' Mona Charen
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Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 1999 /11 Teves, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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In search of fame

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
ABOVE ALL, they wanted to be famous. In the days and hours before unleashing their massacre, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold made videotapes outlining their plans and imagining the world's reaction. "Directors will be fighting over this story," predicted Harris, with some insight into the soul of Hollywood. The teenagers debated whether Stephen Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would do the better treatment of their gory tale. They had helpfully provided, Harris thought, "a lot of foreshadowing and dramatic irony."

Raising his shotgun to waist level, Harris pantomimed shooting, and then asked Klebold "Isn't it fun to get the respect that we're going to deserve?"

Before going back to Columbine, Time magazine's editors struggled with a question that more television and other news editors should consider. Rage for fame afflicts a great many borderline types, and the instant celebrity that descends on murderers like Harris and Klebold is seductive to weak minds.

Still, if we are going to learn anything from Columbine, we cannot let it rest. The Time essays dispose of some myths that have grown up since the blood bath. At the time, we were told that the murderers were motivated by two biases -- hatred of jocks, and hatred of blacks. But the videotapes and other evidence assembled since April suggests that Harris and Klebold simply hated everyone "niggers, spics, Jews, gays, f---ing whites." If jocks were their principle targets, they could have placed bombs in the locker rooms.

But from the records they left behind, it seems that the point was not to kill certain individuals, nor even certain cliques, but rather to make the biggest bang imaginable. Most of their bombs did not explode. If they had, the death toll might have approached the "250" Klebold excitedly imagined.

The other myth that took root eight months ago concerned the murderers' state of mind. Incessant teasing and exclusion had pushed the two to the breaking point, we were told. Finally, they simply snapped.

Not quite. It seems that Harris had stopped taking his medication for depression precisely to ratchet up his fury and prepare for the slaughter.

"More rage! More rage!" Harris howls on one tape. "We've got to keep building it on." They marinated themselves in violent movies, video games, television and music, the better to prime themselves for action. And they avoided contact with their parents so as not to soften and lose their cruel wills.

Neither Harris nor Klebold came from what the pop psychologists call a "dysfunctional" family. Both had parents who loved them and siblings who turned out all right. To understand Columbine -- and by extension, much that ails modern America -- we must penetrate the mystery of how non-abusive, ordinary parents can fail to produce civilized offspring.

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Adults, as Kay Hymowitz so sagely explains in her book "Ready or Not : Why Treating Children As Small Adults Endangers Their Future--And Ours" have been trained to think of children as equals, and to believe that they are born with innate morality, maturity and wisdom. To discipline and redirect the more rambunctious or even hateful aspects of children is considered by modern parents to be intrusive and overbearing.

A recent National Opinion Research poll reflects this. Whereas parents once said they most prized "obedience" from their kids, they now say they are most keen to see "critical thinking." In short, many parents have been persuaded that civilizing a child -- instilling respect, modesty, love of G-d, honesty, and other traditional virtues -- is outmoded. Besides, let's face it, it's far more work to discipline and mold a child than not. And very many adults simply abdicate. Eric Harris spoke contemptuously of the teachers and other adults in his life. "I could convince them that I'm going to climb Mount Everest, or I have a twin brother growing out of my back."

When the culture makes the worst kinds of violence seem ordinary and possible, and when parents believe that civilizing the young is a form of tyranny, ordinary families like the Harrises and the Klebolds can issue murderers.

The media treat Columbine as a mystery. But the questions it raises have been around since Cain slew Abel. The religious answer is prayer, repentance, and obedience to G-d's law. Violent entertainment, parental and teacher neglect and adult timidity are no substitutes for that.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate