Youth violence

Tavia tavia.nyongo at
Wed Apr 21 07:58:36 PDT 1999

Since I gave up my TV in January, and no longer receive a daily newspaper, I have had the increasingly surreal experience of getting all my important news and commentary through the internet (a lot from LBO-Talk).

I am quite sure I would be too nauseated to watch the ongoing TV 'analysis' of this most recent school murder spree. By now our cynicism comes scripted. I can already picture the one-word Time magazine cover next week: WHY?

It is almost as if the media has come to expect and depend upon the catharsis of such 'senseless violence,' so that the violence in the final analysis becomes not senseless at all, but deeply meaning-laden, like a human sacrifice. For example Bill Clinton using the occasion to give youth a (deliciously apposite) lesson on peaceful conflict resolution--in fact the whole rhetoric of death "not being in vain" and "learning from this"-- speaks to a revealed bloodthirstiness. We depend upon increasingly spectacular scenes of death to bring us together.

I would like to see a longer dicussion of the idea that student rage at school has a source within contemporary schooling--as opposed to blaming it on a failed society (liberal answer) or failed families/personal values (conservative answer). Granted schooling cannot be seperated out from 'society' or the 'family.' I am just thinking, oddly enough, of Howard Gardner's new book (reviewed in current New York Review of Books) which argues that education today is where medicine was in 1800: we give schools (doctors) tremendous authority over us, yet learning (healing) happens almost in spite of their best efforts.

For example, the folks (from a previous iteration of this incident) now suing the makers of 'The Basketball Diaries' because their son was 'inspired' by the film's depiction of Leonardo DiCaprio shooting up his classroom. What seems intellectually bankrupt about this lawsuit is not the idea that the film had no effect on his susceptible imagination, but the idea that the imagery of the film came from "nowhere," or was invented by some sick cabal of New York-Hollywood-probably-Jewish-and/or-Gay-and-liberalmedia overlords. [That is laying it on thick, but I do think the lawsuit depends upon some conception homologous to the above.]

What it can't allow is the idea that the Basketball Diaries simply articulated a powerful fantasy that many people like me can confess to having, a fantasy powered by a killing rage at the confinement, surveillance, and yes, fascism of schooling. It is almost as if schooling spontaneously produces this rage, especially amongst adolescents who are far too developmentally advanced to be treated like toddlers. It is just that a 'normal' release of this killing rage is in pranks, gossip, or (in some case) activism against school and parental inanity. But to pretend as if video games, TV, etc. invent this rage and then seduced children with it seems ass-backwards.

I'm also interested in what people think of Mike Males' writings on 'The Scapegoat Generation' which argues that young people are an increasingly demonized segment of society and are blamed for almost every social ill (drugs, crime, welfare abuse) while at the same moment being one of the most vulnerable and attacked segment in society.


------------------------------------------------------------- Tavia Nyongo Turkish Doctoral Student American Studies Yale University

"I don't mind: Being called a Marxist-Leninist makes me feel young again. It's like being asked for ID in a bar." -- Mark Kingwell -------------------------------------------------------------

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