About eleven years ago on Tuesday April 20th, 1999 (anniversary of Hitler’s birthday) started out like any other day. Parent and children in a small Colorado town both went their separate ways to work and school, neither excessively concerned about the other or how their day would turn out but a couple hours later that would all change. On that day two seniors by the names of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a killing spree killing twelve students and one teacher. The seniors also injured 24 students directly and some that were trying to escape before taking the guns on themselves and ending their own lives. The killings created media frenzy regarding laws that had to do with gun control, how easy it was to access guns in the United States, and gun violence concerning kids (Larkin 13).
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The massacre also created controversy and discussion on the nature of high school cliques, bullying, and also how the role of violent movies and video games affect a child’s mind. The event also changed the amount and degree of school security there was. The shooting also created a moral panic pointed at Goth culture, social outcasts of the school, violent music, how teens use the internet and the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers. Overall the shooting brought up many issues that needed to be discussed in our culture today so some kind of massacre like this would not happen again.
The biggest problem that could be accountable for these murders would be our culture today. Our culture today can be perceived by an outsider to be extremely violent especially in our media. The media everyday especially on the news shows violent crimes being committed; video games and films are also extremely violent. Video games in today’s society are ridiculous with the amount of violence that is shown. Games like Grand Theft Auto show deviant men killing cops, prostitutes and innocent civilians with a multiple array of weaponry. “If we are willing to pay for violent “entertainment” then we should expect our fantasies to infect our real lives. At some point violent talk becomes a public threat” (Schweitzberger). In this quote Schweitzberger talks about how these violent video games that children in America are watching will influence them in an extremely negative way to think it’s alright to commit some of the heinous crimes depicted in their video games (Larkin 28).
Probably the biggest issue brought up by the shooting was gun control. “The two by-products of that whole tragedy were violence in entertainment, and gun control. And how perfect that that was the two things that we were going to talk about with the upcoming election. And also, then we forgot about Monica Lewinsky and we forgot about, uh, the President was shooting bombs overseas, yet I’m a bad guy because I, well I sing some rock-and-roll songs, and who’s a bigger influence, the President or Marilyn Manson? I’d like to think me, but I’m going to go with the President” (Manson Marilyn). Manson talks about in this quote how society blamed him for the Columbine shooting because he is seen as a very deviant figure and because the two boys listened to his music. Manson explains how there is much more violence then we seem to think there is. He thinks America just sees the straight forward violence like in his music but there not seeing what the president who is supposed to be America’s idol is doing since on that day that the Columbine shooting occurred more bombs were dropped by the United States on Kosovo than ever before (Bowling for Columbine).
The people in the small town in Colorado wanted to know why kids had such an easy access to guns and other weapons. Why was it so easy for under aged teens to get their hands on them? People wondered why this happened where in just a town over in Littleton, Colorado a person opening a bank account at the local branch received a free handgun just for opening an account. They didn’t receive a free ugly bag that was splattered with the name of the bank like most banks giver their customers for opening an account but a free killing machine just for signing a few papers and depositing a few dollars. The main sociological perspective being upheld here is children were seeing firearms as more of an accessory then a weapon that was capable of mass destruction. Whether we want to admit it or not our country loves violence. There are constant gun rallies where people preach about how good they feel about owning a firearm (Kass 87).
Only two weeks after the shooting at Columbine the NRA hosted a gun rally in Littleton, Colorado just fifteen minutes away from the actual high school where the shootings had taken place. The sad part was even after the people of Columbine asked for the rally to be cancelled since everyone was still morning over the tragic loss of thirteen people their request was denied by the NRA. Instead the rally took place and a mass amount of people still attended. What does this say about our culture? That praising ones gun is more important than respect or the fact that violent crimes are just looked at not that big of deal these days since it happens everywhere. America’s society whether we want to believe or not is a very violent society filled with crime and mayhem (Kass 117).
“I am here today because my son Daniel would want me to be here today. If my son Daniel was not one of the victims, he would be here with me today. Something is wrong in this country when a child can grab a gun, grab a gun so easily, and shoot a bullet into the middle of a child’s face, as my son experienced. Something is wrong. But the time has come to come to understand that a Tech-9 semi-automatic -bullet weapon like that, that killed my son, is not used to kill deer. It has no useful purpose. It is time to address this problem” (father of Columbine victim). In this quote the father of one of the victims makes a very good point. Why do American homes have guns that usually aren’t used for hunting? There is no need for them yet 1 in every 3 homes in America owns some kind of firearm. In our culture we feel this sense of fear especially after 911 where we feel like we need to be prepared in case someone breaks into our home or bombs us or some other ridiculous reason to have a gun. It seems like our society lives in a state of fear all the time. Since 911 home security systems have shot through the roof along with the amount of firearms purchased. Sales in both home security systems and firearms were said to double since 911 (Bowling for Columbine).
