Bowling For Columbine
“The Other” in the Culture of
By Carol Harvey
Strolling in peaceful Golden
Gate Park, I thought of you, my 17-year-old niece, bravely flying to Spain in a
high school exchange program. Before your worldview solidifies, you’ll see how
another culture does it.
Comparing the Canadian way in
his documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore addresses the gun and
weapons culture that produced the Klebold-Harris siege. Moore asks shock rocker
Marilyn Manson, whose music “inspired” them, “If you could talk to them, what
would you say?”
“I would listen. Nobody did
that,” answers Manson.
I’m asking you, Hana: Could
angry students at your high school commit such acts?
Ahead in the park walked Alex
DeCarville, a slender man, with a pit bull on a leash.
I joked, “After that dog
mauling trial, I cringe at such powerful jaws.”
He smiled. “Stella is
sweet-natured! Those were Spanish attack dogs with abusive owners, not pit
“Was it media fear-mongering,
do you think?” I flashed on Y2K, killer bees, and an estimated $100 billion
spent stopping Saddam from launching nuclear weapons at us.
“Seen ‘Bowling for
Columbine’?” he asked.
DeCarville, a scuba instructor
who escapes to Thailand’s beaches, added, “Folks went ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ all during
“So, Moore’s saying what
people already believe?”
“Yes,” he replied. “An
unarticulated feeling that media is brainwashing us, constantly spewing scary
stuff. As Manson noted, ‘Fear breeds consumption.’”
“That ‘Cops’ producer said
fear factor news profits the entertainment industry,” I observed.
DeCarville laughed, “Classic
show idea! Corporate Cops! Hunt white collar criminals!”
Media, and Entertainment, pump
us with Fear-as-Fun. Bad breath? Pimples? An old car? You’re a loser. Fear sells
the breath mint, the face cream, the Lexus. Advertisers condition fear. Business
Barry Glassner’s book, Culture
of Fear, documents the acceleration of anxiety about neighborhood crime during
the 1990s. Moore quotes him in the movie on his favorite research statistic: The
murder rate fell 20% while evening news homicide coverage jumped 600%.
Of the 9/11 terror, Michael
Moore states, “There were a lot of things that I didn’t know after the World
Trade Center attack, but one thing was clear. Whether before or after September
11, a public this out of control with fear should not have a lot of guns or ammo
At the January 18 Iraq War
protest in San Francisco, Robert Bartsch’s sign, “Michael Moore for President,”
conferred cult hero status.
I asked, “How does domestic
terror benefit politicians?”
Bartsch said, “Get people
triggered by ‘axis of evildoer’ phantoms, and when Bush announces a ‘general
threat,’ we clam up, repress our thoughts, don’t fight for our beliefs.”
Politicians, war makers,
lusting for money and power, capitalize on fear to control the rest of us. The
fear/combat mindset saturates the culture down to a Harris or a Klebold or a
six-year-old homeless boy.
Hana, this movie shifted
national awareness. Theaters held it longer.
voiceover, edged with deadpan cynicism, brilliantly foreshadows events,
introducing characters - the principal at Flint’s Buell Elementary where a small
black boy shot Kayla Rollands; Harris and Klebold gunning down classmates the
day of the biggest Kosovo bombing.
“It was the morning of April
20th, 1999… like any other morning in America. The farmer did his
chores. The milkman made his deliveries. The president bombed another country
whose name we couldn’t pronounce.
“Back in Michigan, Mrs. Hughes
welcomed her students for another day of school, and out in a little town in
Colorado, two boys went bowling at 6:00 in the morning. Yes! It was a typical
day in the United States of America.”
Moore’s irony exposes our lack
of social connectedness. His pseudo-home town doesn’t exist.
The film’s fulcrum is a South
Park cartoon by Columbine grads Matt Stone and Trey Parker. A bullet with a
cracker accent outlines our weapon culture’s history, a petri dish of violent
“persecution/combat” toxins fulminating into the poisonous Columbine explosion
and bombing of Iraq.
“It’s time for a brief history
of the United States of America. Hi, boys and girls! Ready to get started?
