Inquiry@Queen's Undergraduate Conference 2008: The War Against Reality

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Presented in 2008 at http://www.iatq.ca/

A critical look at the cases of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two boys responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, and Seung-Hui Cho, responsible for the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. After careful examination of the published literature on various topics including junior delinquency, school massacres, and the psychoanalytic perspective, it is clear that these violent incidences are logical consequences of an escapist approach to reality, undeniably prevalent in the current youth population at large.

Fantasies ("any product of the imagination"), conjured up by books, movies, games, television, internet, and drugs provide an escape away from the unsatisfactory reality, and serve as "one weapon in the war against" it. Although fantasizing can be therapeutic and creative in moderation, when one is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the obstacles of real life, one becomes more and more dependent on fantasies as the solution to all problems. In the case of Harris, Klebold and Cho, this dependence escalated to violent antagonization of reality. However, the maker of these young mass murderers is not violence in movies and video games, but the society that breeds a generation of escapists who need such fantasies to survive. The readymade fantasies on television – violent, sexual, and otherwise – that many criticize as the source of evil in these young people are mere symptoms of a greater phenomenon, produced to meet the overwhelming and preexisting demand for an escape.

The project is still in progress.

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  • The English term monster derives the Latin word monstrum, which literally means omen. It shares its root, monstrare which means to show, with words such as demonstrate and monstrance. The word monstrare can be further traced back to the word, monere, which means to warn. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the things we call monsters, such as this man-eating half-bull, half-man Minotaur here, they are sent down to a community by the gods to warn them of their misguided ways, as a kind of an omen. This is an interesting definition of the term that can be reinterpreted and reapplied to what the modern society might call monsters.
  • My name is Celine Song, and I am a second year psychology student, pursuing a minor in philosophy, and I have been interested in the monsters of the modern times. I will talk to you today about my research on the widely-publicized and little-understood occurrences of mass murders committed by youths in the last few decades, discuss some of the many published literature on relevant topics, and try to offer a critical perspective.
  • These are pictures of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999; and Seung-Hui Cho, responsible for the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. Klebold and Harris murdered 12 people and both committed suicide. And if their plan was entirely successful, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. Seung-Hui Cho murdered 32 people and committed suicide. Although they are rather unremarkable in appearance, all three of these boys have committed truly monstrous crimes, and will be remembered in history as monsters.
  • An important question, “why” is asked again and again by the community at large. How could this have happened? What was wrong with these kids? This, of course is a very difficult question to answer. Not only does the question require the most intimate understanding of these alienated youths, we can’t even ask the perpetrators further questions, because they are now dead. But if these monsters are sent down among us as an omen, as a warning, we must at least try to understand why something this horrendous has happened, and how we can prevent it in the future. There is no quick and easy answer for such complex phenomena, but we do seek a quick and easy scapegoat when a catastrophe like this strikes, in order to direct our anger. The blame is then quickly pinned to the violent video games such as Doom  and the movies like The Natural Born Killers,  written by Quentin Tarantino, both of which Klebold and Harris were obsessed with. I have never played the game Doom, because it is a rather old game from the 90s, but I have seen the Natural Born Killers. It’s full of gore, lots of glorified gunplay, and it depicts killers as anti-heroic protagonists, to say the least.
  • Since the popularization of television in the 60s, hundreds of researchers all over the world looked for ways to understand the impact of media exposure, producing all sorts of data confirming the increased violent media consumption in youths. These studies show that kids in the United States spend 3 4 hours per day viewing television, that more than 60% of television programs contain some violence, and that about 40% of those contain heavy violence, et cetera. All these numbers confirm one thing, and it is that media is an alarmingly significant part of a developing child’s life – and that it is very violent. This claim alone is nothing controversial. But there are those who wish to make further claims on this subject. They don’t only want to argue that media is violent, and that violence in mass media is a huge part of a modern child’s life but also argue that violence in media CAUSES violence in its consumer.
  • There are hundreds of studies in social psychology that aim to prove this CAUSATION. The researchers deal with experimental data on things like priming, arousal zlevel while watching violent media, mimicking in children, et cetera, but they very often leap to conclusions with passion, rather than careful thought. Presented with all this rather emotionally charged data, the parents turn their anger and fear against the media that seems to be instilling desire for violence in their kids. In the manuscript presented by Dr. Huesman at the University of Michigan, he actually argues that media violence is a national health risk, which must be addressed by the medical community. And if you add all these studies up, it sounds like what Dr. Huesman is saying might be true. However, this type of study requires a good measure of violent conduct, a good measure of violence viewing, and controls for other factors such as demographics, unemployment, poverty, inequality, routine activities, education, et cetera. Some studies do find a significant CORRELATION, or statistical RELATIONSHIP between exposure to violent programming and violent behaviour. This is the conclusion that Schramm came up with in the early sixties:
  • “For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children, under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial” I think it’s almost comical how little this conclusion says. But after four decades of vigorous research, this is all anyone could claim to conclude on the topic. Even if a study has strong correlations, it is difficult to imagine that little aggression observed in experimental settings could be extrapolated to acts of incredible violence like the kind we saw in the cases of columbine high school or Virginia Tech. The researchers’ attempt to prove and discuss this CAUSATION is a failed one.