Columbine created a culture shock among the country. Everything about the event such as the age of the students, the weapons being used and the violence that two young individuals could cause was shocking to our society. The culture shocked brought up all the media and gun issues previously mentioned. If these boys were looked at before the shooting they should have already been labeled as extremely deviant figures. Before the shooting the boys in their creative writing class wrote stories about killing animals and murdering people. The teachers did not catch until after that the names of these animals and people were most of the names of the kids who they killed in the shooting (Innes 221).
Another sign should have been a website that the boys created revealing Nazi memorabilia as well as violent images most of which was even directed towards their own classmates. In our culture there are ten values that the U.S. has. The ten include: equal opportunity, achievement and success, material comfort, activity and work, practicality and efficiency, progress, science, democracy and free enterprise, freedom, and racism and group superiority. The first nine of these key values neither boy had, however they did feel racism towards many of their classmates. On their website they specifically targeted African Americans as an inferior race. Some of the main values they didn’t have were “achievement and success” because they constantly felt they were the lowest on the social hierarchy in their high school and they felt that they did not have any “equal opportunities” as their classmates. The boys constantly felt that they were at a disadvantage to their fellow students. The boys were constantly bullied and ridiculed throughout their high school career and throughout the four years they were overly fed up with the concept (Kendall 113).
Society had a complete lack of social control over the boys. The boys did their own thing and were complete deviants of society. They had no values in their society. In the “basement tapes” that were found after the killings both boys go into great detail about how much there going to enjoy killing students at the school along with detailed accounts of killing animals in their area. When asking the students of how they viewed the two boys they replied with similar answers “outcasts,” “losers,” and “nobodies.” Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging another culture by the standards of their own. The students felt that because they were different and not like them that they had the right to judge them (Innes 71).
Deviance is the recognized violation of a social norm. The boys in the Columbine shooting could be said to be very deviant members of our society because of all the social norms that they broke. “Like biological theories, psychological explanations of deviance focus on abnormality in the individual personality. Some personality traits are inherited, but most psychologists think that personality is shaped primarily by social experience. Deviance, then, is viewed as the result of “unsuccessful” socialization” (Macionis, John). In this quote from a sociology book it basically explains how the boys become deviant in their society. The bad social experiences that these boys had in high school or just being made fun of and ridiculed day in and day out has caused them to act out in their society in a very negative way (Vandenburgh 31).
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Durkheim created a theory that explained the function of deviance in the structural function analysis. Durkheim basically stated that there is nothing abnormal about deviance but rather it is a necessity in life to show us right from wrong. Durkheim came up with four basic rules of this analysis. The first one was deviance affirms cultural values and norms. Durkheim said that there can’t be evil without good and justice without crime. In the Columbine shooting it taught our society that the killers even though were not put to justice were wrong in what they did. They should have talked to a counselor about what was happening instead of acting in a way that they did. The second rule to the analysis is Responding to deviance classifies moral boundaries. When society defines individuals as deviant like in Columbine with the two killers it shows people right from wrong. In this case it is wrong to kill people just because they were mean or unjust to you. The right way to handle this situation would have been to talk to someone about their problems like a psychiatrist who could of helped them get over their bad high school experiences (Emile-Durkheim.com).
The third rule of Durkheim’s functional analysis of deviance is responding to deviance brings people together. This rule relates probably the most to Columbine because after the Columbine shootings people really came together to discuss what was really wrong in our school systems. Schools decided they needed to look for more signs of deviant people and keep a closer eye on them as well as get better security for their schools so something like this shooting won’t happen again at another school. People also came together and discussed how much violence was I our society and it kind of made everyone realize that society needs to stop letting their children watch these graphic images as well as monitor what their children were watching on the internet. This leads into Durkheim’s final rule about deviance which is deviance encourages social change. After Columbine there was a lot of change made. Schools were becoming safer and more schools were hiring more guidance counselors to talk and help students about how they were feeling. Gun control was also improved upon. After Columbine, Colorado passed a law stating that all firearms must have a safety placed on them and also stash them away from children (Emile-Durkheim.com).
