It is not your typical late afternoon here in the living room of the Brooklyn homestead con der kinder. The usual parental bleating about going outside, getting some exercise, doing homework, walking the dog, etc., etc., has been temporarily suspended. The TV's on, sure, but this time tuned to CNN. My two daughters, one teenager and one near teen, are transfixed, watching the Columbine massacre. Again and again they see footage of the students running from the besieged school, hands on their heads, bolting across the well-kept lawn. Over and over the stories of the library shootings are told, how Harris and Klebold, TEC-9 and shotguns in hand, canvassed the terrified students, demanding to know who believed in God and who did not. "There is no God," one of them said, and fired, point-blank.
On it pours from the Hitachi, the soul-shredding thrum of crying students, grieving parents, congressmen calling for action and/or compassion, reporters filling time. But my daughters, who have so often claimed boredom in any circumstance, can't get enough. They eat dinner in front of the set, fearful they will miss a single recap. In a tangential, contained way, it's like when Kennedy was shot and another crop of teenagers listened to Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite intone those same things about Oswald and Ruby a thousand times until they became ritual knowledge, mantras to be repeated and carried about for a lifetime.
All hell breaks loose in different ways, for different generations. Thirty-six years after the grassy knoll (21 past Jonestown), my daughters walk seemingly endless high-school hallways fraught with adolescent terrors real and imagined, and now the nightmare of Columbine belongs to them.
"I can't believe it," my older daughter says, black-shadowed eyes glued to the tube. As a goth partisan and ardent adherent to the Cobainian-Anne Rice necro-Goddesshead, her first reaction was to be pissed that the media creeps had assigned the Trench Coat Mafia to her chosen fashion bag. Soon, however, the repeated viewings of the dead and wounded reduced her to a numbed, stumped silence. Littleton, Colorado, might be some rich-kid suburb, a million psychic miles from hanging out on St. Marks Place, but to the extent that youth cements a bond, these students, victims and killers both, were my daughter's People. And yet, knowing all she knows about the horrors of high-school personal politics (including the far-from-abnormal fantasies of leaving the place a smoking hole), the disaster remained a mystery, even to her.
So now we're into blame. Affixing root causes. Outside of the sick kids who did the shooting, what elements of society can be held responsible for this climate of violence that, after numerous other similar incidents, has reached critical mass out there in Colorado? The usual suspects have long since been rounded up. Littleton swat teams may have frozen, but bow-tie-wearing millennialistas have been on the scene like a ball of heat. It is grim amusement to listen to corporate purveyors of the scuzzy pop culture (of which I am certainly one, being an occasional rewriter of movies full of needless death) mount defenses similar to the usual NRA fallback position: Just as guns don't pull their own triggers, it's not the foul TV shows and movies that kill but the people who watch them. Well, sure. Who are we to mess with the market, not to mention the First (and Second) Amendment. If video games in which the goal is to kill as many people as possible constitute an enhanced Coney Island shooting gallery, complete with portentous techno soundtrack, and this proves fatally seductive to a segment of the overly suggestible demographic, isn't this just the chance we have to take to live in the Land of the Fee?