, theadolescent who has failed to form an identity often becomes self-destructive and suicidal(qtd in Fast 17). We need to expand Newmans theory to include the vulnerability of ateenager as they form their identity in a social milieu. Another part of the ceremonialtheory will be discussed later in concordance with Dylan Klebolds personality disorders.
Consequences of Instant Media Coverage: The Blame Game The oversaturated coverage of Columbine led the American public to form confusedconclusions about the causes of the attacks, many of which were not supported byresearch. The media frenzy began almost immediately: during the actual shooting spreeitself), when the local Denver news stations picked up reports on the police wires thatsomething “major” was happening at Columbine High School. Afterwards, nationalnetworks such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News Channel got local feeds to broadcast thestory live (Fryman 1392). NBC sensationalized the already dramatic “Columbine” tale bygetting interviews with student witnesses and asking for instantaneous descriptions of thecarnage. “From the very beginning, the media spectacle of Columbine revolved aroundthe quick passage of the desperate, anxious search for explanations into a serious ofsimplified answers, answers that soon became objectified myths about the motivationsbehind the shootings” (Fryman. 1393). This resulted in a complete disregard for thesocial and historical complexity of what was taking place. Dave Cullen, an investigative journalist and the author of the book Columbine, hasbeen reporting on the tragedy since the day that it happened, spending years gatheringresearch and debunking the mythology surrounding Columbine. When asked in aninterview with Time Magazine about why he thought that the media was so quick to jumpon pat narratives, he responded:The problem with Columbine was we felt the need to explain it right away. It was so horrifying, and the publicwanted to know why it happened. We in the media wanted to know why too, and we thought we had to answerthem. What we should have said was, "We dont have any good information, and it would be irresponsible of us tosay why." When you speculate in a case like this, it very quickly morphs into "fact." We started with the assumptionthat school shooters tend to be loners, outcasts and bullied. That turned out to be a myth: some are bullied, but noteven 50%. The majority are not any of those things. -Dave Cullen, interview with Alex Altman, Explaining Columbine, April 20, 2009 Time Indeed, Carolyn Kitch and Janice Hume, both professors of Journalism and theauthors of Journalism in a Culture of Grief examine the cultural meanings of death inAmerican journalism, such as “how does the press tell “potent and provocative…deathstories” (Kitsch 5). They refer to Jonathan Fast, the psychology scholar that pointed to“sudden deaths” as a set of cultural responses, including “heightened feelings of guilt andthe need to assign blame for a crisis (Fast qtd. in Kitch), with most of the literature on“sudden deaths” focusing on human-caused tragedies, like the 1999 murders atColumbine High School. Sociologically influenced strain and subcultural theory explains crime as the resultof cultural and structural strains in society (Henry). In the following two cases, analyzing
bullying and the psychiatric drug Luvox, as a motivation for Columbine, I will provideevidence and criticism of this theory.The Blame Game: Bullying and Trench Coat Mafia How random were the murders at Columbine? After Columbine, the pecking order of high schools was brought under scrutiny.Bullying and alienation, leading to rage and revenge, provided easy motives for thepublic, thirsty for explanations (Fast 239). Zero tolerance policies were instated inschools: schools seemed like airports, like prisons. On April 20, 1999, many myths werecreated by the media, and supported by students, parents, even scholars. Columbine Highwas portrayed on television as a toxic and horrible place “terrorized by a band of recklessjock lords and ruled by an aristocracy of snotty rich white kids…” (Cullen 254). The“Trench Coat Mafia” myth was one that emerged on the first day of Columbine. Newsstories circulated such as: “Students are beginning to describe how a long-simmering rivalry between the sullen members of their clique [theTCM] and the school‟s athletes escalated and ultimately exploded in this week‟s deadly violence”While police have not given a motive, several students said Harris and Klebold were members of a group calling itself the"Trenchcoat Mafia," outcasts who bragged about guns and bombs and hated blacks and Hispanics, as well as student athletes. April 21, 1999 Web posted at: 10:50 a.m. EDT (1450 GMT) Television journalists were careful. They used attributions and disclaimers like“believed to be” and “described as”. They were careful about how they phrased therumours, but not about how often they uttered them. Consequently, the repetition on thenews had a feedback effect that made the students at Columbine High believe that Harrisand Klebold were part of the TCM: “Kids knew the TCM was involved becausewitnesses and news anchors had said so on TV. From 1:00PM to 8:00PM, the number of[Columbine] students citing the group went from almost none to nearly all. They weren‟tmaking it up, they were repeating it back” (Cullen 150). Heisenberg‟s uncertaintyprinciple: by observing an entity, you alter it. Heisenberg was a quantum physicistobserving electron behaviour, but social scientists began applying his principle tohumans.