The labeling theory also had a huge impact on why these boys killed. The labeling theory refers to data that individuals become deviant when either a deviant label is placed on them or they adopt the label by exhibiting the behaviors, actions, and attitudes associated with the label. The labeling theory basically states that people become deviant when that identity of the label they are given is forced upon them. The person being labeled feels trapped within that label and that’s when people that are labeled act out. In Columbine the boys felt that there was no way out of the labels that people put upon them so they decided to act out against the students who labeled them. The process of re-casting someone’s actions from the past in the aspect of a present identity is known as retrospective labeling. In Columbine Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold were both re-cast after the terrible shooting took place. Much of their previous behavior that led up to the shootings had been relooked upon as deviant which they were labeled as after the shooting (Encyclopedia.com).
Another crucial part of the labeling theory is the idea of a stigma. A stigma is a powerfully negative label that greatly changes a person’s self concept and social identity. Since high school is such an impressionable part of someone’s life the boys could have felt that since they weren’t “cool” in high school that there never going to be “cool” and always be “losers.” Eric Harris could also be described as medically deviant because he was actually on medication that was “mind altering.” Harris in the tapes the boys made before shooting up the school talked about how he had stopped taking his medication to let the rage build up inside of him so it would be easier to kill all his fellow students easily. Since Harris had been harassed his entire high school career he had a lot of anger built up inside of him and the fact that he wasn’t taking his prescribed medication didn’t help much (Encyclopedia.com).
Both boys had nothing to lose they thought. They thought that if they just kept living their lives day in and day out that they would just keep being ridiculed relentlessly and with no end in sight of this misery stopping the boys thought up a plan to end it all. The boys have never felt in control of other people n their entire lives. They were always looked down upon in school and in the community so they knew by holding the school hostage they would finally become in control for once. “Individuals who feel they have little to lose by deviance are likely to become rule breakers” (Hirschi 17). In Hirschi’s Control Theory he outlines 4 basic beliefs that if someone lacks they are able to easily become deviant. No surprise that either of the boys had any from stopping them.
Hirschi’s first belief was attachment because strong social attachments encourage conformity. Both of the boys had no social attachments to anyone but themselves. Both of their families were considered to take part in domestic violence and even as kids they were treated horribly by their parents and family members. Both boys felt alone in the world with no one to turn too. The second belief was opportunity because the greater opportunity a person has in their life makes the idea of deviance vanish. Both boys were part of very low-income families and had terrible grades in school. They knew that any kind of post secondary education was not in their future. They felt that they would be stuck in their small Colorado town for forever. The third belief was involvement because participating in such activities as holding a job or playing on a sports team would give a person less time to engage or think about deviant activities. The boys never played sports or ever even tried to get jobs. Student from the high school would say they would just go home and hang out in Harris’s basement until the next time they had to go to school and even then most of the time they never showed up. Hirschi’s final belief was belief because having a strong belief in morality and respect will make a person not want to commit deviant acts. In the videos left behind that were made before the murder called the “basement tapes” the boys were both talking about killing and torturing animals for practice on what they were going to do to their classmates. Clearly both boys had no moral values or respect for anyone or anything (Hirschi 87-93).
The deviance that the boys had can also concern their values of power. Deviant people that we might consider “crazy” are not as bad as they are powerless. Take the boys for example, at their high school they were seen as nobodies and were complete social outcasts/ the boys looked at themselves as powerless because they were never seen as anybody. Even at home their family lives were the opposite of normal since both households were victims of domestic violence. So after coming home from an awful day at school they would once again be ridiculed. The boys then started thinking of the ideas on how to get revenge on their classmates. The boys wanted power because they never had it so they feel by taking everyone at their school hostage they can regain that power that they had lost after all these years of social torture (Vandenburgh 111).
Overall the shootings at Columbine high school will go down as the one of the most horrific events to ever occur in American history. Over twenty people lost their lives that day and all this death really amounted to society opening up its eyes and seeing how media and the government influence us. The event really opened our eyes to gun control and the amount of violence that is taking place in our society. It made everyone see just how influential America’s love affair with firearms and violence can be. It only took two young outcast teenagers who decided they wanted to shoot and kill several of their classmates.
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