  • With help from a professor, I came across a famous cross-cultural study done by a Swedish psychiatrist Kutchinsky, dealing specifically with sexual violence. Kutchinsky kept track of rape and attempted rape during the period from 1964 to 1984 during which the availability of pornography including the violent and sadist kinds became readily available and accessible for the first time in the history of West Germany. The suggestion was that if violent pornography causes rape, this sudden availability of violent pornography should definitely influence the rate of rape attempts.But the results you can see here of West Germany shows that, while the rate of non-sexual aggravated assault goes up consistently, rape or sex crimes stays where it is during this period of time, as you can see. The rate of sex crimes actually decreases a bit. Kutchinsky then concludes from his findings that
  • “the link between rape and pornography is more than weak. And our knowledge about the contents, the uses and the users of pornography suggests that pornography does not represent a blueprint for rape, but is an aphrodisiac, that is, food for the sexual fantasy of persons who like to masturbate.” While looking at this particular study, one word caught my eyes in particular. FANTASY. Pornography is food for the sexual fantasies, a way to satisfy a person’s desire for sexual fulfillment – It is possible that the link between violence in media and real violence can be understood similarly.
  • Fantasy, as the iconic psychologist Sigmund Freud defines, is any product of imagination. This would include anything creative, like Grey’s Anatomy, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Justin Timberlake, William Blake, et cetera.
  • In the place outside of our heads – which we generalize as “reality” – the world is out of our control and is full of miseries. We are rather powerless in reality. Inside our daydreams, however, we are omnipotent; there is no limit to what we can create and do in our heads. We can find sanctuary in our heads, where all our wishes are fulfilled even when the reality fails us.
  • In this way, fantasy, conjured up by books, movies, games, television, internet, and drugs provides an escape from the often unhappy reality.
  • This kind of psychological escapism is most visibly observed in children. Kids are highly encouraged to indulge in inconsequential fantasies like Santa Clause and are often sheltered from the ugly sides of reality. But by keeping its young blissfully unaware of the harshness of reality, the society breeds escapists.
  • A child that is unprepared to make a transition from the ignorant bliss of childhood to the challenges of adulthood is inclined to become more and more dependent on fantasies, even when it is time for them to finally become independent of it. So when challenged by the cruel reality, the youth, who is so accustomed to running away, would retreat further into books, movies, games, and drug-induced oblivion. Although fantasizing can be therapeutic and creative in moderation, when one is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the obstacles of real life, it has a potential to escalate into devastating consequences, as seen in the case of Klebold, Harris, and Cho.
  • If we take a look at this frightening excerpt from Harris’s notes, he is clearly indulging in a violent fantasy to escape the constant victimization and feelings of impotence in school and life in general.
  • SeungHui Cho, who is described in this article to be extremely quiet, mumbly, and essentially voiceless, wrote a play in which the main character says everything that is on his mind, disturbing, violent or otherwise. Again, Cho is finds himself potent in fantasy, while being helpless and victimized in reality.He also pretended to have an imaginary supermodel girlfriend from outer space called "Jelly" to escape his constant solitude and lack of a dating life. These are simply extreme versions of things we write in diaries, prose, poetry, etc. which we usually consider to be harmless or therapeutic - everyone, like these boys, watch violent movies and play violent games (a little too much at times, even), finding sanctuary in fantasy. But to these weak and miserable mass murderers, fantasy was not harmless or therapeutic vacation away from their misery and impotence – it became something more than that.
  • It became a fuel for their hatred towards reality. Human weakness is capable of turning anything into a vice (toenail clippers). Their escapism was excessive. Obsessed with their internal world and the media that gave them the satisfaction the reality didn’t offer, and cornered by the difficulties of adulthood that they were not ready for, they chose to antagonize reality. The world in fantasies is right and good, and the reality is wrong and evil and must be destroyed. They went on a war against reality, trying to destroy it and refusing to live in it. They wanted to escape the reality by imitating the violent fantasies: the way they dressed for the kill, the choice of weapons, videotaped and written manifestos, fancy ideologies they claimed to kill by (point out pictures) - these things are right out of the fantasies they indulged in. They were delusional.
  • However, it is difficult to believe that media is this evil thing, creating readymade fantasies with extreme gore and violence in order to create these monsters, as some researchers imply. Rather, the fault is in the society that breeds a generation of escapists who need such fantasies to survive. Media is a business. There would not be a supply of violent media, if there was no demand. And rather than assuming that violence in media is what causes violence in youth consumers, one should seriously examine the possibility that violence in media is simply food for the violent fantasies of persons, who need to satisfy their violent urges. The readymade fantasies on television that many criticize as the source of these monsters, are mere symptoms of a greater phenomenon, produced to meet the overwhelming and preexisting demand for an escape.
  • To further prove this point, the recent study indicates that alienation from peers – solitude, in another words – was predictive of use of violent media content in general” More alienated a person is from peers, more that person abuses the readymade fantasies of violence. None of these boys are able to redeem themselves, apologize, or take back what they have done, because they are dead. But returning to the ancient definition of the term monster, these violent and weak boys are a phenomenon that needs to be understood fully for us to have a better understanding of the modern society and the way it educates and conditions its youth. In order to go about doing this, I suggest that we stop looking for things to blame and come face-to-face with the monsters, who are not merely psychopaths and madmen, as those that live and struggle among us as our siblings and children, as a part of our society and humanity, a part of our self that needs to be saved and healed. To refuse to do so would be escapist.
  • Thank you.
  • Inquiry@Queen's Undergraduate Conference 2008: The War Against Reality

