But Kristen Baldwin looks for a deeper explanation

By Kristen Baldwin
Updated April 22, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Movies, music, and games are blamed for the Colorado tragedy

What happened at Columbine High was a tragedy, an unspeakable horror, an unearthly glimpse into hell — but it was not Marilyn Manson’s fault.

Nor was it caused by the German metal/hate/industrial noise band Rammstein, Leonardo DiCaprio’s dream sequence in ”The Basketball Diaries,” or even the ultraviolent videogame Doom. Cable news channels and network newsmagazines are currently filling hours of programming time with the ”violent movies/music/TV shows/Internet sites did this!” argument in special reports with names like ”Killing at Columbine High: The Day After” (”Dateline”) and ”High School Terror” (”20/20”). It’s no surprise. We are, by nature, afraid of things we can’t control. When something inexplicable like Columbine ambushes us, our natural response is to talk at it, cover it so thoroughly with theories and explanations and blame that it can’t leap out at us again.

But does pointing the finger at videogames and violent movies ever work? Does it ever stop kids from blowing each other away? No. Not after Pearl, Miss. Not after West Paducah, Ky. Not after Springfield, Ore., or Fayetteville, Tenn. After each of these instances we wailed, wept, and decried the corrupting influence of the entertainment industry. And nothing changed.

You know why? Because while violent/gory/sexual/otherwise graphic images can certainly affect us — desensitize us after repeated viewings so that it takes more and more to raise our eyebrows — they do not, can not, create dangerous urges in people who don’t already have those urges inside them. A healthy and well-adjusted teenager who watches ”Natural Born Killers” over and over — as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold reportedly did — is not going to suddenly feel the need to commit a murderous act. Movies, as much as we idolize them, simply don’t have that much power.

Relax — I’m not letting Hollywood off the hook. I fully believe that a diet of violent, death-obsessed videogames, music and movies definitely exacerbates and inflames the antisocial, nihilistic, and even murderous emotions of kids who are mentally disturbed. It is irresponsible for entertainment aimed at children to glorify, glamorize or diminish the impact of guns, violence, sex etc., because there’s always the chance that an unstable youngster will somehow glean — and act on — the wrong message.

But what makes more sense — abolishing all forms of entertainment that may negatively influence vulnerable young minds, or working harder to identify children and teens who are depressed, angry, and in need of help? Hundreds of thousands of kids across the nation play Doom; only two of them went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High. Is vilifying the videogame really the answer?

For the ”Dateline”s and ”20/20”s of the world, yes. There’s only so much footage of weeping teenagers and bloody victims available to pack into an hour-long newsmagazine; blaming Marilyn Manson’s music means you can slap a 15-second clip of the shock-rocker in concert on the screen. Condemning the ”Basketball Diaries” is even better — that allows producers to include an image of the world’s hottest young movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio, in their broadcast. It fills time, it looks provocative. And even more important, it feels good to place blame. But it doesn’t get us any closer to understanding this horrific event. Maybe nothing will. One Columbine student, asked why this happened, just shook his head: ”There’s no why.”

The Basketball Diaries

type
  • Movie
mpaa
  • R
director
  • Scott Kalvert

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