“Once upon a time there were
these people in Europe called Pilgrims, and they were afraid of being
persecuted. So, they all got in a boat and sailed to the New World where they
wouldn’t have to be scared ever again.”
(Oh! I’m SO relaxed! I feel
so much safer!)
“But as soon as they arrived,
they were greeted by savages, and they got scared all over again.”
“So they killed ‘em all.”
“Wiping out a race of people”
didn’t calm them down. They feared the British, witches, importations of African
slaves outnumbering them, and Rosa Parks (Why won’t she move?).
They protected themselves by:
1. Passing the Second Amendment. White men kept their guns.
2. Packing self-reloading guns invented by Colt in 1836.
3. Forming the Ku Klux Klan and the NRA in the same year. (But that was just a
coincidence. One group legally promoted responsible gun ownership; the other
group shot and lynched black people.)
4. Outlawing black gun ownership.
5. Fleeing to suburbs where they:
locks on the doors.
Barricaded themselves, “snug as a bug,” in suburban communities (they’re so
white and safe and clean).
Michigan County Prosecutor
Arthur Bush tells Moore about bizarre notions of an invading horde come from the
city to savage suburbia.
Charlton Heston is the
geriatric poster boy for that fortified encampment, the suburban gated
community. As Moore’s nonthreatening Everyman shambles up the driveway of
Heston’s mansion, Mr. Roger’s piano keys tinkle “Another day in the
neighborhood.” The irony exposes our communal segregation.
Enthroned in his Hollywood
Hills compound, “Moses” blames “mixed ethnicities” for the U.S’s annual gun
deaths. Japan, 39; Australia 65; France 255; UK 68; Canada 165… United States,
Heston feels safer with the
gun his enemy pries out of his corpse’s fist. “From my cold dead hand!” he
shouts at NRA rallies after the Columbine and Kayla Rolland shootings. Flint
citizens complain, “It’s like they were rubbing our nose in it.”
Moore notes you can always
count on white Americans’ fear of the black man. Susan Smith kills her kids;
Charles Smith, Boston lawyer, kills his pregnant wife; both say a black man did
it. The public buys it. News reports on Africanized bees say they “shack up”
across from white folks, not like “kinder, gentler European bees.”
The Flint prosecutor deflates
the stereotype, telling Moore most African Americans are averse to gun
ownership. “The biggest problem is gun possession by suburban adolescents.” In
Oscoda, Michigan, near the Army base from which Eric Harris’s father flew Gulf
warplanes, a Caucasian youth confesses selling guns to Detroit gangs.
Bartsch asked, “Is it
coincidental that Oklahoma bombers and Columbine shooters came from suburban
towns with Army bases or nuclear weapons manufacturing?”
Moore observes that south of
Denver, at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Littleton, sits a B-52 bomber bearing a
plaque lauding the Vietnam War’s biggest bombing campaign. Nearby Rocky Flats,
the world’s largest plutonium weapons factory, has turned into a radioactive
dump. Inside a mountain, NORAD oversees Colorado missiles. Monthly, in
the middle of the night, Lockheed transports a rocket “with its Pentagon
payload” though Littleton past Columbine High school to a Denver Air force base,
while the children of Columbine sleep.
Such children were once:
|Eric Harris (Oscoda,
|Dylan Klebold (Littleton)
|Charlton Heston, NRA President
|Timothy McVey, Oklahoma City
|Terry Nichols, accomplice
|James Nichols, soybean farmer, brother of Terry (Oscoda)
Iraq protestor Jennifer Ho
drove from suburban Danville, where “no one claims any more that white kids
aren’t doing drugs and guns.” She expressed sorrow at America’s “spiritual
emptiness,” asserting that “making a million dollars in suburban safety is an
unrealistic goal people suffered to reach. Who was feeding those Columbine kids
spiritually? When I had my first son, I moved to Hawaii. They welcome children
into the family and community. On the mainland, children block our progress. I’m
saying, ‘Parents, feed your kids’ spirit by keeping them with you and loving
them.’ My kids spent seven years on the beach and with me.”