Despite the press‟ obsession with bullying and misfits, Dave Cullen asserts that‟s nothow the boys presented themselves. Dylan laughed about picking on the new freshmenand “fags”. Neither one complained about bullies picking on them – they boasted aboutdoing it themselves. Eric had a grand vision, alluding to a wider slaughter: killingeverything, destroying the human race. There was no singling out people who bullied himto kill in the attack, just as there was no liaison supporting the subculture theory. Readinghis journal provides proof of that. Nevertheless, scholars still argue about whether or not bullying was a cause or not inthe Columbine shootings, or rampage shootings in general: “In the case of rampageschool shootings, evidence supports the claim that forms of violent victimization such asbullying and exclusion, for considerable time produced an inner sense of hopelessnessand vulnerability.” (Newman et al., 2004). Dave Cullen however, says that there‟s noevidence that bullying led to murder, but considerable evidence that it was a problem atColumbine High (Cullen 158). This can be surely contradicted by an excerpt from EricHarris journal: “Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to myface. Ill get revenge soon enough”, (Harris 11/22/98) This clearly represents signs ofbullying. Tom and Sue, Dylan Klebold‟s parents, were among the people convinced that jocksand bullying had been behind it. But jocks and bullies are everywhere and few kids aretrying to blow up their high school. An FBI reports states that: Bullying may have played a role:…71% of attackers had experienced persecution, bullying, threats, or injury.Initially that sounds dramatic, but the study did not address how many nonattackers suffer that sort of experience; it‟s prettycommonplace for a high school kid. Several of the shooters experienced severe or long-term bullying, though, and in some cases,it seemed to be a factor in the decision to attack. - qtd in Cullen, 384nHow do we resolve such a conflict? It appears that the conflict in these insights could have arisen from a problem with thedefinition of bullying. I argue that the question should not be: did bullying play a role inthe Columbine High Shootings, but rather to what extent did bullying play a role in theshootings? By providing a continuum of bullying, to see then, how the boys match up to
normal teens that also experience bullying but do not exert extreme violence on theirschools. Furthermore, even if Dylan was bullied, high school was almost over. The nightmarewould have ended for him; he went to visit his future college with his family(Cullen). There are still pieces missing: what psychosocial factor, or person, could havechanged his fate? Psychological Illnesses: Personality Disorders“I chose to kill…so get over it! Its MY fault! not my parents, not my brothers, not my friends,not my favorite bands, not computer games, not the media.” - Eric Harris 7/29/98 We cannot assess Eric and Dylan‟s motives through a “normal” lens, because Ericand Dylan were not normal kids. We must consider their personality disorders to furtherevaluate their motivations, as explained in full detail by Peter Langman in his book WhyKids Kill. Eric killed for two reasons: to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it.Although strong evidence exists that may have been racist, and had been bullied, he didnot discriminate when he murdered his classmates at Columbine High, as seen throughhis journals. Eric was a born psychopath; he possessed narcissistic, sadistic and antisocialpersonality traits. But Eric cannot be examined without examining his influence onDylan. It is most interesting to note that Dylan Klebold did not start out as a rageful,bloodthirsty villain. He was a shy kid who gushed about love in his journal before hisattack, but had social difficulties regarding friendship and female companionship(Langman 52). Dylans journal, released in 2006 to the public, displayed preoccupationswith loneliness, depression, finding love, as opposed to Erics journal, which is full ofnarcissism, condescension and rage. Erics journal was filled with drawings of weapons,swastikas and soldiers; Dylans was filled with hearts. There is no part of Newmans 5step SR shooting theory that would explain this. We need to look back at Fastsceremonial violence theory to explain the impact Eric had on Dylan, and tie it back to thetheory on bullying. "The candidate might commit suicide at this point [of culmination] were it not for twofactors: first, he is a narcissist...a person who craves attention and lacks empathy, twofactors which unfortunately operate synergistically in turning a suicide, a private event,into a mass murder, a public event," Fast states. This insight must be added to the 5 steptheory of rampage school shootings. Through combining the psychological
