Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I was curious to see if there were any tribute-style YouTube clips about the event, since it did take place before the advent of widespread online video. Surprisingly, there are quite a few; more surprisingly, most are not altogether different from the graduation montages I looked at a little while back. Both are sort of sad, wistful, and nostalgic, and accompanied by very similar tunes–but instead of fun in the sun, you get pictures of horror and loss and death. But then they take an odd turn. Let’s take a look.
McLachlan’s song is mixed in jarringly with audio from news reports; the two don’t really blend, and it results in making the song sound sarcastic. If like Negativland or something put this out, it would make total sense.
This video has a Christian theme to this one, and is ostensibly related to the Virginia Tech shootings as well. Maybe that’s why people made these videos after the fact? There’s a similarly themed clip using Roxette’s “Never is a Long Time,” as well.
Another creepy one, this one mixing the song with audio of the goddamn 911 calls. (“Hallelujah” comes up in tribute videos for sad events all the time, of course.) Again, there’s a Christian theme; this clip has a particular focus on Cassie Bernall, the girl who, the story goes, was shot after saying she believed in God.
This song seems to be about regretting that you did not help someone who committed suicide, which is kind of weird given that the shooters were the ones who killed themselves at Columbine, but I guess that’s cool too.
Writes the creator: “In April 1999 I was stunned by the tragedy that took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I didn’t have access to any media programs back then, but I created a PowerPoint accompanied by a song on a CD. It was a way to channel my grief.” So that’s why they’re still popping up, I suppose.
And at this point, the videos began to take an odd turn: They began to be pro-shooters. Manson, of course, was notoriously blamed for the incident, and instead of an ironic juxtaposition here the idea seems to be that the killers had the right idea. A comment: “RIP Eric & Dylan. They were the true victims. They were bullied like fuck. And they must have been bullied like hell if they came to the point where they had enough and was filled with so much rage and revenge that they killed those kids that made them depressed and treated them like nobodies.”
This one is just a mess, mixing a sad piano song with 9/11 calls on the audio, and then mixing news footage with statistics about gun violence and, I shit you not, scenes from One Tree Hill. The on-screen text says things like “Bullying is the most common form of violence in our society; between 15% and 30% of students are bullies or victims. On April 20, 1999, two men fought hard against it, resulting in one of the most horrific days in American History.” (All [sic].)
Writes the creator: “I think it’s very fitting, bullying was one of the main reasons for the shooters to commit suicide and take as many lives with them as they could. But that doesn’t mean Eric and Dylan’s actings are justified. I’m sorry for my bad English.” The song is certainly anti-bully, losts of violence and things.
What to make of all this? A few things, I suppose. One would be that making tribute videos seems to be a way for people to work out their feelings in general about events unrelated to those being paid tribute to, given that most of the videos here were made long after the fact. To memorialize someone who died in a meaningful way seems like an opportunity to either mitigate or encourage your emotions.
But another thing would be that Columbine still seems to be powerful iconography for teenagers. It’s hard to think of another shooting where the killers are actually mourned by anyone who didn’t know them, and despite the brutality and horror and general craziness of the Columbine shooters, their rhetoric and justifications seem to have a continued resonance with today’s youth. Teenagers are not known for their empathy, of course, but it’s still interesting that they seem to find some justification for murder, identifying only with the shooters rather than the random teenagers who were killed. The Columbine shootings served as a catalyst for making bullying a cause worth fighting against. And, of course, from another angle it very much is: recently a young boy killed himself after being bullied for being “gay.”
But at the same time, of course, it’s hard to see the Columbine shooters as heroes except from an action-movie kind of perspective. And teens seem to treat them that way, as almost freedom fighters.
I am no stranger to these sorts of attitudes; as you may have guessed from my post about the Butthole Surfers, I did not have the most pleasant middle school experience (though high school was mostly OK). Columbine was a big deal to me when it happened, maybe just because I was not used to seeing people like me in the news. Teenagers taking revenge on those who wronged them is an undeniably romantic image: that’s why it was so effective in Heathers, certainly one of the best movies ever made about being a teenager. But I didn’t expect it to have such legs. Ten years later, despite being eclipsed in scope and horror by other events, it remains resident in our national pysche. Maybe this is because, unlike other shootings, this one didn’t seem like just senseless violence, mental illness transformed into death. No, Columbine had meaning. But as it turns out, of course, it was meaning created by someone suffering from mental illness. The lucid insane have an odd ability to catch and hold our imaginations, and that, I suppose, is why they’re so dangerous.