Psychologist John Bowlby’s
1950’s ‘attachment’ studies concluded that a loving bond with a parent is
required for a child to develop a secure sense of self in a world where people
reach goals through cooperation.
Alice Miller, Eric Fromm, and
Patricia Evans scrutinized damage to children from disrupted attachment. Neglect
and abuse condition American children for a world of competition where enemies
are attacked and destroyed. This child mind readily incorporates into its
reality the violent world displayed by entertainment and the media.
Moore films Canadian teens and
adults observing that Americans “resolve everything by fighting.” Canadians
negotiate compromise. On a TV newscast, the prime minister says, “Let’s
cooperate with these people, our friends.”
In The Art of Loving, Eric
Fromm wrote that the human awareness of separateness before nature and society
“is the source of intense anxiety.” The “desire for interpersonal fusion,” a
force bonding family and society, is a person’s “most powerful striving.”
Failure to achieve it means insanity, “destruction of self or others.”
Children in a hostile world
know only enemies. Their separateness from others is enhanced, connectedness
with themselves corrupted. Having enemies, they must BE an enemy.
Moore states: “In America,
being a teenager sucks.” Klebold and Harris’ bowling classmates call them
After Columbine, the media
focused on ostracized kids. Are your classmates considered weird, Hana? Are they
poor, fat, non-athletic with B.O., bad breath, bad hair, bad clothes - of color,
Tamarla Owens, the mother of
the boy who shot Kayla Rollands, rode 80 miles on a bus to work two jobs in a
rich people’s mall for $6 an hour. At Dick Clark’s All-American Grill, she was
in a Welfare to Work program from which Clark wrote off taxes. Unable to pay
rent and evicted, she felt that homelessness was worse than her brother’s crack
house. Her son found a 32-caliber gun under bedclothes. Harris and Klebold’s
families lived near military bases and weapons factories. Harris’s dad flew
warplanes out of Oscoda, relocated to Littleton. Near Lockheed-Martin or in
Flint’s slums, all three young shooters were displaced outsiders raised as “The
Other” in a weapons culture - enemy among enemies.
When you are an “Other” child,
your earliest feeling is of being alone. Parents are like fleeting shadows, are
Nobody reflects or explains
your feelings, or provides a space to practice playing your Self. Confused
emotions churn inside. You resent your invisibility.
At school, parents hug kids,
dropping them off.
Before five, you inhale with
your cereal that you are an unimportant outsider. The proof? Your parents,
struggling for money, are repeatedly forced to move.
You decide not belonging makes
you special, heroic. You project anger. Something is wrong with everyone else,
not you. They taunt your isolation. Repressed rage builds.
On TV, people shoot guns. If
you are mad, you point this metal object at someone. Trouble evaporates in a
smoky blast. Afterward you see the actor alive in the ad.
One day you find a gun. A
pent-up pressure of anger shoots like lightning. Hefting it, your palm feels
You think, “Other kids have
dads. I have a gun.”
As you show it off at school,
an explosion releases a bullet into a classmate who once said, “I don’t like
you.” You were outcast, homeless. Now you’re noticed.
At the police station, the
six-year-old boy draws a picture of what he lost - himself in his home.
Detective Caldwell hangs it with his children’s artwork.
Six and black, your absentee
father and uncle are jailed. White and seventeen, you massacre classmates. As
president, opposed by millions, you bomb Afghanistan - then maybe Iran, Syria,
Iraq, North Korea.
Unlikely? Son of a CIA head
and the military commander-in-chief, George W. Bush had alcohol problems.
Bowlby’s attachment theory taught psychologists that adult users invariably
suffer disrupted parental bonding. A comforting mother/father substitute, the
substance numbs emotions to the pain of constant opposition.
Offering alternatives, Moore
directs our eyes to Gandhi, to buying back K-Mart bullets, and to Canada. You
are fortunate, Hana, to arrive in Spain young enough to make such comparisons.
Klebold and Harris showed us
something. Harris’s journal said what the homeless boy might have felt: “I hate
you people for leaving me out of so many fun things.” Did Moore bowl his final
victorious strike at Littleton for us and for them - The Other?
An earlier version of this article appeared in the Street Spirit.