predispositions and bullying we have the first two steps of Newman‟s theory, but Fastimplies that "finding a best friend or a soulmate...a person through whom he canexperience homicide vicariously" or a "violence coach" can be the determining factor inDylans decision jump from suicide to homicide. In other words, if Eric had not foundDylan, he may not have committed a school rampage shooting. Somehow in the bullyingspectrum, there must be another external factor, a "violence coach" that "convinces thecandidate to channel his rage into an SR shooting, agrees to participate, and [even makes]a suicide pact with the candidate so that they both die at the end of the shooting." (Fast)Further research must be done to determine whether Dylans social struggles were a resultof his lack of confidence and social skills, not rejection or harrassment, as the bullyingtheory holds. How much can we really know? How much can be really known about what happened the morning of April 20th,1999 is of great dispute also, and varies with the different epistemologies of the scholarswho study Columbine. A postmodernist skeptic can say: even though we may have 25000 pages of police evidence, countless hours of video and audiotape, hundreds ofinterviews and the extensive work of many journalists, we may still never know whatwent through Dylan and Erics minds on that dreadful day. Indeed, the killers wrote andtaped themselves extensively; any researcher of Columbine must engage in textualanalysis. The gaps that the killers left in their thinking, researchers and journalists, likeDave Cullen have attempted to fill in with the help of experts in criminal psychology whohave also spent years on the case. I have not found much postmodernist uncertaintyamong scholars (most think that all the evidence is trustworthy and conclusions can bereached from it), rather media reports that somehow imply that "we will never know thereal answer". This epistemological belief allowed the media to get away with a lot oftheir false theories, because they always had the "it may be true" ideology to supportthem. Benjamin Frymer alludes to cultural theorist Guy Debord when hestates: “Following the shootings, media accounts did not simply report what hadhappened or search for answers for a fearful population; they generated a full-blownpostmodern spectacle of alien youth” (Frymer 1389). But Dave Cullen strongly believedthat he finally "set the story right" in his authors note on sources, saying that "in the greatmedia blunders during the initial coverage of the [Columbine] story, where nearlyeveryone got the central factors wrong, [he] was among the guilty parties [also]".Certainly, most scholarly work nowadays about the rampage school shootings atColumbine has been positivist influenced and advancing our knowledge of thephenomenon. The Blame Game: Psychiatric Drugs
Eric and Luvox “There is no doubt in my mind that Luvox caused Eric Harris to commit [the Columbine shooting spree].” – Ann Blake Tracy PhD Biological psychology “Murder has occurred throughout human history without any psychiatric medications to push people over the edge.” – Peter Langman PhD psychology Eric Harris was taking an antidepressant called Luvox when he attacked ColumbineHigh School. Some people have argued that this medication, associated with psychoticand manic side-effects, pushed him over the edge, leading him to commit mass murder(O‟Meara). Mark Taylor, a Columbine High School student who was shot between sevenand thirteen times by Harris, filed suit against Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc., themanufacturer of Luvox. Taylor believed Harris would have not gone on his rampagehad he not been under the influence of the drug: "I dont have ill feelings against himsince I dont think you can hold him accountable, because he did not know what he wasdoing" (qtd. in Hunnicott). Ann Blake Tracy, a consultant in Taylor‟s lawsuit and thedirector of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, has a background inbiological psychology and is a specialist in what she believes are the adverse reactions toSSRI medications. She singles out Luvox to be the cause for Eric Harris‟ actions: “Allyou have to do is read the Luvox package insert to see that Eric‟s actions were due to anadverse reaction to this drug…There is no doubt in my mind that Luvox caused[Columbine school shooter] Eric Harris to commit these acts” (Hunnicott). Peter Breggin,the author of Talking Back to Prozac, also suggested that the shooting was a result of anSSRI inspired mania. Conflicting this notion is psychologist Peter Langman, whom in his book, Why kidskill: inside the mind of the school shooter, states that there is no reason to believe thatEric Harris could not have committed murder without the side effects of his medication:“Eric was not a typical teenager who became a grandiose, raging and homicidal monsterafter taking Luvox…he was grandiose and homicidal without it” (Langman). Harris‟ rageand destructive nature were evident in his journal and website months prior to themassacre, before he even started taking Luvox. Indeed, the more we know about Ericshistory and personality, the more we realize that he did not need the medication side
effects to commit mass murder. Jonathan Fast agrees with this argument and says thatEric‟s plan to assault his school predates his use of the medication (Fast 192). In otherwords, Luvox did not trigger his rampage. Analysis of the Method dealing with Luvox Although qualitative analysis is a very useful method that provides us with in-depthinformation about issues like school shootings, the testimony of Mark Taylor shows us afundamental weakness of this method: people can misinform you, as even first-personaccounts can be false. Taylor states: “I did not personally know Eric, but I know him asone of the "Trench Coat Mafia" (Hunnicutt). It is widely known now that the Trench CoatMafia was not associated with neither Eric Harris, nor his counterpart Dylan Klebold, butthe fact that Eric and Dylan wore trench coats on the day of the massacre would be achoice of tremendous confusion. As witnessed in the case with Luvox, people tried to create a “trigger theory”, bypinning down what they thought the factor was that sent Harris over the edge.Consequently, the public gave to the media possibly made-up information to support theirown theories about Columbine. Even unnamed friends of Eric said that “they believe thathe may have tried to stop taking the drug, perhaps because of his rejection by theMarines, five days before [the Columbine Massacre]”(Cullen 209). This statement putsforward a plausible, convenient argument for the audience to digest: the Marines rejectedEric, he quit the Luvox to fuel his rage, he grabbed the gun and started killing. BecauseEric‟s body hadn‟t initially been screened for Luvox, this was easy to put forward as anexplanation. Later it will be proved that Eric remained on a full dose, right up to his deathand also that Eric was ineligible to join the Marines, but he had not yet known. There hadbeen no trigger (Cullen 234). Even if Ann Blake Tracy‟s assertion may have a grain of truth (Luvox may havefurther exacerbated Eric‟s already aggressive behaviour), it is overly simplisticto choose a drug‟s side effects to explain such grandiose actions. It also suggests thatBlake, as the director of International Coalition for Drug Awareness, is biased by her owngoals of anti-SSRI advocating. Disciplines such as psychology tend to pay more heed toindividuals rather than groups, and this can be evident in their methods. Her bias isfurthermore evident in her statement to the press: “Suing Solvay for the injuries MarkTaylor suffered is one of the biggest SSRI suits we‟ll ever see. It‟s a pivotal case becausewhat happened at Columbine was so big. It‟s crazy when you think about it...”(Hunnicott). In addition, many news stories had begun to surface about adolescents whohad committed suicide while taking an SSRI-type medication, despite the fact that mostpsychiatrists consider them among the safer and more effective medications fordepression (Langman).
Furthermore, it is interesting to note that while psychiatric drugs have been blamed forrampage school shootings, little attention have been paid to street drugs, even thoughthey were used more by school shooters than medications (Langman, 7). There mustbe other factors to take into consideration; other motivations surrounding school rampageshootings. Integration: Create or Find Common Ground to Integrate Insights Produce an interdisciplinary understanding of the problem and test it“The search for common ground is the fundamental element of all [interdisciplinary]investigation” (Kockelmans 1979 qtd in Repko). The main goal of interdisciplinary analysis is to yield a more comprehensiveunderstanding of a particular problem, such as school shootings, that a single-disciplinecould not have come up with on its own. The integration of different insights fromdifferent disciplines is crucial to this research process. A nonintegrative way would be tosay that answers are either right or wrong, for example: Luvox either caused, or playedno role in Harris‟ rampage shooting at Columbine; bullying was either a factor, or had noinfluence in Harris‟ and Klebold‟s murderous plan. As I‟ve argued, a more plausible wayof analysis would be that: Luvox did not cause, but exacerbated Harris‟ already violentnature, leading him to carry out his plans at Columbine; bullying did not create, but had arole in the perpetrators‟ lives, much like it plays a role in almost all teenagers‟ lives,therefore pre-existing personality disorders must be in place in order for the SR shooter toexaggerate bullying in his mind. Arguing a narrow point of view is also a nonintegrative way of handling acontroversial topic such as school shootings. When confronting conflicting perspectives,the interdisciplinarian‟s job is not to deem one view correct and reject the other, butrather to find the common ground, or the pieces of truth in both views. In other words,it‟s not about who can win the argument, but who can bring together the best integratedideas to solve the problem at hand. Allan Repko stresses this point: “the interdisciplinaryenterprise is not like prosecuting a case, defending a client, or just adding anotherscholarly opinion to the many opinions already offered on the problem” (277). I wouldadd to that: the interdisciplinary enterprise is not like reporters in the media, whohighlight the newest development at hand and provide faulty evidence to get the highestratings.
I chose to analyze the media particularly because reporters are often guilty of thefragmentation and compartmentalization of insights, much like disciplinarians are guiltyof insisting that their own theory is right, and using that a method that will support theirtheory. Following Columbine, there was a lot of information out there, some of whichwas true, some of which was false, most of which was both true and false. It took a fewhours for TV reporters to start flocking to Littleton, Colorado and come up withexplanations for what was happening at Columbine High School. It took ten years forDave Cullen, leading expert on Columbine, to research and come up with the acceptedfacts and debunk the myths surrounding the school shootings, many of which the mediarelentlessly put forward. The trigger theories the media introduced were the flavour of the hour, their methodwas qualitative and often erroneous, and their assumption was that the public will tune into see the instant coverage news for answers. And the media was right. On the day ofColumbine, leading TV networks such as CNN had more than 2 million viewers, nearly 3times the amount they usually had on the previous Tuesday (Chicago Tribune, April 25,1999). People wanted answers. They “snapped” was not an answer: “Non violent peopledo not „snap‟ or decide on the spur of the moment to meet a problem by using violence,”an FBI report said. The planning for Columbine was a year in advance. Did people carethey were getting the right answers? Reporters wanted to provide people with relief andknowledge, but often they were wrong. The worst part is that by the time the truth cameout, the media had already moved on, and people‟s opinions regarding Columbine hadalready calcified. I have tried to counteract this by expanding Newmans 5 aspect theory of rampageschool shootings to include certain aspects of Fasts ceremonial violence theory, such asidentity crisis, we are able to cover ground that the media failed to mention in their hastyreports. By debunking myths, like the trigger theory, as witnessed in the case study ofEric and the Luvox suit, we are able to remain critical in discourse and advance ourcognitive understanding of school violence. Finally, through redefining and organizingcertain theories, such as bullying, we are able to see more clearly exactly how much whatpart each factor played in the Columbine school shootings. There is still a long way to goin mapping out other factors in relation to one another, but I do hope my research hasprovided some enlightenment regarding the Columbine school shootings. Conclusion It is no news that we obtain much of our information about the world through thenews and other forms of media; however, it is crucial to keep in mind that the media isanything but objective. As Dave Cullen states, “it is an axiom of journalism that disasterstories begin in confusion and grow clearer over time. Facts rush in, the fog lifts, anaccurate picture solidifies. The public accepts this. But the final portrait is often furthestfrom the truth (Cullen 150). It is the public‟s responsibility to seek out the most up-to-
date research to engage in meaningful discourse. It is also the public‟s job to holdreporters accountable for what they say and who they blame for tragedies.The media‟s sensationalism behind rampage school shootings has influenced the publicto perceive that such incidents are on the rise. Future research on university shootingssuch as at Virginia Tech might provide new explanation on how the media coverage atColumbine aided in the future construction of the deadly fantasies of school shooters.Taking it Further: Reflection of my Challenges and Difficulties Since the interdisciplinary research process requires constant decision making andstep taking, I always revisited my earlier work. There was a very important lesson for mein the fact that I could not move from point "A" to point "B" via point "C" and on to aconclusion. It was more like this: I got to point "B", realized I must go back to point "A"but that was hard because point "C" overlaps with point B and I already dipped intopoint "D" to make my conclusion. Consequently, I read a lot of material that I did not usein my paper, even though I would have liked to. Nevertheless, I included all thereferences in my bibliography because they probably influenced my thought and decisionprocess.Reflecting on my own biases: Throughout the research process, I was self-conscious and self-aware of mypersonal biases and I kept them in check so that they would not influence my evaluationof insights, and thus my product of integration. These biases included: (a) schoolshootings are bad and we must look at ways to prevent them (b) a negative bias of theway reporters report school shootings and (c) there is a link between the way schoolshootings are brought to the public‟s attention and future school shootings. I also startedthinking that finding common ground is possible. This is a good bias to have, as evenRepko states that it is “unlikely” that a student does not find a point of commonality thatwill allow integration of at least some insights (Repko 276). Nevertheless, at times it tookan endless amount of imagination and creativity to see what two different disciplinaryperspectives had in common. Also, I had read that “too much integration can lead totheoretical mush”, so I had to be careful with that too.
What I would have done had I more time: Cultural studies would have provided a very unique perspective of how the publicreacted and subsequently created artistic and literary representations of school shootingslike songs and books that reflected their perception of the events (probably alsoinfluenced by the media). I would have enjoyed taking a look at music and contemporarybooks that have school shootings at their core, for example the song Little Weapon byLupe Fiasco, or the novel 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. The extent to which violent videogames impact school shootings would also be an interesting topic to develop.Cognitive Advancement: Allan Repko discusses how school learning is like rote learning, a process that occurswhen the learner memorizes new information without relating it to prior knowledge,which involves no effort to integrate new knowledge with existing concepts, experience,or objects (Novak qtd in Repko 140). This is what the interdisciplinary research processattempts to defy. Haynes stated that the interdisciplinary research process "is a tall orderfor even the best of learners"(qtd in Replo 140). I am not claiming that I am the best oflearners, but I found this project to be extremely difficult. Prior to this course, I wasindoctrinated in the disciplinary perspective, a school system focused on specificity,duality, analysis, and reductionism. By taking courses ranging across a wide array ofdisciplines, I developed adequacy in understanding different disciplinary perspectives,but was never taught how to integrate knowledge in a holistic way while developingdisciplinary depth and breadth. So even though the process was hard, it was extremelyrewarding and I feel that it resulted in cognitive advancement. I will use the tools gainedin this course for the rest of my scholarly career. in this case it was the media that disciplined us into believing their fragmented truth information for this table was gathered and synthesized from Why Kids Kill by Peter Langman, and not from TheSocial Roots of School Shootings The loner myth was the single biggest misconception, as some of the attackers were loners, but two thirds werenot. The family of Dave Sanders, Mark Taylor and three other Columbine families sued Solvay. All but Markwithdrew their claims. Solvay settled with $10 000 dollars donated to the American Cancer Society. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors: a class of medications that includes Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil. Two out of the ten shooters analyzed in Langmans book were on medication, whereas eight out of the ten usedalcohol, marijuana and possibly other drugs