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Bowling For Columbine

“The Other” in the Culture of Fear

By Carol Harvey (carolharveysf@yahoo.com)

Dear Hana:

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 bulls.”

“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 that film.”

“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 profits.

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 laying around.”

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.

Moore’s Michigan-accented 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:

a. Got guns.

b. Put locks on the doors.

c. 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, 11,127.

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, Littleton)
Dylan Klebold (Littleton)
Charlton Heston, NRA President (Oscoda)
Timothy McVey, Oklahoma City bomber (Oscoda)
Terry Nichols, accomplice (Oscoda)
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 “weird.”

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, or homeless?

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 away working.

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 strong.

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.