    1. 1. Monster<br />Demonstrate, monstrance<br />Monstrum: omen<br />Monstrare: show, point out, reveal, advise, teach<br />Monere: to warn<br />
    2. 2. The War Against Reality <br />A Youth Perspective on the Columbine High School Massacre<br />“Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.”<br />Jules De Gaultier<br />Celine Song, 2nd Year Psychology/Philosophy<br />
    3. 3. Dylan Klebold & Eric Harris<br />Columbine High School<br />April 20, 1999<br />12 Victims<br />Suicide<br />Seung-Hui Cho<br />Virginia Tech<br />April 16, 2007<br />32 Victims<br />Suicide<br />
    4. 4.
    5. 5. “Children in the United States spend an average of between 3 and 4 hours per day viewing television” (Comstock & Paik, 1991). <br />“More than 60% of television programs contain some violence, and about 40% of those contain heavy violence” (Wilson, 1997). <br />“Video game units are now present in 83% of homes with children” (Roberts et al., 2005). <br />“An average child spends 49 minutes per day playing video games, and on any given day, 52% of children aged 8–18 years are playing video games. (Roberts et al., 2005).<br />“94% of the video games that are rated by the video game industry as appropriate for teens are described as containing violence.” (Haninger & Thomson, 2004).<br />
    6. 6. Violence<br />in<br />Media<br />Youth<br />Violence<br />CAUSES<br />
    7. 7. ‘‘For some children, under some conditions, some television is harmful. For other children, under the same conditions, or for the same children under other conditions, it may be beneficial. For most children, under most conditions, most television is probably neither particularly harmful nor particularly beneficial’’ (Schramm et al., 1961).<br />
    8. 8. Cases of Rape, Aggravated Assault and Indecent Behaviour Known to the Police in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1964-84 (Kutchinsky, 1991)<br />
    9. 9. “Most other research data we have about pornography and rape suggest that the link between them is more than weak. And our knowledge about the contents, the uses and the users of pornography suggests that pornography does not represent a blueprint for rate, but is an aphrodisiac, that is, food for the sexual FANTASY of persons – most males – who like to masturbate.”<br />
    10. 10. Fantasy<br />is any product of imagination.<br />
    11. 11. Reality<br />Fantasy<br />VS.<br />
    12. 12.
    13. 13.
    14. 14.
    15. 15. “My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law, if you don’t like it, you die. If I don’t like your or I don’t like what you want me to do, you die. If I do something incorrect, oh fucking well, you die. […] God I cant wait till I can kill you people. Ill just go to some downtown area in some big ass city and blow up and shoot everything I can. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame. […] I will rig up explosives all over a town and detonate each one of them at will after I mow down a whole fucking area full of you snotty ass rich mother fucking high strung godlike attitude having worthless pieces of shit whores. I don’t care if I live or die in the shootout, all I want to do is kill and injure as many of you pricks as I can, especially a few people.” – Excerpt From Eric Harris’ Notes<br />
    16. 16. In English class, the teacher had the students read aloud and, when it was Cho’s turn, he just looked down in silence, Davids recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.<br />Finally, after the teacher threatened to give him a failing grade for participation, Cho started to read in a strange, deep voice that sounded “like he had something in his mouth,” Davids said.<br />“As soon as he started reading, the whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Go back to China,’” Davids said.<br />&quot;bizarre antics ranged from him making up an imaginary girlfriend - a supermodel he called &apos;Jelly&apos; - to his more disturbing, real-life encounters with the young women he apparently met online and then eventually confronted in person, only to have them recoil from him.&quot;<br />
    17. 17.
    18. 18. Violence<br />in<br />Media<br />Youth<br />Violence<br />CAUSES<br />“The finding that alienation from peers was predictive of action or violent film view and use of violent media content in general” (Slater, 2003). <br />
    19. 19.
    20. 20. Thank You!<br />

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