Thursday, March 11, 2010


The Skepticality podcast had an interview that I got a chance to listen to yesterday with Dave Cullen, the author of Columbine. I thought it was an excellent interview and a very good approach using a skeptical viewpoint. Cullen discussed the myths that control the Columbine narrative and the realities behind them. Some of the main points were:

1. Columbine wasn't a mass shooting, it was a failed bombing.

2. Dylan and Eric weren't persecuted loners bullied into submission, they were reasonably social and not disliked.

3. Dylan was depressed, but reachable. Eric was a psychopath who was going to be a killer pretty much no matter what happened.

4. No one was a target. Everyone was the target.

5. No one was asked "Do you believe in God?" and then shot when they answered "Yes."

The real question is whether or not these narratives can be rolled back. I doubt it.


Caitlin said...

There is a book called "We Need To Talk About Kevin", I randomly saw it left on the ground outside of the library. I decided to read it only because my friend Kevin had just been murdered. It turns out the book is actually about the mother of Kevin, a sociopath who killed a bunch of kids at his school. It was a good book, and was actually more fitting than I had hoped, not for my Kevin but for his killer, another close friend of the family's.
It's a good read if you have time.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks for the shout-out on my book, Columbine.

I enjoyed doing that interview. I'm glad it's still getting around.

An expanded paperback edition of the book is just out this week.
I spent a lot of time on the new material, so I hope it's OK to mention what we added:

— A 12-page afterword: “Forgiveness,” with startling new revelations on the killers' parents.

— Actual journal pages from Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold.

— Book Club Discussion Questions (also available at

— Diagram of Columbine High School and environs.

— A large-print edition is also now available.

Thanks again.

The Morholt said...

Wow, I didn't know you and Dave were Buds.

Caitlin said...

I checked it out, but it feels a little exploitive to me. Maybe it's just me, but I can't imagine people accepting such horror into their lives. I know it is important to learn from Columbine, but we seeming haven't. I don't think another book will help. I don't think seeing journal pages will ease the minds of the parents. I think it is part of a morbid curiosity that makes such violence less horrifying to the public. People always want to understand that which has no reason. I've tried to ask Alec why he killed 3 people, I don't think he really knows. But I know it sickens me when the media wants to put Kevin on "True Hollywood Story", when people try to profit from his death. I don't think that people being interested in my dead friend helps anyone. I don't think forcing more information about Columbine out will help anyone.

The Morholt said...

Ah, what tragedy isn't worth a little mileage, who can resist telling their sad stories? What else do people do with incomprehensible horribleness but make it a story, sometimes cautionary, sometimes moralistic, sometimes self-pitying, sometimes just something to scare the kids around the fire? A good story about bad people is irresistible. Is the gospel of St John exploitative? When you go to your Alec for an explanation, what are you asking for but another story? We all have our horrible tales, we all seem to need to share them. Drawing conclusions and cautions from them is as good a justification as any, but the alternative to telling them is holding them close.

Caitlin said...

I'm looking for information for myself, while I suppose that it is a story I want, I am looking to understand something that was personal to me. I don't want my story, Kevin's story, or even Alec's story spread around as a way to entertain the masses. It was, and will always be horrifying. That's not something your tell the world.

The Morholt said...

Anyway, though I'm not a big fan of murder stories outside the context of 19th century ballads, I do like the fact that he was talking about how the narrative was used to try to draw larger, often xenophobic, themes. Often our quest to make sense of public tragedies involves scrambling away from anyone and everyone who is different or who doesn't share majority values, hence the Christians turn it into a narrative about atheists, the moms turn it into a story about hanging out with the wrong crowd, the nerds make it about being ostracized, the liberals make it about gun control and a culture of violence, the conservatives about how dangerous weirdos are in a permissive society.
Even at the personal level, we tend to make this story about ourselves and our own narratives. Don't think I'll read the book, but the dialog made me consider the shootings as more than a cultural trope for the first time in ages and reminded me that it's always worthwhile to question the ways narrative are constructed.

wwc said...

I think that is how I felt about it David, except that I want to read the book. I think that I had only been thinking about it as a parable for years now instead of a weird story about a psychopath and the damage he wrought.

Caitlin said...

I just question what it will do to the parents and the survivors. Is a parable, that truthfully no one will really learn from, worth the pain and anxiety is most definitely will cause. Having an inside perspective, I can't support making money off of the pain and suffering of others without some benefit to it. I'm not saying that Cullen is a bad person, and I don't believe he is, I just believe it is a poor choice. I understand that he is different in that he is not cashing in on the gore and horror as much as the logistics and a general curiosity, however I don't think it's worth it.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.